$13 at Zake Sushi Lounge

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: Zake Sushi Lounge, 2946 S. Shepherd, 713-526-6888

What $13 gets you: A surprisingly generous portion of fresh, delicious Japanese cuisine in a swank, luxurious setting.

Good sushi for $13? Impossible, right? I thought so, too, until I recently wandered into Zake Sushi Lounge, which is set in that same little strip as the old Alabama Theater.

I stopped eating sushi a long time ago, and not because I don’t love it because I do. And it wasn’t because of that recent New York Times report on high mercury levels in sushi because, hey, we all gotta die sometime. I stopped eating sushi because I couldn’t afford it. And, anyway, it sucks to drop 60 bucks or more on a meal and still be hungry. (Note to self: raw fish followed by day-old pizza will cause tummy ache.)

Zake Sushi Lounge is best known for its expensive varieties of sake. My advice: leave the rice wine alone and hit up the joint for lunch. For a mere $9, you can choose from the following: salmon or steak hibachi; salmon, steak or shrimp tempura; or a Kobe-beef burger. For $10, I got the roll combo, which includes a California roll, spicy tuna roll and crunchy roll. That’s 18 pieces. And it comes with soup and salad.

Recommended? Highly.

On weekend nights, Zake Sushi Lounge pumps out Japanese house music. On weekday afternoons, there is muzak. But I didn’t mind the horrid instrumental arrangements of horrid Phil Collins and Patti LaBelle songs since they lulled my six-month-old son to sleep. Oh, and one other cheesy thing about the place before I sing its praises: the waiters, who are very attentive and cordial, wear T-shirts that read, ‘MISO hungry.’ But, really, who cares about any of that if the food is good and abundant and cheap – which it is.

The miso soup was silky and filled with crunchy seaweed that somehow made me feel healthier and stronger with each slurp. The salad was chopped iceberg lettuce topped with a flavorful carrot-ginger dressing. And the sushi rolls were fantastic. The tuna was so fresh it melted on the tongue. And the crunchy roll – which I later learned includes lightly fried chicken, crab and avocado – may sound not-so-good but tastes oh-so-delicious. The rice surrounding each piece was fluffy and light with crisp, clean flavors in every bite.

Bonus point: It’s the only time I’ve ever gotten sushi and not only didn’t empty my wallet but also had to ask for a box to take home what I just could not finish. –Todd Spivak

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