For true sushi lovers, nothing beats an omakase. The tasting menu format allows a chef to show off his or her creativity and ensures diners get only the most choice morsels.
It's a style of dining that's a major upswing in Houston from new establishments dedicated to the format — think Hidden Omakase, Neo, and Kinokawa — as well as restaurants like Soto Sushi and MF Sushi that prominently feature it among their offerings.
The biggest downside is that these meals are expensive. A 12-course experience at Hidden Omakase starts at $175 per person; adding an extra course or two will quickly send the bill north of $200 before tax and gratuity. Soto Sushi offers two different omakase options at $150 and $250. Prices are similar at other top sushi restaurants like Uchi and Kata Robata.
East Side King has an alternative for budget-minded sushi fans. The Austin-based restaurant's location at downtown's Post Houston food hall has introduced an omakase menu that serves 12 pieces of nigiri for just $49. Feeling spendy? Add Santa Barbara uni for $15 and/or seven grams of caviar for $25.
Admittedly, the progression is more of a prix-fixe than a true omakase, but it includes high quality ingredients such as dayboat scallop, salmon belly, and tuna belly. Diners will also receive snapper, amberjack, Jonah crab, tuna loin, and Kurubota pork belly.
While East Side King's menu mostly features casual, street food-inspired fare, serving sushi is a natural fit. Its founders, chefs Moto Utsunomiya and Paul Qui, both worked for Uchi and Uchiko prior to opening their first location in 2008. But how is the sushi so inexpensive?
"East Side King’s relationship with Golfstrømmen, whose chef de cuisine, Biggler Alberto Cruz, used to be the head sushi chef for both Uchi Austin and Uchi Houston, gives the restaurant access to some of the highest quality fish in town — and at a low price point too,” Qui said. “At East Side King, you’ll get an affordable, stripped-down omakase experience without any of the pretension that usually accompanies omakase. It’s all about the connection between the sushi chef, the guest, and, most importantly, the fish.”
A discount omakase does come with a couple of compromises. East Side King does not accept reservations; it's strictly first come, first serve. Also, diners are given just 45 minutes at the counter, so don't dawdle. Omakase is available from 5-9 pm on Wednesday and Thursday and noon to 10 pm Friday through Sunday.
Even with those caveats, the value will be tough to beat.