42 Beach St., Boston
Monday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston
Monday – Sunday 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
After every Netflix binge that inevitably includes an all-too-frequent viewing of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I am always left looking for a way to satisfy my cravings for raw fish. After determining that a flight to Tokyo isn’t the most efficient or economical option, I turn to the choices that Boston and Cambridge have to offer. If you too suffer from recurring bouts of hamachi withdrawal, I’d recommend giving either (or both) of my go-to places a try.
A veritable diamond in the rough, Avana Sushi is situated in a “Food Court” at 42 Beach St. in Chinatown. If you decide to go and arrive at this address, I’ll answer two of your questions before you ask them: no, you aren’t lost, and yes, this is the place. Your destination is the sushi stand nestled snugly between a cell phone kiosk and an egg puff cart (also delicious) with only six counter seats. If you go at a prime time, expect to wait, or order take-out and find a spot nearby for a picnic.
After you’re seated, you’ll look at the menu and see it was worth any discomfort that your journey and/or wait may have caused. “Conventional” maki are cheaper than LaVerde’s at $4.95 per roll, sushi and sashimi are around $4 a serving, special rolls are $9, and, to top it all off, miso soup is only $1. Spoiler alert: it’s all delicious. My go-to options are the Spicy White Tuna Avocado Roll ($4.95), the surf clam sushi ($3.95), and the Spicy Scorpion Maki (Eel, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, and a layer of shrimp, $8.95), but really anything that is on the menu is worth getting, and then getting more of. If you don’t trust me, trust Boston Magazine, who named Avana Sushi “Best Low-Brow Sushi” for 2013.
When my desire for sushi (almost) deserving of Jiro’s approval trumps my desire to have money in my wallet, I usually head over to Uni Sashimi Bar, which can be found just across the river from campus, at the intersection of Commonwealth Ave. and Mass. Ave. The restaurant occupies a very small basement space (17 seats) in the Eliot Hotel. The space is cozy but modern, with dark tables and dim lighting. The focal point of the room is the sashimi bar, behind which the restaurant’s chef makes the sashimi for the restaurant in full view.
Uni serves sashimi and Japanese fare with “fusion” elements, but the use of that skepticism-inducing buzzword of the mid-2000s shouldn’t scare you off. While the menu may not meet Jiro’s exacting standards for traditional cuisine, you certainly won’t be disappointed by it. Uni shares a kitchen with Clio, one of the highest-rated French restaurants in the city, and both are owned by James Beard Award winner Ken Oringer. So don’t worry, the kitchen staff knows how to incorporate French elements into their Japanese dishes. Two of my favorite dishes are the “Tuna Poke” ($17), which is cubes of raw tuna in a slightly spicy sauce with mung bean and onion, and Scottish Salmon Sashimi ($15), which is slices of raw salmon served simply with a bit of sauce containing candied ginger and black beans.
Prices for a meal are steep, however, with small dishes averaging about $15–$25 each, and a satisfying meal requiring at least two or three of them. For a slightly less pricey option, visit Uni on a Sunday or Monday night for their “Sake Bomb Menu.” It includes a four-course dinner (with the exact dishes chosen by the kitchen), a Sapporo, and a glass of Sake $35. If you aren’t a picky eater and like surprises with your dinner, you should certainly make your way to Uni for this option.