Battle of the Sushi Train at Sushi Yama

© Siiri Sampson 2011.
Yee-hawwww!!! All aboard the sushi train! First stop: Spider Roll station.
It's winter. It's Wednesday. It's Bellevue. It's raining.

If that pretty much sums up how you've been feeling every day for the past three or four months, either join the club or pack up and move to one of those abandoned developments in Florida where you have one neighbor for every two conch shell-shaped cul de sacs surrounding your property. Since I doubt you're moving closer to hurricane central, make the best of it: Put on your soy-sauce holster, grab your eco-friendly, biodegradable chopsticks, and prepare for battle--the battle of the sushi trains.

If you've decided to stay, you'd do well to hit up Sushi Yama in downtown Bellevue (304 105th Ave. N.E.). Saddle up and take a ride on an old classic tucked back in a mid-'80s strip mall. You almost miss it, sandwiched between a salon and a florist, but persistence pays off--once you find parking. They get really busy, so go early--or like us, late (arrive at 1:40 p.m. and find maybe five people. PERFECT!).

If you've been following this little Eastside food soap opera of ours, last week we were literally across the street at Sushi Maru, the snappy, sexy, modernized version of the old standard. But the points they earned in service and style were at risk due to their high prices. This week, we return, like the prodigal son, to our homeland. You may ask, "How could you betray the original? How could you show your face at Sushi Yama again? How could you pit them against each other?" Well, how could we not?!

© Siiri Sampson 2011.
All hail the sacred sesame ball in all its perfection!
Let's cut to the chase: We judge our sushi trains on a few specific traits: service, menu options, style, and price. Let the battle begin! The ladies and gents at the helm of this well-oiled machine could do the work blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs. They greet you warmly when you enter, usher you to a seat at the counter, and you're off on your little adventure! While they may fall a bit behind in noticing you raise your hand for a special order or more green tea, they're very quick to get you what's needed once you flag them down.

Sushi Yama's menu options are pretty limited, at least as far as the conveyor-belt regulars are concerned. However, they are quick to make special orders, our favorite of course being a freshly fried batch of sesame balls filled with red bean paste. There are a couple of odd ducks, such as the tuna-salad roll--an egg-omelet exterior with a California-roll interior, with the fake crab replaced by tuna salad. Yes, we're talking about the tuna salad you'd get at a salad bar or in a sandwich your mom made you for lunch in 5th grade. Try it, you'll like it, and you'll call your mom more, OK?

The price is right, but the style is wrong. Which is more important? You be the judge. We were able to stuff our faces on $8.67 (including tip) with a thrifty combination of four plates at $1 and two at $1.50. As we savored the tender rice and crispy gyozas, we took in the larger-than-life Asian murals covering the walls all around the train tracks. It's not that the place is a crack house or anything, it could just use a Bellevue-mom face lift . . . you know what we mean? (You know.)

So what's the final verdict? While we were initially wooed by the snazzy new finishes and expanded selection on the tracks over at Maru, the quirky rolls and cheap standards tug at our heartstrings. You win, Sushi Yama! Your hot sesame balls and crisp, oily tempura keep bringing us back, time after time.

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