Just in the past few decades, the popularity of sushi has exploded in the United States. But finding good sushi restaurants can still be a challenge, especially when you’re visiting or new to a city and can’t ask for personal recommendations. So how can you tell a great sushi restaurant from one that will have you regretting your spicy tuna roll the next morning? Here’s what you should and shouldn’t look for when scouting out your options:
- Do Look for: A Lack of Fishy Smells
When you walk into a sushi restaurant, take a whiff. If there’s an overwhelming fishy smell, that’s a bad sign; fresh seafood shouldn’t have that distinctive fishy odor. Even very fine sushi restaurants may smell unfamiliar if you don’t frequently cook with those ingredients, but nothing should smell bad.
- Don’t Look for: Many Japanese Diners
It’s a cliche that good sushi restaurants are filled with Japanese diners. While that may sometimes be a good sign, Americans are becoming increasingly educated about what constitutes great sushi. Looking at the dining demographics might still be helpful if you’re trying to find very authentic Japanese sushi, but a lack of Japanese clientele isn’t a reason to rule out a potential dining spot.
- Do Look for: A Limited Menu
If you’re trying to satisfy varied tastes among a large group of diners, it can be tempting to opt for a pan-Asian restaurant offering everything from pad Thai to sushi. But creating good sushi is an art form, and it’s often best to stick to a restaurant with a specialized culinary staff.
- Don’t Look for: The Lowest Prices
There’s nothing wrong with trying to get a good deal. But good sushi restaurants will have well-trained chefs using high-quality ingredients, and you should expect that cost to get passed onto you as a diner. In your hometown, it can be fun to scout all the local sushi restaurants to find the ones that offer you a good balance of quality and price. But if you’re looking for a special night out, it’s better to pay a little more than to end up disappointed (or worse, sick).
- Do Look for: A Pleasant Atmosphere
Ultimately, the best sushi restaurant is the one you enjoy the most. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t educate yourself or try to find authentic versions of Japanese cuisine, but it does mean that your satisfaction should factor largely into the equation. Sushi has always been considered a food that’s part of a pleasurable dining experience, rather than mere sustenance, and you should expect more than good food when you visit a sushi restaurant.
What are your tips for finding good sushi restaurants? Share your advice — or any sushi horror stories — in the comments.