By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
It wasn't too terribly long ago that most Houstonians found sushi to be a terribly exotic and occasionally daunting meal. My first sushi dinner was had at Cafe Japon on Kirby early in high school, with my worldly mother as my guide. It was terrifying and exhilarating, this unique experience of eating fish...raw.
"It's not raw in the way you're thinking," my exasperated mother kept trying to tell me. But I was fascinated by the idea that great hunks had simply been flayed off a live fish, then draped across a ball of (room temperature! not hot!) rice, so she let me run with it. For many years, I went back to Cafe Japon or its neighbor across the street, Miyako, when I wanted to feel the shivers of excitement that came from experimenting with a completely new type of fish or moving up the sushi ladder to pure sashimi, slowly but surely.
Nearly 20 years later, our sushi options have expanded greatly from basic purveyors like Cafe Japon and Miyako. The greatest sushi restaurant Houston has ever seen sits right down the street from these two pioneers, and our choices are only getting better by the day. Los Angeles import Katsuya by Starck offers a slick, chic scene to go with your sushi while mom-and-pop places like Sushi Miyagi in Chinatown provide a homey hole-in-the-wall in which to have a slow-paced, contemplative dinner.
It's refreshing when you find a place that's as genuinely comfortable as it is delicious. The menu at this diminutive Japanese joint isn't mind-blowing, but it's consistently refreshing, with delicious salmon, shrimp, eel and tuna offered in creative combinations, all at reasonable prices. You'll find the standbys on the sushi list, plus a bunch of more adventurous rolls that expertly play with textures and flavors. Beyond the food, the zen atmosphere is one-upped only by the amiable servers, who can make suggestions and customize orders. Perhaps best of all, every diner gets at least one small freebie with every meal — from creative rolls and punchy dumplings or baked mussels and green tea ice cream.
This well-frequented restaurant in a strip center on Westheimer is known for the freshness of its fish. The chefs create traditional Japanese food with a contemporary flair; there are many special sushi rolls, all beautifully presented. The atmosphere is relaxed yet upscale, and the hostesses are even dressed in traditional kimonos. Private parties can be accommodated in three — count 'em, three — tatami rooms.
8. Soma Sushi
A beautifully chic restaurant filled with equally beautiful, chic people, Soma serves up some of the best and most interesting sushi in town. Located along the Washington Avenue corridor, Soma helped make the area "cool" again and inspired an ever-growing number of trendy eatery owners to set up shop there. Sure, you can get your basic California roll or spicy tuna, and it'll be delicious, but why not try something more adventurous? There's New Zealand red snapper, yellow tail belly, sea urchin and flying fish roe, to name just a few. And don't forget the specialty rolls, like the Crazy Irish-Man, with salmon, tuna and avocado topped with spicy mayo, or the Relaxation roll, a mix of crab stick, avocado, fish egg and salmon on top of shrimp and grilled asparagus.
Ginza is by far one of the most traditionally appointed Japanese restaurants in the city; you almost feel like you're in Tokyo. That feeling doesn't always extend to the food, which is heavily Americanized, but of high quality nevertheless. Ginza's lunch specials are some of the best deals you'll find in town considering the quality of its fish, while you'll find a sizable Japanese expat population there at dinner. Chef Danny Trace of Brennan's is a noted fan of Ginza's super-fresh uni.
6. Sushi Miyagi
This mom-and-pop sushi restaurant in a slow-paced Chinatown strip mall doesn't look like much from the outside. The only external indication of its quality lies in its name: Miyagi is an extremely common name in the Ryukyu Islands, and it serves to let other Japanese know that an Okinawan runs this place. Miyagi himself is the sushi chef, his wife the sole waitress (and creative force behind the restaurant's art). The two of them serve the most honest, authentic sushi in town. The rice is well-vinegared and hand-formed, while the fish is superbly cut, always served at a pleasantly ambient temperature. Best of all, the prices and the atmosphere make it easily accessible, and the Miyagis will always make you feel at home.
I had Zushi all wrong before I finally ate there for the first time. I expected cheesy, strip-mall sushi and instead I got chef Chris Nemoto's excellently constructed nigirizushi and beautifully folded tamagoyaki, the true sign of a talented sushi chef. All of Nemoto's fish is fresh and his rice impeccably seasoned, even if the menu caters heavily to the Americanized roll set. Give it a chance and you'll be impressed, too.
Chef Hajime Kubokawa — or Kubo-san, for short — is no longer at the sushi restaurant he helped found with owner Yoichi "Yogi" Ueno. But it's still one of the best sushi joints in the city, a fact that's more impressive considering its longevity and the talent that it's worked with through the years, including Kata Robata's sushi master, Hori-san. Some of my most memorable meals have been at Kubo's over the years, from the night I tried my first idiot fish prepared by current chef Kiyoka Ito to the one-off kaiseki dinner I still dream about.