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Sushi at the strip mall, and all over 

click to enlarge Sushi chef Sun Hyang has a big knife and knows how to use it at Chapel Hill's Tsunami Sushi. - PHOTO BY YORK WILSON
  • Photo by York Wilson
  • Sushi chef Sun Hyang has a big knife and knows how to use it at Chapel Hill's Tsunami Sushi.
When I left New York a year ago to return to the Triangle, I was six months pregnant. There are many discomforts and injustices that come with pregnancy, but for me the worst by far was the ban on raw fish. Sushi was all I wanted to eat, but I couldn't even accompany my boyfriend into a sushi restaurant without getting looks like I was entering an opium den, about to drastically reduce my unborn child's hopes of being normal. Surely it can't be that dangerous, I thought. What do women in Japan do? But, I controlled myself, sipped my water and crunched my tempura grumpily while glaring at my boyfriend who was trying to hide his glee over a plate of raw fish and carafe of sake.

I obsessed for months over what we began to refer to as the "sushi blowout" we would have after I gave birth. But like with many things, I had become spoiled by the sushi in New York, which was far better than anything I had had in the Triangle before I left two years earlier. I wanted sushi so fresh I could eat piles of it and still be hungry, I wanted rolls I would never have dreamed up myself, I wanted something sexy and exciting. It took me some time, but I've found those things here.

If you live in Raleigh, you probably already know about Waraji (5910-147 Duraleigh Road), but if you don't live in Raleigh, this place is worth the drive (and with I-40 being so sucky these days, that's saying a lot). The fish is incredibly fresh, the rolls creative and fun, and the service has at times been outstanding.

If you're looking for sushi rolls with mango and raisins, try Wasabi, which opened last summer in Cary's MacGregor Village. Wasabi is the reigning champ in the Triangle for bizarre fusion sushi rolls. The restaurant serves both Japanese and Thai food, and is open until 2 a.m. on weekends, late night hours being the other thing I miss so much about New York restaurants.

In Chapel Hill, it seems there is sushi everywhere you look, and the offerings are getting better all the time. My current favorite though is out of the way and fairly unknown. Tsunami in the Falconbridge shopping center on N.C. 54 (near Mardi Gras bowling ally) is so surprisingly good that it took me a couple of visits to realize just how good it was. The sushi chef, Sun Hyang, is the first female behind the sushi bar that I've ever encountered (I've heard that in Japan, women's hands are thought to be too warm to make good sushi chefs... doesn't seem to be a problem here). She gets her fish from Japanese companies rather than local purveyors, and the quality shows. The "super white fish" is exceptionally good, buttery without being oily in the slightest. Best of all, the prices are strip-mall cheap, and the service is sincere.

There's probably more sushi in the Triangle these days than barbeque, almost all of it totally passable. But I believe eating sushi should be transformative, like art or yoga. For that, you have to look a little bit harder. When I returned from New York I thought I'd spend most of my time mooning around, missing the swanky and expensive sushi I'd become used to there. And I do miss it, for the same reason that I miss most things about New York--because it made me feel fancy. But for pure quality, and especially for value, I'm happy to revel in one of the great symbols of the New South--sushi at the strip mall.

Triangle in the raw

Carolina Sushi & Roll
6008 Falls of Neuse Rd

Kanki Japanese House of Steaks and Sushi
4500 Old Wake Forest Rd, North Market Square
4325 Glenwood Ave, Lower Level Crabtree Valley Mall

Kuki Japanese Restaurant
6611 Falls of the Neuse Rd
676-9887 or 676-9881

3080 Wake Forest Rd

Sushi Breeze
200 S West St.

Sushi Blues Cafe 301 Glenwood Ave.

Sushi-Thai Raleigh
2434 Wycliff Rd, Lake Boone Shopping Center

Sushi Tsune
3417 Hillsborough St.

Tokyo House
7439 Six Forks Rd.

5910-147 Duraleigh Rd.

Asuka Japanese Restaurant 101 Keybridge Dr, off NC 54/Chapel Hill Rd between Cary & Aviation pkwys

Kabuki Japanese Steak, Seafood & Sushi
220 Nottingham Dr, Village of Buck Jones

Kashin Japanese Restaurant
309 Crossroads Blvd, Crossroads Plaza

Osaka Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant
2058 Kildaire Farm Rd.

Sushi-Thai Cary
106 Kilmayne Dr, Kroger Plaza

107 Edinburgh South, MacGregor Village

Chapel Hill/Carrboro
Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant
206 W Main St.

Kurama Sushi and Noodle Express
105 N Columbia St.

Oishii Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
1129 Weaver Dairy Rd, Timberlyne Shopping Ctr.

Spice Street Sushi Bar
201 S Estes Dr., University Mall

Sushi-Yoshi Japanese Restaurant
116 Old Durham Rd.

Tsunami Sushi & Noodles
6118 Farrington Rd.

Fuji Japanese Restaurant
4900-200 NC 55, Park West Crossing

George's Garage
737 Ninth Street

Kurama Japanese Seafood and Steak House -- Sushi Bar 3644 Chapel Hill Blvd

Kanki Japanese House of Steaks and Sushi
3504 Mt Moriah Rd

Shiki Sushi
207 W NC 54, Homestead Market

4711 Hope Valley Rd.

Restaurant Notes
Bakus tapas and wine bar on Ninth Street is featuring half price tapas on Tuesday nights all summer long.

Uncommon Grounds has opened on University Drive across the street from Nana's. The coffeehouse serves Larry's Beans coffee, as well as a selection of pastries, salads and sandwiches.

Brightleaf Square is getting a new Brazilian restaurant. The restaurant, called Chamas, will be a Brazilian steakhouse, and will go in the space formerly filled by Theo's Kellari Greek restaurant. Look for an opening sometime in August. There is also an unconfirmed rumor about an Indian fusion restaurant coming to Brightleaf. Stay tuned.

Chapel Hill
Panzanella will be hosting "A Totally Local Dinner" on Wednesday, June 30. The menu will be made up of ingredients that were grown within a 250 mile radius of Carrboro, and 10 percent of the sales will go to benefit the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Reservations are not needed for parties of five or less. For parties of six or more, call 929-6626 for reservations.

The Market Cafe at Fearrington House has introduced a pizza oven and begun serving fresh-baked pizzas. Also, the more upscale Fearrington House Restaurant is now offering a three-course menu for $45 per person. Of course, the five-course $75 menu is still available.

Tavola Rossa has opened in the old Cactus Flower space behind Crabtree Valley Mall. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily, and specializes in casual Italian cuisine and wood-fired oven pizzas. For information or reservations, call 532-7100.

The Irregardless Cafe at 901 W. Morgan St. is now hosting monthly cooking classes with chef Arthur Gordon. The next class will be on Monday, July 19. The classes cost $40 a person and include a cooking lesson, dinner and a wine tasting. For more information call 833-8898, or visit Also, the restaurant will be closed for their summer break July 3-7.

Assaggio's Italian Bistro & Market has opened at 3501 W. Millbrook Road, offering New York-style deli sandwiches, pizza and pastas imported from Brooklyn. Food is available for take-out and there are tables if you wish to dine in, but no table service. They are taking part in my favorite new trend and staying open late, with hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends.

Xios has opened in Apex's Peakway Market Square (800 W. Williams St.). The restaurant is named after a Greek island and specializes in that region's cuisine. Many dishes are served as "mezethes," another word for small plate (tapas or mezze or food phenomenon of the year).

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