Yes, Vegan Sushi Tastes Just as Delicious as Regular Sushi

Just opened: Chikyu Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya

By Rob Kachelriess

The Deets

WHAT: Chikyu Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya 

IT’S: A plant-based Japanese restaurant in the southeast

OPENED: May 9, 2020 

WHO’S BEHIND IT: Chef and owner John Le and co-proprietor Casson Trenor  

FUN FACT: Trenor wrote the book “Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time,” which inspired his decision to become a restaurant co-owner.  

LOCATION: 1740 East Serene Avenue

HOURS: Sunday to Saturday | 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

WEBSITE: Browse the menu for a pickup or delivery order

INSTAGRAM: Vegan sushi never looked so good

Sushi for a Better Planet

At first glance, sushi without seafood (or any kind of meat at all) doesn’t sound too enticing, but Chikyu is turning that notion upside down. The restaurant is filling a void in Las Vegas for high-end plant-based sushi that takes inspiration from Chef John Le’s Vietnamese heritage. 

The restaurant opened during the pandemic, but has gradually gained attention and loyal fans in recent months. Its roots go back to San Francisco, where co-owner Casson Trenor helped launch Tataki as a sushi bar with responsibly sourced seafood, followed by Shizen, which left out any kind of meat altogether. Le was a chef at the latter and opened Chikyu as his own venture after relocating to Las Vegas. Trenor has a long history as a sustainability activist and was involved in direct action projects with groups like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.   

Making Vegan Sushi Vibrant and Flavorful

Chikyu is a mission-driven restaurant that champions sustainability. Yet the owners prefer to let the food speak for itself without overwhelming customers with a message that could be perceived as preachy. The restaurant isn’t just targeting the vegan niche. It wants patrons, including regular meat-eaters, to taste and enjoy plant-based food in a way they’ve never experienced before. 

The specialty rolls, named after wildflowers in the Nevada desert, seem to get the most attention. The Stream Orchid is a remarkable combination of grilled mushroom, daikon radish and avocado, topped with shredded tofu, tomato, bell pepper and truffle soy. The Desert Gold is a little more decadent in texture with tempura tofu, tapioca, negi (a Japanese long onion) and a shredded pepper known as ito togarashi. The Forget-Me-Not leaves out rice altogether for a crisp and crunchy combination of daikon radish, gobo (burdock root), tofu, asparagus and other vegetables with a sweet-and-sour ponzu sauce. 

Don’t overlook the nigiri, which are more than mere vegetables on rice. The main ingredients are prepared multiple ways in multiple days, including a green mango that’s pickled with clove and other spices. Southeast Asian influences throughout the menu are seen in Chef Le’s preferences for pineapple enzymes and a vegan “fish” sauce with creative usage of flowers, roots and seaweed.  

Venturing into Uncharted Waters

Chikyu generally avoids vegan substitute products, preferring to let customers appreciate the absence of meat than merely replace it with something of a similar taste and texture. One exception is an exclusive pea protein by Sophie’s Kitchen used in a Veganuary special: the warm and savory Fuyu Curry with garlic-fried pea cracklings, root vegetables and kombu dashi. The dish is offered through at least the end of January as part of an annual global effort to encourage plant-based eating every January.     

The dining room was open briefly last year, but is now restricted to takeaway and delivery orders. Once back in full operation, customers can sip on wine, sake and cocktails with their food. Chikyu is also planning to introduce non-alcoholic drinks that shouldn’t be considered mocktails, but unique recipes prepared with health-promoting compounds, including nootropics and euphorics, to enhance the meal. 

The Cost

Starters and salads $4 to $11, small plates $6 to $14, nigiri $5, and rolls $6 to $13. Beer, wine, sake and cocktails (when dine-in returns) range from $5 to $140 per serving. 

The Gist

Chikyu has put together an intriguing menu that’s not only a dream-come-true for practicing vegans, but a fascinating change of pace for carnivores. The colorful presentation of the dishes makes an impression, even when inside a box for delivery or carryout orders. Try the food now, but return when the dining room reopens to enjoy the full pacing, presentation and experience of a proper sit-down meal. 

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