The ocean is nearly 300 miles away, but Flagstaff’s Karma Sushi has thrived on Historic Route 66 for almost 15 years, thanks to a strong network of fresh fish suppliers and an even stronger network of community partnerships.
Ed Grant, Karma’s general manager, attributes the restaurant’s staying power to a simple formula: Be good leaders and good partners, and give back to the community. It doesn’t hurt that the menu is full of innovative sushi rolls and Asian-inspired cuisine that tells a story about Flagstaff’s history and Karma’s commitment to this mountain town.
One of the signature menu items is the Lucy roll, named for the beloved dog of owner Steve Scully. Order it, and you’ll get a tuna roll with avocado, roasted peppers, mango and a citrus ponzu sauce, while local animal rescue organizations will get 10 percent of the sales. Along the same lines, stop by on the second Tuesday of the month, when 10 percent of all sales go to that month’s Good Karma Tuesday nonprofit.
Another roll with a story is the Giant Leap, a nod to Flagstaff’s lunar legacy. Originally created for the 50th anniversary of Flagstaff’s prominent role in the moon landing, the roll — snow crab, avocado and mango, topped with spicy scallops — now has a permanent home on the menu.
Astronomy buffs will also appreciate the deeper meaning of the Black Cat roll. As the menu makes clear, this spicy roll with lobster, tempura asparagus, mango and avocado was named for the Black Cat Café, which occupied Karma’s location for more than four decades. What the menu doesn’t mention is that Clyde Tombaugh ate at the Black Cat Café on February 18, 1930 — the day he discovered Pluto, formerly considered the ninth planet in the solar system. (It’s now classified as a dwarf planet.)
While the open-format sushi bar is Karma’s focal point, the back-of-the-house kitchen puts out incredible options for the sushi-averse. Ramen in Japan is a regional dish, with every area of the country having its own take on the savory noodle bowl. Karma’s Mucho Midori ramen is a Southwestern spin on that regionality: A sinus-clearing blend of roasted green chiles and chicken and pork broth, this version — topped with pork belly, boiled egg and garlic oil — could convert a ramen purist.
From rolls and sashimi to bento boxes, Karma has made sushi thrive in a landlocked state. And whether it’s the ingredients or the perspective on being a good community partner, freshness is the key.
6 E. Historic Route 66