From barbecue sauce to deep fried goodness, give these Midwest-influenced rolls a try

Words by Giuliana LaMantia
Photos by Madison Ottenbacher

Among other things, the Midwest is known for corn, fried food and barbecue sauce. It’s not necessarily known for sushi, a stylish food that’s currently popular among young adults. Even so, you can find some delectable sushi at restaurants in Middle America. When the restaurants mix their Heartland charm with these trendy little rolls, the result is magical.

If you find yourself in the Des Moines area and you’re in the mood for something with a little more pizzazz than the typical California roll, try out some of these fancy sushi dishes with a little Midwestern twist.

BBQ Beef Roll

Blue Thai Food and Sushi
Ingredients: Barbecue beef, cucumber, avocado, cream cheese, spicy mayo, unagi sauce

The BBQ Beef Roll at Blue Thai Food and Sushi is served with endless ribbons of the sweet and spicy barbecue covering the plate. As for the inside of the rolls? Beef, covered in even more sauce. Somehow, all that barbecue seems like not enough, and you’ll find yourself scraping the plate. The flavor blends perfectly with the all-too-familiar taste of sushi rice, and the spicy mayo gives it the perfect kick.

It’s no wonder why Midwesterners love a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s. It goes with anything and everything.

Sunset Roll

Blue Thai Food and Sushi
Ingredients: Salmon, asparagus, spicy mayo, honey sriracha

It’s hard to believe there’s even a vegetable in the Sunset Roll, because it tastes like it’s straight out of the State Fair.

The scrumptious treat isn’t just deep fried once. The inner ingredients are cooked to a crunch, and then the entire roll is fried once again from the outside. After all, this is Iowa. The more fried, the better.

The honey sriracha is the spicy icing on the cake.


Miyabi 9
Ingredients: Deep-fried pork cutlet, carrots, asparagus, lettuce

The Iowa is basically a hearty, home-cooked meal in sushi roll format. Even so, it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you’re more of a California kind of person, this roll will not be your speed. You’ll be stuffed after two bites and wishing you stuck to your usual Shrimp Tempura (which is far more impressive at Miyabi 9, and a much better representation of their magic than this roll).

Our consensus: Skip the Iowa, and go somewhere for an actual fried pork meal instead.

Rolling Pig

Akebono 515
Ingredients: Spicy tuna, bacon, cucumber, cream cheese and topped with avocado, bacon, tempura flakes, green onions, eel sauce, sriracha

When you think about the Rolling Pig, think of Lady Gaga talking about Ryan Murphy: “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping” — and the list goes on.

The Rolling Pig is fresh. It’s spicy. It’s an exotic mix of unexotic items. And that makes it all the more delightful.

Are you still in the Midwest? Or were you whisked to an island getaway? You’ll never know.


Akebono 515
Ingredients: Pulled pork, cream cheese, corn, tempura fried, topped with kochijan BBQ sauce

While the concept of another Iowa-themed sushi roll in Iowa may not be groundbreaking, Akebono’s take on “Iowa” is, in fact, just that.

The crunch is unparalleled. Miles of crispy, delicious tempura make it impossible to eat a piece in one bite. The middle is filled with tender pulled pork, and the outside is covered in — you guessed it — sweet barbecue sauce.

It tastes more like a barbecue pork sandwich and less like sushi. And in this case, that’s okay.

Iowa Surf n’ Turf

Sakari Sushi Lounge
Ingredients: Bacon, tempura shrimp, cream cheese, topped with seared top sirloin steak, spicy mayo, unagi sauce, scallions and bacon crumbles

If Ron Swanson had a favorite sushi roll, it’d be the Iowa Surf n’ Turf. The rich, smoky flavor is almost too much for a mere mortal. The steak and shrimp combo can only be described with the “100” emoji.

If you’re a meat connoisseur, a tempura lover and prefer your sushi slathered in sauce, this one will do it for you.

Kobe Roll

Sakura Sushi
Ingredients: Shrimp Tempura, avocado, and cream cheese topped with seared beef and eel sauce

Do you enjoy the classic shrimp tempura roll? Are you a fan of beef? Then the Kobe Roll will blow your mind.

The thinly sliced beef is sweet, saucy and seared to perfection. The cream cheese thrown into the mix is delightful. Tempura can be heavy, but this roll feels light and refreshing. The simplicity behind it is truly innovative.

Mountain Roll

Sakura Sushi
Ingredients: Crabmeat, cream cheese, jalapeño, cilantro, deep-fried and topped with spicy tuna

Can you handle the heat?

If you want to take on the Mountain Roll, you’re going to have to. Out of all the rolls, this one will satisfy your spicy craving the most. Mixing jalapeño and sushi is absolutely genius.

This roll is highly recommended for adventurers. Each piece has a literal mountain on it — a little mound of crispy, tempura deliciousness. If this is what mountain climbing was actually like, we’d be there everyday.

L.A. Roll

Sakura Sushi
Ingredients: Smoked salmon, mozzarella cheese, avocado, deep-fried and served over special sauce

The ingredients in the L.A. Roll might not seem that odd for a sushi roll. Upon first glance, it doesn’t appear all that unique, or worthy of being on this list. Don’t be deceived. This roll is truly special, because the center is filled with gooey, melted, mozzarella goodness.

It’s like your own mini sushi-pizza. This makes it the best, because pizza is the only food that’s even more delicious than sushi.


Samurai Sushi and Hibachi
Ingredients: Steak, cream cheese, avocado, and crabmeat, rolled in soy paper

Simple. Chewy. Flavorful.

The steak is, in a word, incredible. It’s not smothered in overbearing ingredients, spices, or sauces that distract from its beauty. Some say that less is more, and the UFC is the epitome of this statement. It’s all about the meat, and that’s what makes it a breath of fresh air amongst the unique sushi rolls of Des Moines.

The best part? It’s pink.