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Food Dude

July 19, 2012
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Reader tips — Shogun and Sonora

By Jim Duncan

Shogun’s sushi bar is a cut above those of other buffets. Shogun, 8900 Hickman Road, Clive, 276-0789. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Taqueria Sonora, 800 First St., West Des Moines, 277-7071. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, 10:30 to 3 a.m.

My month of checking out reader tips moved to Hickman Road after hearing that I had missed a call earlier this year when proclaiming Eastern Sushi & Hibachi Buffet (ESHB) the best East Asian buffet in central Iowa. Readers recalled some difficulties ESHB had after my review, including credit card thefts. One touted Shogun as the best of this genre, particularly praising their superior sushi bar. Normally, I do not look for bargain sushi, but I bit this bait.

Shogun was seriously busy on the Fourth of July, hardly a day I’d expect to see Iowans piling into a Japanese buffet. That was the first good sign. Helpful, articulate staff — from hostesses to waitresses and chefs — were a cut above their rivals. The sushi chef, also doubling as a hibachi station chef, managed to turn out products superior to what I have seen elsewhere in buffets in Iowa. Snapper, tuna and salmon were used generously, not just imitation crab as is often the case elsewhere. This wasn’t the freshest looking fish by any means, but it was a fine treat on an $11 dinner buffet. Rolls and nigiri were both prepared fashionably. Rice had a good acid kick.

Otherwise, I’ll stick with my tout of ESHB. Shogun’s hibachi-stir fry station offered strange looking frozen meats and chicken while ESHB had impressed me with freshly sliced skirt steak and chicken thighs. Shogun’s hot buffet was not nearly as well stocked either, though it was impressively replenished with fresh food. I had some good frog legs, baked mussels, black bean clams and several kinds of shrimp. Squid, though, was tough and chewy. There were more kinds of ribs, and exponentially more kinds of chicken dishes, than there were types of rice or noodles. Broccoli, green peppers, onions and zucchini were ubiquitous, and other vegetables were very hard to find. Nothing compared to ESHB’s homemade kim chee, seaweed salad and other cold appetizers of interest. Shogun barely offered salads at all and nothing very Asian. Shogun did better with freshly cut pineapple and melon, but its prepared desserts were not interesting. Strangely, Shogun’s carryout menu offered more than 150 items, very few of which I noticed on the buffet.

Next I returned to Tacqueria Sonora, a place I had reviewed favorably two years ago soon after they opened. Multiple readers have suggested I return because they think the place has improved continuously since it opened. Previously, I had loved Sonora’s many fresh made salsas and recalled some excellent double tortilla tacos (or burritos, quesadillas, tortas or tostadas) of tongue, beef cheeks, birria, chorizo and pastor. On my earlier visits, there had been no seafood to speak of and no bar. Those two things have become the focus of this busy place since then. Recently, I tried two kinds of fish taco, preferring their fried “Baja style” ones over grilled. Ceviche was tender without being too wet for a tostada. Crab tostadas were generous with meat. A gargantuan “malficio” cocktail of shrimp playing with its friends and squid ceviche refreshed in hot weather.

With its focus on seafood, the name makes more sense. Sonora is the state from which sprung the style of cooking that was the only “Mexican” that Iowans knew 50 years ago. Double corn tortilla tacos, cheeks and tongue were not a part of that. However, Sonora also has a long coastline on the Bay of California and is famous of its seafood.

Side Dishes

Fast food giant Panda Express, best known as a fixture in food courts and college student unions, opened its first area stand-alone restaurant in West Des Moines, 6495 Mills Civic Parkway. CV

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