> New Zealand Café
A wooden latticework ceiling and indoor trellis add charm to this lesser-known, long-standing neighborhood favorite. But its cozy interior is just a bonus—the restaurant serves fresh sushi at a bargain (many nigiri options are just $1 every day) and savory Japanese dishes from the grill.
New Zealand native David Zhou, along with longtime Charlottean Jackie Chen, opened the restaurant to showcase the mixed-culture flavors of Zhou’s home country. Specialty rolls include the Ichiban Spicy Roll—spicy albacore tuna, crab, and avocado, topped with spicy tuna, wasabi smelt roe, and a spicy sauce. Other offerings include New Zealand’s Steak—grilled ribeye with peppers and onions in a house-made garlic soy sauce—and the Queenstown’s Crispy Chicken, which comes lightly battered in a sweet-and-sour sauce and is named for a New Zealand coastal town. Bento boxes are a good option for those who want to sample several parts of the menu. They come served with a small salad, California Roll, shrimp tempura, rice, and the choice of a meat or fish entrée. —V.B.
1717 Sardis Rd. N., Ste. 6A., 704-708-9888
This SouthPark spot specializes in centuries-old Robata-style Japanese cooking. The chefs prepare food on grills that burn charcoal at over 800 degrees, giving Baku’s dishes a signature smoky quality. The swanky, two-story spot across from SouthPark Mall also has a five-page sake list, as well as dozens of small bites and several sushi rolls (most packed with heat) that are great for sharing. Special offerings include local quail with plum wine and black rice.
4515 Sharon Rd., 704-817-7173
> Enso Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar
The swanky interior and Epicentre location almost overshadow the sushi at uptown’s Enso. The 9-to-5 crowd packs the bar at happy hour, but the focus here is the food. Themed specialty rolls, such as the Panther and Paris rolls, rule the sushi options, but you can also order basic makis and nigiri/sashimi.
210 E. Trade St., Ste. A-108, 704-716-3676
> Yama Izakaya
A sister restaurant to the equally delicious Yama Asian Fusion in SouthPark, this casual Plaza Midwood restaurant gets its name from the inexpensive, friendly taverns found in Japan. With a menu that also includes ramen and yakitori, small shared bites—think hamachi jalapeños and buta kakuni (braised pork belly)—help make you feel like you’re truly in an izakaya.
1324 Central Ave., 704-910-6387
> Nikko Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
For a dress-to-impress evening out, Nikko is the spot, with its loud, hip crowd and fresh dishes. Near the light rail line in South End, the restaurant draws a younger crowd for its sushi, hibachi-style dishes, and bento boxes. Signature rolls include elaborate options, such as the Drunken Salmon, which is Grand Marnier-marinated salmon toro topped with radish sprouts with a side of creamy jalapeño sauce. Basic maki rolls and a selection of fresh sashimi and nigiri are also available.
325 Arlington Ave., Ste. 108, 704-370-0100