Inexpensive sushi is too good to be true. Sushi isn’t a food that you can cut corners with. As a result, some bargain sushi spots can be nightmares, leaving customers hungry, unsatisfied and, in particularly unfortunate cases, ill. With this in mind, Oishii’s $1 per piece sashimi and $4 rolls seem suspicious. However, in reality, Oishii proves to be neither a hidden gem for cheap eats nor a place to completely overlook, especially by students on a budget.
Located on Richmond, about seven minutes off campus, Oishii’s biggest asset is its happy hour. From 3 -7 p.m. (or 6 p.m. on Saturdays), noisy patrons fill the dining room for $1.50 and $2 beer, $3 sake, $4 wine and two-for-one appetizers. Even after happy hour, standbys, like the light miso soup and satisfyingly crisp gyoza, are better than most sushi bars. The rolls are more of a mixed bag. More common items, like the Philadelphia and spider rolls, are fine but not exceptional. The spicy tuna is seasoned with “Japanese mayo” (which appears on many of the rolls), and while the sauce is good, it isn’t actually spicy.
The sashimi menu is also a mixed bag, featuring some disappointments but also a few dishes that are quite good. The unagi, or teriyaki river eel, is especially well cooked and doesn’t need rice to offset the wonderful fattiness of the eel’s broiled meat. However, the simpler preparations that don’t involve cooking suffer from staleness. The yellowtail, the star of many high-end sashimi menus, is passable at best. The salmon and peppered tuna are better, but still have odd textures that suggest there’s less attention paid to quality than there is to cutting production costs at Oishii.
The “special” and “customer” makis on the menu tend to be more expensive and far more consistent. The Lunden and Damian rolls, which feature tender-cooked scallop, crunchy shrimp tempura and creamy avocado wrapped in a chewy soy paper wrapper, boast a delicious blend of textures. The Cajun maki includes fried oyster, avocado and chili in an interesting and purely Houstonian combination. It’s a questionable pairing, but just as the Philadelphia roll broke barriers by introducing cream cheese to sushi, the Cajun roll proves fried oyster and chili make excellent replacements for the tired duo of tempura and spicy mayo.
Beyond sushi, Oishii serves the traditional dishes of any Japanese restaurant with a few successful additions. The teriyaki beef, chicken and seafood are all well-cooked but under-seasoned, while the tasty but cheap Menuri udon bowls and Donburi rice bowls will especially please fans of pho and students looking for a bargain. Depending on the order, the bowls are generously filled with a sweet, oniony broth and a mixture of rice, udon noodles, mushrooms, cabbage, egg, carrots, bean sprouts, scallions and meat. For only $7.50, the large serving makes for a filling and economical meal.
The desserts don’t extend beyond the usual options: mochi, fried ice cream and fried banana with ice cream. While all the options are cheap, the fried ice cream is the only dish worth noting. The hot, salty shell and scoop of creamy green tea ice cream make a pleasant end to the meal.
Oishii’s price makes it a decent choice for students looking for sushi on a Saturday night, but its noise and cheesy decor should preclude it from being anyone’s choice for date night. Those looking for higher quality are advised to stick to more consistent spots like the nearby Kubo’s or Azuma. Oishii may be a good value, but its dishes are a prime example of getting what you paid for.