Last February, before departing for the left coast, Besha Rodell wrote about the void MF Sushi's closing created and posed the question: Where do you go for good sushi in Atlanta? A little more than a year later, I have an answer. While each of these restaurants has been around for many years and are all known for sourcing top-tier fish, two have transformed, while the others have solidified their elite status.
When Sushi Huku changed hands a couple of years ago, the restaurant's customer base was skeptical about the young new Korean chef, Jerome "Jey" Oh, whose parents run the front of the house. Would Huku hold its place among Atlanta's elite? Was this kid any good? If the overwhelming acclaim from local publications and bloggerati is any indication, Oh has breathed new life into the popular restaurant. While dining Omakase (the chef's choice) is ideal when money is no object, you'll fare well by making a meal out of some pristine fish and a few hot items such as geso karaage (fried squid tentacles) or the off-the-menu umeboshi chazuke, a soup with a clean broth tangy with pickled plum (umeboshi) made hearty with the addition of rice, bite-sized pieces of salmon, shiny orange orbs of ikura (salmon roe), and shreds of nori (seaweed). A good portion of the sushi menu was out during our visit for unknown reasons, but the items that were in stock were as clean as you can get. The surface of each piece of fish is crosshatched so it only takes a touch of soy sauce to season. And the addition of pickled wasabi root — something turning up at many sushi spots — adds an exciting sour and salty dimension with a milder kick than the raw stuff. 6300 Powers Ferry Road. 770-956-9559. www.sushihuku.com.
When Tomohiro Naito moved his restaurant Tomo to the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Buckhead, much of the unique atmosphere of the original location disappeared. Instead of a tiny, homey jewel in a weird shopping center in Smynings, the new outpost felt like it was trying too hard to be Atlanta's version of Nobu. The prices were also a bit steep when compared to other sushi restaurants that source the same high-quality fish. Most of the cooked dishes are solidly executed, but why pay top dollar for miso cod when everyone does the same thing? These deterrents aside, Tomo excels at sushi and the simpler, the better. If you have watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Tomo's nigiri is almost identical to the mastery documented on-screen. Sit at the sushi bar, talk to the chefs, figure out what is fresh, and settle in for a journey. This is the best way to enjoy Tomo and any other sushi experience. At lunch, big bowls of udon paired with a Japanese craft beer will warm on cold days, but a bento box is a great way to taste Naito's flavors and a good deal if you are looking for something budget-friendly. 3630 Peachtree Road. 404-835-2708. www.tomorestaurant.com.
When Atsushi "Art" Hayakawa opened Sushi House Hayakawa in an odd location on Buford Highway in 2008, many people wondered how he'd survive with fish prices that rivaled most Midtown and Buckhead sushi restaurants. But go on any weekend night some five years later and Hayakawa is still buzzing. Don't have a reservation? Be prepared to wait and pray someone cancels. One of Hayakawa's initial wow-factors is its rice. It's perfect rice. Warm enough to be creamy and expertly mixed with just enough vinegar to cut the fat of whatever gorgeous piece of fish you've plucked from the list. Hayakawa's ikura donburi (marinated salmon eggs) served over rice with shredded nori or an artfully arranged bowl of chirashi donburi (an assortment of sashimi over rice) are both ideal ways to experience the now-famous rice. Nigiri is never a bad road to take, either. An ever-changing handwritten menu of hot and cold special dishes, an eye-popping selection of sakes, and Hayakawa's house-made soy sauce are also big draws. 5979 Buford Highway. 770-986-0010. www.atlantasushibar.com.
I've been going to Taka for years and it continues to be one of the only exceptional sushi restaurants ITP. Taka Moriuchi's now-famous blog details special items he may have in — like "the first good tuna he has had in a long time" and, something new to me, a fish he called "black throat," a buttery and tender piece of white fish best enjoyed as sashimi or nigiri with little or no soy sauce. Always health-conscious and weight-obsessed, Taka is quick to offer specials like a spicy vegetable soup he claims is good for your health. Such specials are normally handwritten on the white board out front and offered in limited quantities. He has also started offering brown rice if you are trying to incorporate more whole grains into your diet. If Taka's sometimes-wacky blog — such as posting pictures of his feet on a scale wacky — leaves you craving more, he has branched out to Facebook and plans to start tweeting sometime in the near future. The restaurant still serves lunch if you're craving home-style Japanese food in Buckhead. 375 Pharr Road. 404-869-2802. www.takasushiatlanta.com.
What's next on the horizon for Atlanta sushi? Look for a buzz-worthy opening from MF Sushi's former top chef, Fuyuhiko Ito, sometime this year. Ito garners a big following wherever he lands and this restaurant is sure to make its mark.