As a student in the mid-1980s in China—under the direction of a Japanese chef—Zhou first learned to make traditional Japanese cuisine. That changed, however, when he came to the U.S. in 1994 and landed a job as a chef in a Tampa Bay, Florida, restaurant. It was there that Zhou said he realized it was time to change how he cooked.
“Everything is changing,” Zhou said. “You can no longer say, ‘This food belongs to the Japanese and doesn’t belong to any other cuisine.’ Now, everything is international cuisine. Even if you go to a French restaurant, you can see sashimi inside [dishes].”
Sushi is the highlight of the menu; Masa Sushi offers a range of options from standard rolls to off-the-wall choices.
Change does not mean casting aside tradition. Instead, Zhou has created a blend of traditional Japanese cuisine with a spritz of American flavor at his restaurant Masa Sushi, which has three locations in the Houston Bay Area.
Zhou opened his first location in Houston in 2000 but later sold it. He then opened another in Clear Lake in 2005. The Friendswood location—his newest spot—opened in September 2015 off South Friendswood Drive.
“Most chefs are my students,” Zhou said. “I teach them, and then they teach the new people. Most people stay with the company; 10 years is nothing here.”
Along with a tenured staff, Zhou said the secret to his success comes from his ability to adapt the menu to handle many different palates.
The menu offers a diversity of items ranging from the traditional—black pepper tuna sashimi—to off-the-wall options like the Astro, which features shrimp tempura and spicy tuna topped with spicy crawfish and honey wasabi cream.
The quality of ingredients compared to modest pricing at Masa Sushi, Zhou said, was simply a stroke of luck.
“We are lucky because my cousin has a fish company in Honolulu,” Zhou said. “We are able to provide some of the best fish at a reasonable price.”
While Asian fusion cuisine is not new, Zhou said it is the flavor that counts the most.
“As long as you are cooking good food—doesn’t matter what kind of food—people like it,” Zhou said.
1788 S. Friendswood Drive, Friendswood
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun.-11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.