Back in my hometown on Long Island, we have a little Japanese grocery store where the friendly sushi chef, Takahashi-san, makes delicious and reasonably-priced sushi in the back. Takahashi-san, who has a son my age, is a fixture in my hometown and has a loyal following of regular customers, including my father. I didn’t realize how spoiled I was to grow up in a place where I could get a tuna roll for only around $5 or so. Here in DC, I rarely eat sushi because it’s so damn expensive; even a supermarket roll costs over $10 and the pieces of $1 happy hour nigiri at Tono Sushi, a great deal by DC standards, are almost comically tiny.
Yet, improbably, hidden in a building downtown, Sushi Express exists. The place is basic and mostly for takeout. It’s only open weekdays and closes at 7 pm. But, it might be the best place in town for affordable sushi. Tuna, salmon and yellowtail rolls are only $4 and there are great-value combos as well. This is definitely the place if you just want your sushi fix without breaking the bank.
Sushi Express is located at 1990 K St NW #400.
The poke (pronounced POH-kay) phenomenon has finally arrived in DC! For the uninitiated, poke is a popular Hawaiian snack consisting of marinated sashimi over rice with an assortment of toppings, such as seaweed, tempura flakes, pickled ginger and edamame, plus sauce. For those familiar with chirashi, poke is basically chirashi gone wild with flavors and toppings. Poke Papa, which is fast-casual, serves up excellent poke at very reasonable prices with generous portions. If you love sushi but hate how expensive it is, try Poke Papa for a delicious and fast raw fish meal that won’t break the bank. Friendly service add to a great experience!
Poke Papa is located in Chinatown at 806 H St NW.
The Lycheetini was a winner.
Sushi AOI is a Japanese restaurant located at 1100 New York Ave NW. This is truly a tale of two reviews, which average out to three stars. The drinks would get four or five stars while the sushi itself would get one or two. This place is a favorite of my colleagues for the excellent happy hour drink specials, including cheap prices on Asahi and $7 “Happy Tinis,” which are a selection of sweet martini cocktails. Since I am secure in my manhood, I ordered a delightfully pink and Lycheetini, which was delicious, beautiful and flavorful. The sushi was a totally different story. I ordered a white tuna roll, which was cheap during happy
The white tuna roll was every bit as bad as it looks. I’m sure Hanaya Yohei would be rolling in his grave.
hour at $5, but apparently you get what you pay for. It was clearly bad quality fish and definitely ranks among the worst tuna rolls I’ve ever had (I’ve had white tuna before and enjoyed it in the past). In fact, most supermarket sushi I’ve had has been significantly better than this was. So in summary, come here for the drinks (especially if you can sit outside on a nice day) but give the sushi a miss.
Maki Shop is a food truck that primarily serves large sushi handrolls. You can find the food truck’s daily location on their Twitter, and they also have a brick and mortar location at 1522 14th Street NW, near Logan Circle. I ordered both the beef short rib handroll, as well as the salmon handroll. I enjoyed the salmon more than the beef short rib, since cold ribs inside a sushi roll aren’t nearly as tasty as ribs served hot. They were essentially going for a handroll take on Korean galbi, by pairing the short ribs with kimchi, romaine and carrots. It is worth noting that the handrolls are not made to order while you wait. Instead, they are pre-wrapped with the seaweed separate from the rice and other contents in order to keep the seaweed crisp and fresh. This definitely has a time advantage in that you will get your food right away, without the interminable wait at other food trucks. On the other hand, it means it’s less ultra-fresh than rolls prepared while you wait. I also ordered the mochi ice cream, which was pretty small for the price. If you enjoy handrolls and want to grab something super quick, Maki Shop will get the job done. That said, I’d rather get my rolls made fresh at Buredo.
Hana Japanese Market is a small, authentic Japanese store located at 2004 17th St NW. This is definitely not a well-known spot in Adams Morgan; I admit I lived a few blocks away from here for months without knowing it even existed. I’m very glad I stumbled on it though since it’s a great spot for such Japanese goods as sushi mats, mochi ,and Pocky. There is sushi-grade fish in the freezer, but this isn’t a place that sells supermarket-style sushi. This is a place that sells a wide variety of Japanese goods to a primarily Japanese clientele, which means it’s a spot where you can find things that you simply can’t get elsewhere.
Sushi burritos are a thing now and they are available in DC at Buredo, located at 825 14th St NW. If you’ve never had a sushi burrito before, it’s essentially a sushi roll that’s made extra large and then cut into only two pieces, so it looks like a burrito. It’s most similar to hand rolls (temaki) but larger and cylindrical, not cone-shaped. I ordered the “Hanzo,” which is made of tuna, avocado, cucumber, pickled fennel, arugula, tempura crunch, and lemon aioli. It was delicious, though a bit of a small portion for $11.75. Sushi tends to be pricey, but be aware that Buredo is not a place to go if you’re looking for huge portions at bargain prices. The concept is trendy, though, and the food is delicious, so treat yourself!
The “Hanzo” – tuna, avocado, cucumber, pickled fennel, arugala, tempura crunch and lemon aoili.
Donburi is a Japanese restaurant located at 2438 18th St NW in Adams Morgan (Donburi also has a food truck). It is not a sushi restaurant; it’s a small, counter-serve restaurant that specializes in katsu bowls (breaded and fried chicken, pork, or shrimp over rice with veggies). I ordered a mixed pork katsu and shrimp katsu bowl. The service was super quick and the bowl was absolutely delicious and satisfying. At $11, it was also very reasonably-priced. This a unique place for DC and is an ideal spot to stop in for a meal that is quick, filling, delicious and inexpensive. It’s certainly the best quick bite in Adams Morgan (sorry, jumbo slice places). The people are friendly and the minimalist decor gives it an authentically Japanese vibe. Highly recommended.
The Tortilla China
China Chilcano (China rhymes with Tina in this case) is a Peruvian-Chinese-Japanese fusion restaurant located at 418 7th Street NW. China Chilcano‘s food is based on the immigration of Chinese and Japanese people to Peru; they brought their culinary traditions with them but adapted them to suit the ingredients that were available. The food is absolutely delicious and innovative. I once went for a business lunch and we ordered one of the tasting menus, which provided an amazing overview of a large portion of the menu items. Last time I went, I had brunch which was also great. The brunch menu itself is small, but involves cool fusion options as well. The regular menu is also available at
The Ceviche Clásico La Mar
lunch. I ordered the Tortilla China (Egg foo yung, Edwards smoked ham, fresh crab, scallion, jicama, bean sprout, oyster sauce), which was like a tasty Asian-influenced Spanish omelette. I also had the Ceviche Clásico La Mar, which is made with a daily selection of fresh fish- it was great. My friends ordered the Lucky 12 dim sum tower, which is an awesome combo of three different types of Peruvian-accented dumplings. China Chilcano is a bit of an off-the-beaten track choice for brunch and doesn’t have the standard chicken and waffles fare. While there were a good number of people there, it wasn’t packed, making it a great choice for a unique brunch that isn’t especially hard to get a table at. Cool, minimalist decor and super friendly staff add to the experience. Our server, a Peruvian, took great care of us and was enthusiastic about explaining the menu and offering suggestions. At the end of the meal, he gave us all samples of chicha morada, a deliciously sweet sangria-like beverage (though alcohol-free) made from purple corn and spices.
Sakuramen is a ramen place located in a basement at 2441 18th St NW in Adams Morgan. The place is constantly crowded, and the menu consists of buns, gyoza and ramen. The food is very tasty and it’s a really cool place. I would caution, however, that it can be very difficult to get a table and the music is absurdly loud (I get that loud music gives a young, fun vibe but sometimes it can be too much).
Top: “Lox and Onigiri.” Bottom left: Poached Egg and Chesapeake Korokke. Bottom right: “Chicken and Waffles.”
Izakaya is a Japanese small plates restaurant located at 705 6th St NW. Izakaya is located upstairs from its sister restaurant, Daikaya, which is a ramen place. Japanese food is not normally associated with brunch, but Izakaya’s Japanese fusion brunch might just be the best brunch in DC. An added bonus is that unlike some of the better-known brunch spots (read: Founding Farmers) it is not difficult to get a brunch reservation at Izakaya. Some of their most innovative and delicious brunch options include:
- A Japanese take on bagels and lox featuring a rice ball in place of the bagel and an assortment of smoked salmon, salmon sashimi ikura, picked onion and cream cheese.
- A Japanese take on crab cakes benedict with a Japanese-style crab korokke and tonkatsu sauce.
- A Japanese chicken and waffles with chicken kara-age and a waffle stuffed with red bean served with maple syrup and wasabi butter.
- Delicious french toast made with condensed milk.
One of the best aspects of their brunch is that it is served small-plates style, so you can (and should!) try a few. Excellent french press coffee sourced from Qualia Coffee in Petworth and tasty cocktails round out the meal nicely.
So why doesn’t Izakaya get five stars? I tried their brunch before their dinner and had high expectations that their dinner would be equally mind-blowing. It wasn’t. I ordered the “hambagu,” Japanese-style beef hamburger steak with red wine-Worcestershire sauce. It was reminiscent of meatloaf. I also had a fish dish, which was fine but nothing terribly memorable. The crab croquettes were very tasty, though. Izakaya also does a really cool take on the sake bomb: the sake comes enclosed in a ball (similar to a large pop boba) floating in the beer. When it hits your tongue, it pops, giving you a burst of sake.
The bottom line for Izakaya is that the brunch is phenomenal and deserves five stars. The dinner (at least what I ordered) wasn’t bad by any means, but was less exceptional.