Portland’s best sushi: Our critic’s picks for cheap chirashi, opulent omakase and everything in between
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Portland’s best sushi: Our critic’s picks for cheap chirashi, opulent omakase and everything in between

Jul 11, 2023

A fish showcase during one of Nodoguro's old hardcore sushi nights, including Japanese yellowtail, ocean trout, sea bream, tea-poached octopus, wild horse mackerel, salt-cured sardines, ikura shoyuzuke and fresh wasabi.LC- The Oregonian

When I first moved to Portland, going out for sushi meant riding bikes with friends to the old Sushi Takahashi downtown, where a miniature train loaded with inexpensive rolls, fried fish, beer bottles and notes sent from one customer circled the room. It had recently been renamed Sushi Ichiban, though everyone I knew just called it Punk Rock Sushi, before and after the rebrand, for the rainbow of hair color choices among staff and clientele.

I’m not sure I could have told you where to find “good” sushi. Perhaps at Hiro, the cubicle-sized Lake Oswego restaurant from Hiro Ikegaya, who would go on to open Hiroshi and Mirakutei in Portland. Murata already felt like it had been around forever. Among newer places, Masu had style and Zilla had sake. Conveyor belt sushi proliferated.

Anyway, it seemed like Portlanders were more interested in the price of sushi — $1.25 or less per plate, please — than the provenance of the fish.

If you had to pick a moment when Portland sushi entered its modern age, it probably came near the end of 2008, when Kristofer Lofgren converted Masu’s sleek Southeast 28th Avenue digs into Bamboo Sushi, aka the world’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant.

As part of the sustainability package, Bamboo became one of the first local sushi restaurants to explain where their fish came from, and how they were caught, like an early seafood version of “Portlandia’s” Colin the chicken sketch. Perhaps more importantly, several of the chefs Bamboo brought in ended up sticking around and opening sushi restaurants and food carts of their own

One of those chefs, Ryan Roadhouse, eventually launched Nodoguro, a pop-up turned restaurant focused on creative Japanese cuisine, with meals often ending with a nigiri flight made from fish flown in from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market. Though it was never exclusively a sushi restaurant, and might be even less so now, the sushi Nodoguro serves at its new home has no rival in Portland.

It’s also $250 per person.

But that doesn’t mean fans of raw fish can’t eat well on a budget in Portland. Below, we’ve gathered our favorite sushi restaurants at various price points and categories, from a former top conveyor belt sushi chef offering 11 pieces of nigiri for $15.50 to an Edo-style sushi counter where the omakase experience includes its own high quality 11-piece set for $95, and everything in between.

Until its 2019 closure, Southwest Portland’s Sushi Takahashi 2 was widely recognized as Portland’s best conveyor belt sushi spot. In 2021, former Takahashi 2 chef Takeo Kashiwagi took his knives across the river and reopened with a new name and concept, Kashiwagi, serving affordable rolls, nigiri and bento from the old La Panza space (2425 S.E. 26th Ave.) just off Division Street near the Plaid Pantry. The menu includes agedashi tofu, chicken karaage, unagi rice bowls and the same nigiri that once passed by your cramped chair on the back of a model train, only here sliced to order. Inside, find a cozy dining room with a small market, jazz album art and Sushi Takahashi 2′s old Southern Pacific train sitting on a shelf.

Also try: Conveyor belt sushi took a hit during the pandemic, but aficionados still flock to Chiyo (4029 N.E. Sandy Blvd.), Ohana (1422 N.E. Broadway) and Hada, a trio of Northeast Portland restaurants with shared ownership. I had higher hopes for Musashi’s (4246 S.E. Belmont St. #2), the Portland location of a Seattle favorite known for its cheap chirashi bowls. Kashiwagi is better.

Eating sushi from a Portland food cart typically means fish and rice wrapped up in burrito form. At Yoshi’s (3530 S.W. Multnomah Blvd.) in Multnomah Village, former Bamboo Sushi chef Yoshi Ikeda brings serious finesse to his bright green cart’s cramped quarters. Rice is made fresh throughout the day. Seared sea scallop nigiri are dabbed with fragrant yuzu marmalade. Planks of sweet, fluffy tamago are branded with the cart’s name. And rolls might be decorated with micro greens and house-pickled jalapeño.

Also try: Yoshi’s isn’t Portland’s first sushi cart (before opening its brick-and-mortar lounge (8609 S.E. 17th Ave.), Sellwood’s Zenbu had a nearly decade-long run as a cart). It’s not even the first sushi cart from a former Bamboo Sushi chef. That would be Kazumi (7316 N. Lombard St.), Kazumi Boyd’s North Portland gem, the best sushi option within several miles of St. Johns.

Because sometimes you want to pair some shrimp tempura and a California hand roll with a glass of Pliny The Younger, Russian River Brewing’s limited release triple IPA, Miyamoto (422 S.E. 81st Ave.) lets diners order off beers from Roscoe’s next door. The sushi is solid, the kind of once-a-week place most people would be glad to have in their neighborhood. But considering Roscoe’s is one of the best craft beer bars in Portland, this might just be the best beer list of any sushi restaurant in the world. Families know to visit during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday for food and drink discounts.

Also try: Bluefin Tuna & Sushi (1337 N.E. Broadway) in the Lloyd District is the first Portland location of a South Korean chain known for its adorably round temari-style nigiri. (Don’t confuse it with the pleasantly old-school Bluefin Sushi Bar (4138 N.E. Broadway) in Hollywood or the recently closed Blue Fin Sushi downtown, all three of which somehow once coexisted on Broadway). Saburo’s (1667 S.E. Bybee Blvd.) in Sellwood has its diehards, though one visit for the over-sized cuts of fish was enough for me. Most Southwest Portland residents are in the know about Sho Japanese Restaurant (10110 Barbur Blvd.). And I can already hear fans of Yoko’s (2878 S.E. Gladstone St.) in Creston-Kenilworth complaining about the snub here. Just be happy the line for your next bite of Taka’s tuna isn’t longer.

Various nigiri being prepared by hand at Murata in downtown Portland.Michael Russell | The Oregonian

Opened in 1988 and ranked among Portland’s best sushi restaurants ever since, Murata (200 S.W. Market St.) remains an elite place to drop by for a business lunch, date night or quick dinner before a show at the nearby Keller Auditorium. For some, Murata is little more than a welcoming place to slip away from the office for a chicken teriyaki bento. It’s also the first place I tried raw geoduck, the giant clams grown in the Pacific Northwest but more prized in Asia than the United States. If you want to take the full measure of Murata, a little advanced planning is required. Both the semi-private tatami mat rooms and the chef’s choice omakase sushi option require advanced reservations.

Also try: Takahashi (10324 S.E. Holgate Blvd.), chef Seiji Takahashi (of Sushi Takahashi 1 and 2 fame)’s original restaurant, is under new ownership, but the room remains charmingly cluttered with lanterns, tanuki statues and origami cranes. In Washington County, Syun Izakaya (209 N.E. Lincoln St.) in Hillsboro and Ikenohana (14308 S.W. Allen Blvd. #4403) and Toshi (745 S.W. 185th Ave.) in Beaverton fill a similar role. You wouldn’t guess from the sleek dining rooms, but Bamboo Sushi (various locations) turned 15 this year. Now owned by investment firm Sortis, the multi-state chain continues to serve fish you can order without worrying about depleting an endangered species.

Tamago nigiri from Nimblefish.Michael Russell | The Oregonian

After a price hike planned for next month, “everyday” might be a bit of a stretch. But for $95, the set menu at Nimblefish (1524 S.E. 20th Ave.) does include two petite appetizers, 11 small nigiri and a scoop of refreshing yuzu sorbet. This is the anti-Saburo’s — nigiri are small and thin, but quality is unerringly high, with much of the fish coming from the waters around Japan. At the restaurant, that fish gets salted, pickled or otherwise preserved in the house Edo style. After the flight, you can order additional nigiri from a menu that might include gizzard shad, Hokkaido uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), anago (grilled eel) or tamago (dashi-infused egg). Pay attention to the rice, made fresh throughout the night, served at body temperature, with grains that hold together just long enough to fall apart on your tongue.

Also try: One of the biggest changes to the Portland sushi scene over the past half decade is the number of restaurants that advertise seafood specials sourced from around the globe, including Tokyo’s relocated Toyosu fish market. You might find creamy uni from Santa Barbara or fatty tuna from Spain. Sushi savants should explore the social media feeds of Hanamo (620 S.W. 9th Ave.), Kaede (8268 S.E. 13th Ave.), Kaizen (40 S.W. 3rd Ave.), Masu (406 S.W. 13th Ave.), Yama (926 N.W. 10th Ave. and 2038 S.E. Clinton St.), Yuubi (4925 S.W. Angel Ave. #110, Beaverton), or Zilla (1806 N.E. Alberta St.) to see what’s fresh that day.

Nodoguro (623 N.E. 23rd Ave.) specializes in sousaku ryori, a sort of rule-breaking cousin to kaiseki, where dishes are inspired not just by the seasons, but from monthly themes dreamt up by owners Ryan and Elena Roadhouse (for February, that means a dozen course riffing on various aphrodisiacs for Valentine’s Day). In other words, it’s not a sushi restaurant. But it’s not not a sushi restaurant either, with menus that might feature perfectly sliced sea bream sashimi, a bowl of clever futomaki or — during the hardcore omakase meals of yore — a finishing nigiri flight. Meals here are $250 per person, a price that includes gratuity but not drinks, and are filled with carefully crafted bites tasty enough to make you forgive Ryan Roadhouse for expanding his focus beyond raw fish.

Read more:

Wherever it roams, Nodoguro is Portland’s best restaurant (review)

Kaede’s married chefs seek to raise sushi bar in Sellwood (review)

— Michael Russell; [email protected]

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