You might be tempted not to take Sushi-san seriously at first. On the surface, it seems like a somewhat gimmicky spot - there’s club-level-loud hip hop music playing, there’s a section on the menu called “nigiri bombs,” and the bathroom sign is a poop emoji. Underneath the over-the-top exterior, though, this River North Japanese restaurant is serving seriously great food.
First of all, the sushi here is fresh and expertly prepared. You can order sashimi, nigiri, and rolls a la carte, but the best thing to do is get one of the San-Sets, which range in price from $29-98 and are designed for sharing. Each one has a different assortment of sushi - for example, the “Mr. Maguro” has ten pieces of tuna sashimi and nigiri plus a tuna roll, and the “Megatron” has 24 varieties of sashimi and nigiri and two rolls.
The non-sushi dishes here are also tasty and well-executed - even the unfortunately named “nigiri bombs,” which are Japanese fusion appetizers. There’s an octopus taco from this section of the menu that has a lot going on (the octopus is dressed with a spicy mayo, topped with tobiko, and served in a shell made from fried nori), but balances out really well. And from the “sizzling rice” menu category, the pork katsu, involving fried pork nuggets with rice, egg, and a dashi broth that’s drizzled tableside, is equally delicious.
The fact that Sushi-san’s food is so good makes sense - after all, it’s from the same group that owns Naoki, one of the best sushi restaurants in Chicago. Still, while Sushi-san is far more affordable than Naoki, it’s not for everyone. This is a very loud restaurant, especially if you’re in sitting in the communal section or at the sushi bar, which together make up the majority of the space. (If you want something quieter, you should request one of the large wooden booths in the back of the restaurant.) And you might not want to have a business dinner in a place where your client needs to find the poop emoji to locate the bathroom. But if you come here with the right crowd (anyone who appreciates a bit of irreverence) at the right time (when you want to have an upbeat night, and maybe go out afterwards), you’ll have a very enjoyable meal.
It’s exciting when something turns out to be more than it seems - that’s why our superheroes have normal alter egos, and sneakers that turned into roller skates were a thing. Sushi-san looks from the outside like a trendy restaurant that's trying really hard to be cool, but is in fact an excellent sushi spot that’s more than worth your time.
“Nigiri bombs” sound like focus group-generated fusion food. And they might be - but they’re still really good. This dish has a taco shell made from fried nori that’s filled with spicy-mayo-dressed octopus. It all comes together perfectly.
This is a shrimp ceviche served on shrimp crisps. It’s a light and delicious bite. Order it.
The “nest” is a tiny bowl of shredded filo dough filled with raw tuna. The textures are interesting, and the fish tastes good, but ultimately this seems a bit boring compared to everything else.
Four large pieces of shrimp are fried and served with a wasabi dipping sauce and a spicy aioli. Is it the most interesting appetizer you can get here? No, but it’s still good.
The rolls are divided into three categories - “old school” (traditional, like a salmon maki), “new school” (e.g. crunchy avocado and spicy tuna), and “summer school” (wrapped in cucumber, with no rice). You should get at least one while you’re here - the spicy tuna is a good choice.
There are a few ways to order the excellent sushi. You can do a 15-piece “oma-kaze” for $88, order a la carte, or get one of the San-Sets. We recommend the third option. It’s an affordable way to try a good selection of things. The $45 D-Luxe has 12 pieces, including uni, toro, and whatever else the chef chooses that day.
Fried balls of shredded pork are served with egg and rice in a cast-iron bowl, with dashi broth poured tableside. The sizzling bowl makes the rice crispy, and the whole thing is fantastic.
This is simple and very successful. The beef melts in your mouth, and the spicy marinade complements it perfectly.
Three scallops are grilled and served in a big shell with a buttery sauce. It’s good, but watch out for grit in the shell.
Light and fluffy pancakes topped with matcha butter and a brown sugar syrup. Definitely get these for dessert.