Although food writing is a highly professional-type journalistic operation, with databases and secret information sources that put the CIA to shame, the best word to describe how I found Hiro's Sushi Express would be roundabout. Well, dumb luck also comes to mind. I'd wandered for the first time into Hiro's parent restaurant/bar up on the remote east of Biscayne part of 163rd Street looking for karaoke (which wasn't happening that night), noticed that sushi prices averaged 25 cents to a buck cheaper per piece than those on the Beach, ordered some to go, and then, noticing a flyer for Sushi Express, asked about it. And puzzled over it. After all, I was getting great-priced take-out sushi already. What was the point of an even more remote location seven blocks north, featuring the same thing?
That became immediately clear the first time I tried Sushi Express, several years later. From the time I walked in to the time I walked out with a huge order: six minutes. I've waited longer at McDonald's. This truly is fast --and, more important, truly fresh and healthy -- fast food, for little more than the price of a Big Macoronary.
A double hat trick nigiri plate, for instance, features three pieces each of salmon and hamachi sushi for $4.95; usually this would run $2 to $2.25 per piece. And the hamachi is just as glistening and silky, the salmon just as succulently striated and buttery, as any in South Beach.
Hiros Sushi Express
17048-50 W Dixie Hwy, North Miami Beach
305-949-0776. Open Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Also at 840 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Open noon to midnight, Sunday through Thursday; till 2:00 a.m. on weekends; 305-532-6500.
A dozen of Sushi Express's eighteen sushi combo plates feature maki (rolls) as well as nigiri, at similar savings -- and some offer more than standard sushi. There's the $4.50 L.A. for cooked sushi fans (two pieces each of eel and shrimp, plus a four-piece California roll); the $5.75 vegan Veggieville (one piece each of avocado, asparagus, and sweet fried bean-curd inari, plus a six-piece kappa cucumber roll and a huge five-piece vegetable roll of avocado, asparagus, carrot, cucumber, spinach, and pungent pickled kanpyo-- sort of an eggless futomaki); or the $9.75 Three Peat, with three large makis, including a shrimp tempura roll and a salmon California roll that upgrades the standard style, using raw salmon instead of the fake crabstick.
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Especially nice is the Lady's Finger: three hosamaki (ice cream cone-shape seaweed hand rolls) of your choice for $5.90. These normally run at least $3.50 each on the Beach. I've tried negi hama (chopped yellowtail and scallion), spicy tuna (tuna, scallion, and hot chili sauce), salmon skin (crunchy cooked salmon skin with scallion, sesame seeds, and eel sauce), and dynamite (cooked scallops, masago roe, and mayo sauce). While a bit skinnier than most hand rolls, all were very tasty. And a big plus: Hand rolls come individually wrapped in a high-tech plastic film that keeps the seaweed cones dry and crisp in transit; even the dynamite's creamy filling caused no sogginess.
There's cooked Japanese food, too, some good (edamame, stir-fried yaki udon noodles with shrimp), some just okay (somewhat spartan beef sukiyaki; an "assorted seaweed" salad that's actually just wakame). But there's one cooked item that's not to be missed: the corn cream croquette appetizer. Authentically Japanese? More like Latinese. But these whole-kernal studded cloud-light bites, crunchy outside and delicately creamy-rich inside, like a breaded flan, beat any croqueta I've had anywhere.
Best news: A SoBe branch just opened on Washington Avenue, with better hours -- and the same prices.