In their most basic form, sushi maki, or rolls, consist of sushi rice and a simple combination of fillings such as avocado, crabmeat, and cucumber, rolled up in nori seaweed sheets and sliced into bite-size pieces. These days, however, restaurants are adding seriously inventive toppings, sauces, and fillings. Want to try something new, but don’t know where to start? Here are some of Bayou City’s best.
Beloved for its stellar happy hour and reverse-happy-hour deals, this trendy spot’s 20-plus-item Special Maki menu is one of the best in town. Hot-ticket items include the Ninja Roll—spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, pepper tuna, crumbled goat cheese, honey wasabi, and balsamic soy—and the Spider Mon, an amped-up spider roll topped with fresh salmon, garlic oil, onion, tomato, cilantro, and ponzu.
With four successful Houston-area locations—downtown, Washington Avenue, Katy, and The Woodlands—this Dallas-based chain clearly knows what it’s doing. And while there’s a bit of everything on offer, the best-known menu item is the Rainforest Roll. Appetizingly constructed in rainbow hues of red, green, and orange, this masterpiece is filled with shrimp tempura and avocado, topped with salmon and spicy tuna, and garnished with a tantalizing drizzle of eel sauce and spicy mayo.
A neighborhood fixture for 16 years, this is the place for lychee martinis, daily happy hour specials, and creative rolls like the Lickety Split—a spicy tuna, softshell crawfish, and cucumber roll topped with yellowtail, salmon, tuna, and avocado, with a house special-sauce trio. Want a show? Get the Volcano Roll filled with baked snow crab and topped with salmon, scallops, and spicy caviar sauce, served in a cast-iron skillet and set on fire table-side.
Yes, you can order empanadas and churrasco steak from the Latin side of the menu, but those in the know come for the giant shareable sushi boats—filled with nigiri, sashimi, and maki—as well as the 40-plus menu of rolls. The soy-paper-wrapped shrimp-tempura-and-cream-cheese offering known as the Shaggy Dog is always a home run here. For something more creative, ask the server for a recommendation from the secret unprinted menu.
For the best experience at this, the first bona fide sushi restaurant in the Heights, order a bit of everything. Start with the whole grilled ika (squid) appetizer, add some nigiri, and finish off with a roll, the most notable of which is the Wagyu Slim, a fried-tempura-crab-stick-and-avocado beauty topped with slices of meltingly tender seared short rib and Thai chiles, in a ginger-sanbaizu sauce.
This local favorite keeps people coming back for its consistent, affordable sushi and all-day $10-or-less happy hour specials on a variety of rolls including the Shaggy Dog and the Angry Lion. The most requested regular menu item is the William’s Treasure, a tempura kani, cream cheese, and jalapeño roll topped with crawfish, snow crab, shrimp, spicy mayo, eel sauce, and masago roe.
The sushi chefs at both locations—Webster and Greenway Plaza—go out of their way to plate their rolls artfully. Order the Red Dragon, and you’ll get a roll that looks like a Chinese dragon, with an ingeniously crafted head fashioned from lemon and radish. It’s delicious, but the best roll in the house is the Triton 2.0—a spicy-tuna-and-escolar roll enrobed in kanpachi (amberjack), topped with peppered scallops and jalapeño, and torched to order.
This OG chain with locations in the Galleria area and on Washington Avenue dates to 1978. Sushi rolls are king here, and the king of them all is the Flaming Lobster Roll, filled with kani (crab stick) tempura, and avocado, then topped with spicy crawfish, tempura-fried lobster, and eel sauce, served with a side of flaming garlic butter for extra wow factor.
At Azuma Restaurant Group’s flagship Washington Avenue restaurant, the large, wraparound sushi bar always delivers top-notch nigiri and sashimi. On the roll front, regulars go bonkers for the signature creation known as the Crazy Irishman—a tempura-fried salmon, tuna, and avocado roll wrapped in green soybean paper, covered with eel sauce and spicy aioli and finished with masago roe, negi onion, and serrano pepper slivers.
Sushi Tora’s Backdoor
If the rock ’n’ roll vibe at this hidden strip-mall gem doesn’t grab you, the rolls sure will. The most popular offerings are the Kid Rock Roll, the Adam’s Bomb, and the Dylan. For our money, the last one—a spicy soy yellowtail, avocado, and escolar roll punched up with tempura crunch, ponzu, and habanero masago roe—has a slight edge over the rest.