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Shohko Cafe still at top of list for sushi in New Mexico

Shohko Cafe includes a long sushi bar along with its regular tables. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Shohko Cafe includes a long sushi bar along with its regular tables. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Shohko Cafe introduced New Mexico to sushi more than 35 years ago, and still is one of the best places in town – and the state – for fresh raw fish if that pleases your palate. If not, there’s more to like at Shohko, including a fine selection of tempura and noodle dishes as well as teriyaki and salads.

Shohko and Hiro Fukuda opened Shohko Café in 1975 and moved to the current location in 1980, where the restaurant has done business ever since. Their attention to detail shows in all facets of this family-run operation.

If you and your friends love variety and like to share, Shohko offers tasty opportunities to explore a great range of Japanese food. If you are visiting with out-of-towners, be sure to suggest green chile tempura, served on its own or as part of the Santa Fe Roll combined with shrimp tempura, avocado and rice.

Come hungry. The extensive menu can be daunting, but the friendly and informed staff happily help you make your selections.

Speaking of that, a friend and I started our meal with eggplant miso ($9), an appetizer we would have ignored except for the waiter’s enthusiasm when we asked him for a recommendation. He was spot on! The thickly sliced eggplant wedges had a delicate crisp tempura coating on the outside.

Break the crisp crust to find melted eggplant, soft and warm with a texture the consistency of creamy brie. The miso sauce that finished the dish was sweet, spicy and awesome. Our waiter said he sometimes adds rice and makes a dinner of this. I could, too.

Shohko offers many interesting choices on its tempura menu, including calamari, watercress, okra, avocado and nori (a type of seaweed). We tried the oyster mushrooms ($5), one of three varieties of mushrooms available. They were amazingly delicious: fresh, earthy and light, with a crisp thin batter outside and moist and slightly chewy within.

They arrived with a bowl of tempura dipping sauce, freshly cooked and too hot to handle at first. We also savored the tempura scallops, one of five seafood options in the tempura section.

The scallops ($8) were sweet and meaty and without that sharp taste they sometimes have when prepared by less skilled kitchens. The order was half a dozen.

Moving from hot dishes to the cold ones, we also enjoyed the spicy tuna salad ($12). This isn’t grandma’s tuna with mayo and pickle relish. Picture a generous serving of excellent fresh raw tuna cut into bite-sized pieces and expertly seasoned.

The greens were fresh too, and included spicy daikon radish and radish sprouts. In addition to flavor, the greens and radishes provided a colorful contrast to the deep red of the fish. Combined with the mild mushrooms, this salad made an excellent addition to our meal.

Since Shohko introduced sushi to New Mexico, we had to have some. The sushi menu includes both rolls, or Maki sushi, and the fish presented on little pillows of seaweed-wrapped rice, the Nigiri style. You can also order hand-rolls, rice and fish packed inside tubes of uncut sheets of seaweed, and sashimi, thinly sliced fish served without the rice.

Vegetarian sushi gets its own menu category and the cooked. We tried the classic California roll, available here with either imitation crab (made from whitefish) or the real thing. We paid extra for real crab and enjoyed every bite ($11).

The restaurant, a short walk from the popular Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, is housed in a remodeled adobe building, which the Shohko website describes as “a former 19th century bordello.” The decor tastefully combines Santa Fe and Asia.

You’ll find traditional New Mexico vigas overhead, curved doorways and whitewashed walls along with Japanese-style rice paper and willow screens, simple wooden tables and chairs and a beautiful hand-made sushi bar with ample counter seating. Fresh flowers and the soft lighting add to the pleasure of a good meal. Parking is available behind the building.

Shohko Cafe remains one of Santa Fe’s best restaurants, combining a lovely environment with first-rate food and fine service. I highly recommend it.

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