Damen’s New Sushi Spot Lacks Zest

Aidan Cahill | The PhoenixZen Sushi is the latest food vendor in Damen Food Court, replacing Mr. Pak's, but their offerings may fall short of the previous standard.

Last week, Damen Food Court suffered the loss of Mr. Pak’s — and Zen Sushi’s arrival rubbed salt in the wound.

Zen Sushi and Boba opened on March 14 in the Damen Food Court. The eatery offers customizable poke bowls, sushi rolls and bubble tea. Loyola students can pay using Rambler Bucks with prices ranging from $4.95 to $12.95.

In contrast to Mr. Pak’s, the tofu is softer, the pineapple is crunchier and the cucumbers are sliced bigger. Some of the carrots are tinged with brown, like a ceiling tile with water damage. A particularly unappetizing piece of chicken resembled a burnt woodchip.

For customers as pale as vampiric Victorian children unable to tolerate any level of spice, the house — and sole — poke sauce is perfectly bland. Despite this, the sauce is frighteningly neon orange and has the consistency of jam on a spoon left out overnight. Other options include spicy mayo, gochujang, Thai sweet chili and eel sauce. Toppings include wonton crisps, tempura flakes, sesame seeds, nori, shichimi and scallions. The new bowl lids don’t quite fit, so shaking the bowl to get an equally dressed bite is out of the question.

The customization inherent to poke lends itself a wide range of diets. Proteins include chicken, salmon, tuna, imitation crab and tofu. However, Zen Sushi isn’t yet certified as halal or kosher.

Mao Reynolds | The Phoenix Zen Tea serves bubble tea across the food court.

Maki rolls range from $9.45 to $12.95 while premade poke bowls range from $10.95 to $12.95. Build-your-own bowls are $10.95 for one protein and $12.95 for two proteins.

The premade bowls offer some help to indecisive eaters. The “Umami Salmon” bowl features spicy salmon, edamame, cabbage, sweet corn, nori, eel sauce and spicy mayo. Another, the “Bibimbap Tofu” bowl, lacks two signature bibimbap toppings — kimchi and a fried egg.

The menu’s font is frustratingly small and hard to read when more than one inch away from the counter. The warning against consuming raw fish and seafood is even smaller than the menu items, which seems fishy.

Zen Boba occupies a separate section of the food court and has a separate line, making it a hassle to just grab food and go. The section also lacks clear markers of where to order or stand in line, making it even more confusing. Milk teas are $4.95 and fruit teas are $5.50. Add-ons, like jellies, boba and oat milk, are $0.75 each.

The jasmine milk tea is watery yet saccharine. The milk leaves an unpleasant, filmy residue on the tongue. The menu depicts anthropomorphized milk teas above each item name, one of which is, for some reason, shown crying. The TBaar on Devon Avenue has superior tea for about the same price and doesn’t show any dreary drinks.

Compared to lackluster dining hall options, Zen Sushi is an adequate alternative for students looking to spruce up their weeknights. But with uninspiring combos and subpar bubble tea, it doesn’t quite live up to Mr. Pak’s legacy as a fan favorite.

Zen Sushi and Boba is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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