Pittsburgh’s best sushi
Ah, sushi. The food-gasmic thrill of the freshest fish melting on your tongue, the electric jolt of the wasabi, the tang of soy sauce, and the fishy crunch of smelt caviar. But somehow, the stale packaged sushi available in Entropy+ just doesn’t seem to satisfy the craving. So where to, sushi seekers?
The city’s best and most authentic Japanese food is served up at Chaya, a one-room restaurant on Murray Avenue crammed with Japanese art and collectibles, a tiny fountain, and packs of hungry customers. Along with a la carte sushi and sashimi, Chaya offers sushi combination dinners and other traditional Japanese dishes like pork cutlets, cold soba noodles, and tempura. You really can’t go wrong here.
For the best cheap sushi, head down Forbes Avenue toward the University of Pittsburgh, where you have four choices: Oishii Bento, Sushi Boat, Ginza, and Saigon-Tokyo. Oishii Bento is a cute, cozy restaurant that’s always packed at lunchtime. Oishii Bento, which means “yummy lunchbox,” specializes in Japanese-style lunchboxes, meals with compartments containing Korean or Japanese entrées along with delicious sides. Oishii’s sushi isn’t as good as Chaya’s, but it’s also substantially cheaper. Or you could head across the street to Sushi Boat, ideal for some quick, cheap-but-good rolls or rice bowls — ah, what a delicious quandary. One block down on Atwood Street, you’ll find another Korean-Japanese combination in Ginza. Ginza is best known for its authentic home-cooked Korean food, but it features a popular sushi bar. Finally, Saigon-Tokyo, a blend of Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine, offers delicious nigiri (flat pieces of fish on top of pats of rice) as well as Vietnamese dishes like pho and vermicelli.
If you’re in Shadyside, Sushi Too is a good bet for satisfying, moderately priced sushi. Try the Oh My God roll and you’re likely to say its name, and — if you’re feeling adventurous — try the chirashi (mixed sashimi on top of a rice bowl).
The Orient Kitchen is a surprising gem on Baum Boulevard. (It may seem off the beaten path, but the Orient Kitchen is actually just a block away from one of the Carnegie Mellon shuttle stops.) The restaurant offers what some would argue is the city’s most authentic Chinese food, as well as incredibly fresh sushi. Try one of the rice bowls; the sake don is particularly good. Don’t go on Monday, though — that’s the sushi chef’s well-deserved night off.
Japanese steakhouse Nakama on the South Side has regularly been voted the city’s best Japanese restaurant, but it’s hardly authentic. The atmosphere is dark, crowded, and loud, leaving something to be desired. The show (a Benihana-like experience) can be fun, especially if you get the chef named Ki, and the hibachi is inarguably delicious. If you can get past the atmosphere and price, the sushi is excellent.
Also worth a try is Pacific Ring on Murray Avenue, which features an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet (a traditional Japanese custom — not!): This buffet is a little too expensive and rule-laden (you must finish everything on your plate before ordering another) to really be worth it, but the sushi is fresh and delicious.
If you’re hanging out in the Strip District, try Sushi Kim, another Japanese-Korean combination, which is most affordable if you visit in a group. Mondays are sushi-only nights, with 10 percent off your total order — yum!
In sum, sushi-lovers: Go to Chaya for the best, Oishii Bento for the cheapest, and Nakama for the show. Then, visit a different sushi place every week to try all the rest.