Sushi was a rarity when I was growing up in southern Arkansas, but these days it’s commonly found in area grocery stores and as standard fare on most Chinese buffets. What’s less common is the high quality and variety served up by Igibon Japanese Restaurant on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. I have been hopelessly enamored of the place since my first time eating there, so much so that when I decided to propose to the future Mrs. Roberts, I did it over a plate of Igibon’s excellent Age Shumai. Nestled in the Market Place shopping center, Igibon is easy to miss, but it’s a shame if you do.
Service at Igibon is impeccable, and I've never been treated with anything less than the most prompt and courteous service possible. Servers remember their regulars, and even when visits are weeks apart one of the waitresses will usually recognize us immediately and warmly welcome us back. Having said that, I must warn that excellent service does not translate into fast service — but in this case it's a plus: your order is prepared fresh for you when you place it, and the quality workmanship in the sushi is well worth a bit of a wait. The atmosphere of the restaurant is so conducive to a leisurely meal, though, that I doubt you’ll even notice the extra time it takes to prepare your meal.
We began our most recent meal with an order of Inarizushi, sushi rice wrapped in sweet fried tofu, and the Mussel Clam Roll, a nori wrapped mixture of mussels and spices over rice with just a bit of crunch for texture. The inari was flavorful and rich, and I can’t speak highly enough of the mussel and clam mixture. It was rich and savory, with just a bit of spice from the sriracha dotted atop it, and unlike many mussel dishes served locally, it lacked any stale, overpowering fish flavor: a testament to the freshness of Igibon’s sushi. The inari was a nice combination of sticky rice wrapped in a a pillowy shell of fried tofu.
Our main dish of sushi consisted of Tuna Rolls, Spicy Salmon Rolls, and a soft-shell crab creation, the Spider Roll. We're big fans of the soft-shell crab at Igibon, and we've been known to just cut right to the chase and order their straight-up tempura-battered soft shell appetizer. The tuna roll and the spicy salmon roll are basic sushi options served in most places that sell sushi, but once again, Igibon’s fresh ingredients set them apart in flavor and texture. The tuna has a firm texture and buttery, rich taste, while the spicy salmon was rich and good with enough spice to be assertive without overpowering the delicate taste of the fish. The spider roll, an incredible mixture of rice, (more) fried soft shell crab, fish eggs, cucumber, and avocado, is worth going for alone. The texture combination of soft, firm, and crunchy work together quite well. It’s a hard thing to describe except to say this: perfection.
The menu at Igibon has a wide selection of non-sushi items as well, including a variety of dumplings and yakitori, so even non-raw fish eaters can find something worth their time. Great food served by an excellent staff is all too rare these days, and deserves to be recognized where it exists, and the many local awards that Igibon has won are a testament to their long-term commitment to fresh seafood and well-prepared sushi. If you’re in the mood to just sample the food without spending a lot, go before 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday for “happy hour,” a special sushi menu that has sampler sizes of all their rolls and sashimi for less than the full dinner price. Dinner is still a value, though, as two people can easily eat their fill (with great variety) for $30 or less. Igibon is located at 11121 Rodney Parham Road, Suite 13A in Little Rock.