Local Spotlight

Sushi Wabi: Not Your Average Strip Mall Joint

I discovered Sushi Wabi existed when having dinner at Kobecue one evening, and I thought, "Hmmm, I should try it some time." Months passed before I actually did, and I curse myself for all those missed opportunities. Even then it was an accident -- the plan had been to have dinner at Oishii, my usual for "cheap but good" sushi, but not surprisingly, there was a long wait. Sushi Wabi was just right down the street.

One can definitely draw comparisons between the Oishii and Sushi Wabi -- they both offer reasonably priced sushi in nondescript locations, and they are both casual places offering really good happy hour specials. But these are two very different restaurants. Sushi Wabi's creativity and presentation really stand out, and the vibe is more comfortable and less hustle-and-bustle.

My first visit to Sushi Wabi was quiet, and the service friendly and knowledgeable. On subsequent visits, word had obviously spread and it was quite a bit busier, but the service never wavered. Owner William Lin is the main sushi chef and sometimes even the host and waiter, and his enthusiasm for his restaurant and the food is evident.

The prices are very reasonable, with nigiri ranging from $1.25 to $1.75 and signature rolls from $9 to $13. The prices are no indication of quality, either -- everything is fresh and picked out daily by Lin himself.

The rolls are massive in both quantity and flavor. A must-try roll on their signature list is the Happy Sumo ($9.95), consisting of shrimp tempura, cream cheese, crab mix and jalapeño, topped with a pile of crispy fried sweet potato strings and a sweet "special" sauce. It's a strange-looking roll, but it was addictive. Although it may be a little sweet for some, I enjoyed it -- particularly the crunchy texture and the flavor from the sweet potato strings.

As for appetizers, the butter ika, or buttered grilled squid ($7.50), is not to be missed. This simply done dish is one that can easily go wrong -- the squid could be rubbery and tasteless -- but this wasn't the case. The whole squid, tentacles and all, is grilled and buttered and covered in a teriyaki-like glaze. The meat is tender and sweet. My favorite part was the tentacles, which have a nice cartilage chewiness to them. If you like spice, ask for their house hot sauce and use it as a dip. I'd come back for this alone, but what really keeps me coming back to Sushi Wabi is the fresh sashimi.

The fish is expertly sliced, not too thin, not too thick, and served at the perfect cool temperature. Every piece just melts in your mouth, from fresh salmon to yellowtail to scallops with a light ponzu. A friend of mine who usually finds escolar unappealing loves it here. The same friend had previous bad experiences with uni -- don't ask me how that is possible -- but here she devours it happily. The uni here (currently $5.95) is delicious, with that clean, salty sea taste. For a nigiri option, the unagi is my favorite. Eaten right when it hits your table, the eel is warm and flaky, and the sauce slightly caramelized on top. And like all the fish I've had here, not a hint of "fishiness."

I've enjoyed Sushi Wabi more and more each time I've gone. It's definitely becoming my new casual sushi go-to. And luckily for those in the neighborhood, it's an even more casual option, since they offer a delivery service right to your home on the Sushi Wabi bike. It's parked proudly right outside the door when it's not out on deliveries. Houston definitely has its share of sushi restaurants, but Sushi Wabi is a much welcome addition.

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Minh T Truong