Sushi Showdown: Tokyo comes to Hyde Park’s 53rd Street

In the middle of “The Breakfast Club,” popular high school girl Claire (Molly Ringwald) is in Saturday detention and opens up an expensive looking Bento box filled with sushi for lunch. Judd Nelson’s “bad boy” character, John, looks disgusted and asks what she is eating. No longer is sushi a meal for popular and rich high school girls. Sushi has become one of the most popular Japanese exports to reach America. Although some say that it is hard to find good, quality sushi in the landlocked Midwest, that does not mean that there is a dearth of it, either. The sushi craze has reached the city of Chicago and most recently Hyde Park, where two new restaurants have recently opened on 53rd Street to compete with 55th Street’s Kikuya.

One of the new restaurants, Shinju Sushi, is located in a building near Kenwood and 53rd Street that formerly housed Veggies to Go and before that a Quiznos. It is not a huge space; upon entering, it feels small and comfortable. There is an actual sit-down area toward the giant front window and a sushi bar closer to the center of the restaurant. What is special about Shinju is that they offer a lunch and dinner sushi buffet option ($13.99 and $17.99), which satisfies those endless sushi cravings. If the buffet option is too overwhelming, there is a great selection of sushi on the regular menu. The vast regular menu boasts an endless array of appetizers such as tempura (generally deep-fried vegetables and/or seafood), salads, soups, maki (rolled sushi), sashimi (slices of raw fish) and nigiri (hand-rolled balls of rice topped with raw fish). Their Special House Maki menu is delectable, and their Volcano Maki is impressive. Shinju’s Volcano Maki ($9) is subtly spicy and comes in five giant circular pieces. The roll itself is made up of squid, red snapper, cucumber, jalapeno pepper, fish eggs and it is all topped with tuna and spicy light pink-colored mayonnaise sauce. Dipped in soy sauce, it was the perfect combination of spicy and salty. The flavorful combination of squid and jalapeno pepper is a surprising but delectable element of the maki. Shinju also features an adventurous drink menu. Their Pinku Miruku (“Pink Milk”) is an incredibly sweet and bright pink-colored drink that mixes salacca syrup with milk.

The Volcano Maki at the Sit Down Cafe and Sushi Bar, the second sushi bar which opened last month at 53rd and Kimbark, is very different from Shinju’s version. The Volcano Maki at the Sit Down consists of eight smaller pieces of avocado and cream cheese rolls topped with a “spicy crab mix” and then baked in an oven. There was nothing especially “volcano-like” about the avocado and cream cheese maki combination and the spicy crab mix was a little too salty. However, the fact that the sushi was baked adds a twist to the presentation of the maki. The Sit Down Cafe is located in a much bigger space, surrounded by bright green colored walls. There is also a huge sushi bar area close to the west wall, and giant windows in the front. It doesn’t have exotic drinks like Shinju’s Pinku Miruku, but the Sit Down has other options like coffee and fruit smoothies. The menu also offers other food, such as salads, pizza, and sandwiches for those who aren’t in the mood for sushi.

The fundamental difference between Shinju and the Sit Down is that Shinju is a specifically “Japanese restaurant” that focuses on primarily serving Japanese cuisine, whereas the Sit Down Cafe isn’t. If you are looking for authentic Japanese cuisine, Shinju Sushi is the place to go–even Judd Nelson would crave their bento boxes.
The Sit Down Café & Sushi Bar, 1312 E. 53rd St. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30am-9:30pm; Friday-Sunday, 10:30am-10:30pm. Shinju Sushi, 1375 E. 53rd St. 11am-10pm every day.