Outsiders might not expect to find phenomenal sushi in the heart of Dixie, but it’s here and it’s fabulous! Birmingham’s sushi chefs are serving up mouthwatering traditional Japanese sushi, as well as inventive culinary creations of their own.
From melt-in-your-mouth mackerel, yellowtail and salmon sashimi topped with rich red and orange jewel-like fish roe to fresh water eel, crisp vegetarian rolls, crunchy tempura rolls and the beginner’s California roll, there is something for everyone in the local sushi scene. Often served up alongside other Japanese fare, Thai cuisine, Tibetan delicacies, Vietnamese sandwiches, rice bowls, noodle dishes and more, the Magic City’s sushi offerings can be enjoyed as appetizers or as indulgent dinners on their own. Let’s check out seven of Birmingham’s top sushi spots!
7 Birmingham Sushi Spots to Check Out
1830 29th Ave. S., Homewood • (205) 802-1440
Birmingham native John Cassimus opened this stylish sushi eatery nine years ago as a way to bring the forward-thinking Japanese fusion cuisine that he experienced in New York City’s NOBU and similar West Coast hot spots back home. “When you walk in the door, it’s like you are not in Birmingham,” says Derek Wallace, general manager. “It’s slick, with a cozy feel with the lounge, yet there’s always a lively energy and great music playing. And the location couldn’t be better. There are lots of great businesses all around us, including the Aloft Hotel, which brings all walks of life in here. When the weather is good, people come out and enjoy the neighborhood and the patio.”
Located in the heart of Soho in Homewood, Jinsei is famous for its signature dish, the Kadoma Tuna, which Derek says is on almost every other ticket. It’s a tempura-fried rice cake topped with spicy tuna tartare, scallions, eel sauce, jalapeño slivers and tobiko. The inventive hamachi fig sashimi creation combines yellowtail, tempura-fried lotus root and a rum-raisin fig sauce with fennel. “It’s not ordered as much,” says Derek of the hamachi fig, adding, “but once people taste it, they are blown away.” Some of Jinsei’s diehard fans are the WWE crew, who book private parties at the sushi spot after each match in town. “We love having them. They eat a ridiculous amount of sushi, and they are super friendly,” says Derek.
Don’t miss the deals on Sunday, Jinsei’s busiest night, when all rolls are $9, hot sake carafes are $5 and sakeritas — Jinsei’s sake-margarita cocktail — are $6. And this coming Super Bowl Sunday, they’ll offer additional specials, including an $8 Kadoma tuna roll, $2.50 domestic beers, $3 hot sake carafes and wings specials!
Surin of Thailand, located in the quaint and walkable Crestline Village of Mountain Brook, and Surin West, located in downtown’s historic Five Points South neighborhood, have been serving sushi and Thai cuisine to Birmingham’s adventurous epicures since the mid ’90s. Surin 280 joined the Magic City food scene in 2007. Among Surin’s most popular rolls are the super crunch roll, a smoked salmon roll with crunchy tempura and a heavenly Japanese sauce; as well as the volcano roll, which includes spicy tuna and refreshing, crunchy cucumber on the inside with fresh tuna, avocado and eel sauce on the outside, served with a wasabi tobacco dipping sauce. Raj Manandhar, five-year employee and current manager of Surin West, is partial to the spicy shrimp roll — shrimp tempura, cucumber, snow crab, avocado, spicy sauce and masago. Raj says that his favorite part of Surin West is the neighborhood, the vibe of the restaurant, his co-workers and the cuisine. “There are lots of great restaurants and bars in Five Points, and that’s nice. I’ve been here for five or six years, and my favorite thing has to be the environment, the hospitality of our staff and, of course, the food!”
The atmosphere is comfortable and familiar to Surin’s throngs of loyal customers. Although the downtown location is set to undergo renovations to update its look in mid-February, the work will take place in phases and the restaurant will remain open throughout. Come enjoy a half-price appetizer between 5 and 7 p.m., Sunday through Thursday!
148 Wildwood Pkwy., Homewood • (205) 917-1111
For the freshest and best deals in sushi, look no farther than the four-year-old Okinawa Sushi & Hibachi Steak House. Located off of Wildwood Parkway in Homewood, this hidden jewel has much to offer, including their most popular deep-fried special rolls, as well as the tuna amazing roll and the yummy roll, which both include crunchy spicy tuna and avocado on the inside and are each topped with either tempura crab meat or tempura fish and special sauces. Owner and manager Linda Lin, a native of China, always wanted to open a restaurant, and is passionate about Okinawa. “We have a lot of regular customers that come here two times a week to enjoy the sushi and the lunch specials, and people really like the hibachi grill. We make sure everything is really fresh,” says Linda. “Even though I’ve worked here for so long, I still enjoy the food. I prefer the toro sashimi, nigiri and the fantastic roll.” The fantastic roll includes tuna, salmon and yellowtail, topped with spicy scallop and crunchy tempura. Stop by and try their unbeatable sushi-sashimi lunch specials, hibachi lunch specials or their bento box lunch specials!
700 Montgomery Hwy., #178, Vestavia Hills • (205) 978-7775
This lofty space in the heart of Vestavia Hills features a bar with TVs, a sushi bar for front-row sushi-making enjoyment, regular dining tables, booths and an outdoor patio, as well as a traditional Japanese chabudai table where adventurous epicures can get the full-on, shoeless Japanese dining experience. Samurai’s most popular sushi is the salmon, yellowtail and Uni sashimi and nigiri. The chef’s special rolls, of which there are nearly 40 creatively named sushi creations, are the highlight of this restaurant, such as the Samurai roll — tuna, salmon, white fish, jalapeño and avocado wrapped with pink soy bean paper and salmon roe with chef’s special sauce. Then there’s the Naruto roll with tobiko, avocado and your choice of tuna, salmon or crab meat, wrapped with cucumber and served with ponzu sauce. And if you’re looking for nonsushi items Samurai Japan has teriyaki, tempura, katsu and hibachi dinners, as well as Japanese noodle bowls served by an extremely attentive staff. Swing by for a quick lunch special or a group dinner at the chabudaki table!
420 20th St. N., Birmingham • (205) 458-4040
2800 Cahaba Village Plaza, Birmingham • (205) 970-3242
“Maki Fresh is a fast-casual, Asian-inspired restaurant started by John Cassimus, founder of Zoes Kitchen,” says Carter Adams, area catering sales manager of Maki Fresh. “The unique menu offers quality sushi for the authentic Asian enthusiast, as well as burger sliders and onion rings for the more traditional palate.” With locations in Cahaba Village and downtown, where professionals form lines out the door for this deliciously diverse menu, Maki Fresh has won over throngs of loyal lunch fans. In addition to their most popular Crunch Crunch, Spicy Tuna and Kadoma Tuna rolls, Maki Fresh prides itself on also having irresistible nonsushi offerings, like the rice bowls, sliders and salads, and customers often pair a roll with a side, such as the sweet potato fries or the crispy Brussels sprouts. While Carter acknowledges that the sushi is out of this world, he says his favorite dish is “the Hibachi rice bowl that I could literally eat every day!”
300 Hallman Hill E., Ste. 109, Homewood • (205) 783-5222
Shiki owner Marty Subrapa decided to open his brand new Homewood sushi and Thai spot after three years of successfully running Cahaba Heights’ Nori Thai and Sushi and 10 years of being a proud Homewood resident. “I love Homewood. The people are nice and I like to bring something different to the neighborhood,” says Marty. “Our sushi is different from other sushi. We create our own unique special rolls and dishes based on our ideas.” Among the most popular of their creative sushi rolls is the crab angel roll, a crab angel reimagined in sushi form, which includes crab stick, cream cheese, avocado and green onion, deep fried and topped with eel sauce and spicy mayo. And Marty prides himself on the freshness of the fish he carries, with tuna and salmon fresh from Hawaii and hamachi straight from Japan. Besides the delectable sushi, Marty suggests starting with the Panang curry pot stickers, crispy rock shrimp or the crab angels. Come try this new Thai and sushi eatery in the Hallman Hill development in Homewood!
2212 Second Ave. N., Birmingham • (205) 703-0551
Celebrated local chef Abhi Sainju became the head chef of Bamboo on 2nd through a passionate pursuit of creating perfect sushi and Asian cuisine. He first approached Blue Monkey Lounge owners Sam Fallow and Bernie Smith with the proposal to cater his sushi to the lounge’s late-night patrons on the weekends. They agreed, and Chef Abhi brought his one-man sushi show, Everest Sushi, to the lounge, where his he immediately cultivated a loyal foodie following, who extolled the virtues of his to-die-for sushi creations all over social media. Everest Sushi became a beloved Blue Monkey fixture and an underground favorite in the Birmingham culinary scene. Sam and Bernie knew they had struck culinary gold and with Abhi’s dream of owning his own restaurant, and the two veteran restaurateurs were more than pleased to help that dream become a reality. Bamboo on 2nd features not only Abhi’s genius sushi rolls, but also Momos, Nepalese dumplings stuffed with ground turkey, vegetables and spices, steamed and served in an Alabama tomato vinaigrette-infused broth. Not to mention the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, authentic ramen and pork belly skewers. Bamboo on 2nd is a must-visit culinary destination in the heart of downtown Birmingham!
Let’s raise our chopsticks to these stellar sushi spots that make Birmingham great!