Miami's Ten Best Sushi Bars: Hunting for Fresh Fish

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Sushi seems so easy -- raw fish, rice, wasabi. So it would seem that really good sushi bars should be on every corner, sorta like Starbucks. OK, it might be slightly easier to procure quality coffee beans than grade-A bluefin tuna, and the vinegar-to-rice ratio is all-important, but when it comes to eating sushi and sashimi, you really do want the best of the best.

Smoke and mirrors won't mask the inferiority of raw fish. We don't care how much Japanese mayo or cream cheese you roll in there. So where to find the best sushi in town? Whether you are eating on the cheap or maxing out the platinum card, here's our list of places to get the tastiest tuna, the saltiest salmon roe, and the sweetest amaebi.

10. Hiro's Sushi Express
There are several locations of Hiro's Sushi Express, each offering inexpensive sushi without any smelly old fish funny business. The immense menu provides all the regular rolls -- particularly well priced in predetermined assortments ranging from a California-tuna combo ($5.50) to the "Emperor," which for $7.50 includes tuna, salmon, white fish, crab, shrimp, and white tuna sushi (plus a few pieces of California and regular tuna maki). From a sashimi salad ($5.95) to nigiri (all priced per piece, 90 cents to $3.25), everything is affordable and above average in terms of fast-casual sushi.

9. Doraku
The rolls here are more of the out-on-a-sushi-limb variety, with a slew of different ingredients packed in for punch. The Doraku house roll ($13.75) combines tempura-fried lobster, shredded crab, and cream cheese with spicy garlic aioli. Even more complicated is the "Red Dragon" roll, an amalgam of

spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, and avocado topped with eel, red tobiko, aonori, and

spicy aioli

($13.50). Of course, basic tuna rolls ($5.75) and sushi by the piece are available (two per order, $3 to $8). With a recent expansion to Brickell, Doraku is laying claim to the happy-hour crowd both on and off the Beach.

8. Blade
The Fontainebleau's overhaul of Blade transformed the original space into a new lounge and relocated the actual sushi bar to the hotel's restaurant Vida, on the north end. This sushi bar has some seriously fresh fish, which is to be expected given the behemoth resort's seafood-procurement reach. The signature Bleau roll ($18) is loaded with

tuna, yellowtail, salmon, avocado, scallion, and masago, wrapped in daikon, and drizzled with a soy-onion dressing. The spicy scallop ($14) features Hokaido bay scallops mixed with a spicy sauce and masago, plus tempura-fried serrano peppers for added kick. In addition to specialty rolls such as the two above, sushi and sashimi are also available as two-piece orders for $9 to $12 (toro and the fish of the day are market price). All the rolls look lovely -- visual presentation is one of Blade's strong suits.

7. Toni's Sushi
In business for 25 years, Washington Avenue's little sushi treasure has the best New York-style spicy tuna roll ($7.50) in town. No thick mayo, just a hint of smokiness-creaminess, a touch of sesame oil, and a bright burst of orange masago. Sushi and sashimi ($2.25 to market price) at Toni's are as pristine as can be. Remember to ask about the specials, because unusual offerings beyond toro and uni can be yours depending on the sourcing for any given day. There's no fancy ambiance, just quality fish at reasonable prices.

6. Bond Street
This sushi restaurant in the basement of the Townhouse Hotel isn't the most comfortable, but the sushi is always good and always fresh, so we forgive the place for its tiny stools and tables. Bond Street is a NYC import, so the menu follows the same format, including "Hot Eel Dice" topped with slivered almonds ($14), as well as more traditional rolls such as spicy tuna with chili-mayo ($14) and salmon-avocado ($9). You can get six pieces of "exotic" nigiri for $25, or order by the piece, but it adds up fast, so be careful and pace yourself (two per order, $8 to $24).

5. Matsuri
A previous "Best of Miami" winner, Matsuri, just west of Coral Gables, continues to be the whisper on every local's lips when it comes to fantastic sushi. Although it's in a strip mall, the clean and modern space has been turning out fresh cuts of fish for more than 20 years. Sushi by the piece starts at just $1.50 and varies based on market price for specialty items. The rainbow roll, covered in tuna, salmon, fluke, and shrimp, costs only $10, and basic rolls such as the Alaskan ($7) and Cali ($4) are better than those at other places because such care is taken with the rice preparation -- not too dry or too sticky. You won't find discolored avocado or soggy cucumber here either.

4. Zuma
This is a Japanese haven where your California roll will be filled with real crab (Alaskan king crab Cali, $16), but what's truly special at Zuma is the tender fresh flesh by the piece. The sashimi is pristine, and our favorite pieces of sushi are carefully plotted small bites under the menu heading "Zuma Special Sushi." They do sea urchin two ways: one topped with plump balls of ikura and barley miso (two per order, $16) and with fresh yuzu and truffle (MP). There's also a stellar scallop with truffle and myoga, a type of ginger with edible flower buds (MP). Although the perception here is that you will spend lots of money, the reality is that many rolls are fairly well priced, such as Zuma's salmon-avocado roll for $9.50 and the chirashi maki, made with raw sea bass, shrimp, hamachi, and salmon for $10.

Lesley Elliott
3. Pubbelly Sushi


Pubbelly boys have concocted an array of rolls that astound, from the beloved yellowtail-topped roll (pictured above), stuffed with snow crab,

flavored with truffle yuzu, and chives ($12), to the eel roll, which

has charred pineapple and shichimi, a Japanese condiment containing

everything from ground ginger to hemp seeds ($7). Spicy tuna at Pubbelly Sushi

is dressed up with potato and scallion aioli ($6), and thin slices of

hamachi sashimi are served with spicy jalapeño slices, yuzu soy, and a

cilantro broth ($15). It's sushi with a creative spin and a multitude of flavor combinations, but the crucial

detail is that the fish is fresh, fresh, fresh.

2. Japanese Market
Located on the 79th Street Causeway, this small market has a phenomenal sushi bar that sadly is only open during the day. Also known as Sushi Deli, this place sells pieces that are so inexpensive you almost feel guilty. Almost. A tuna roll is just $3; salmon skin and eel will set you back $3.50. By-the-piece pricing starts at $1.25 for items such as mackerel and shrimp; even uni and ikura are only $2.50. Get four pieces of nigiri and your choice of a tuna or California roll for $6.95, or go with one of their more special rolls, such as the beach roll with avocado, mango, and crab for $5.95.

1. Makoto
The drive north is worth it for Stephen Starr's sushi spot located in the froufrou Bal Harbour Shops. Makoto is the ultimate choice for several reasons. First, they eschew surimi and stuff their rolls with real crab (try the dynamite hand roll with creamy, spicy crab for $11). Second, the spicy tuna on crispy rice ($10) is addictive and consistently enrapturing; you'll want to eat those little nuggets by the dozen. Last, and most important, Makoto's parade of fish is so buttery it will melt in your mouth. The rainbow roll ($14) bursts with freshness, and there's no skimping on the slices. No matter what you order, the fish is perpetually clean, never stale.

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