Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Best Sushi Restaurant in Houston: Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro and Latin Grill

Sushi Rating: A = Orgasm Sushi
Price: $$-$$$

When I was in seventeen and working at Whataburger, saving for college but finally also having some discretionary funds for restauranting, my friend William and I fell in love with a restaurant called Japaneiro's in the Sugarland Marriott Town Square near First Colony Mall.  The summer before we headed off to college, we were getting the lunch special here twice a week.

This was the first menu I ever collected, as I needed to keep track of which rolls I'd tried and how much I liked each one.  I wanted to try them all, and I nearly did except that they've added more rolls, so that I've fallen behind.  It's a "Sushi Bistro + Latin Grill," so there are lots of things other than sushi to try as well, so I still have many trips to Japaneiro's to make (thank god).  Through my numerous dines here and notes and contemplation, I figured out what it was that made me love some rolls more than others, discerning my tastes and learning about sushi.

After I started that business with this menu, I started collecting the menus for all the restaurants I went to, which has led, after several steps and years, to this food blog and much of my life today.  So what I'm saying is, this restaurant means a lot to me.  I finally had a chance to go back now that I take pictures and review restaurants, so now I can share with you my rankings and some tips about what to order here.

First of all, you need to know about the lunch special.

On Monday-Friday from 11AM-3PM,  you can have a three course meal for $12.  For each course you have several options.  For most dishes I'm about to talk about, I'll review them more thoroughly when I have them again and take pictures, but for now, I'll give basic recommendations.

First course (the salad): Get either the Verde or the Oshi

The Verde Salad - A nice salad with a fucking delicious creamy garlic cilantro dressing on it


Second Course: Get the Avocado Soup
Avocado Cream Soup - Normally $6

This is an extra $2 on the lunch special, and it is well worth it.  It is amazing, a creamy, I-wanna-kill-myself-this-is-so-good wonder that comes with extra crab meat and slices of avocado.  I usually have one piece of each in my soup and then safe the rest for purposed I'll explain later.  My second choice is the Crab Puffs (also a +$2).  One reason not to order these now is that during happy hour they're offered for only $5 instead of their usual $8, so you may as well get them then.  They come with a garlic cilantro dipping sauce that is amazing.  If you must save the two bucks, then you could go for the Yuquitas (crispy yucca fries served with a roasted peppers sauce), but those are offered for only $3 at happy hour. If you need to be cheap, you could perhaps go for the Dumplings,
Dumplings - Normally $5 - "Steamed dumplings stuffed with shrimp and crab and served with a spicy dipping sauce"


But you mostly get these for the spicy dipping sauce that comes with them, which is just a thicker version of the sauce I'll be having you order later.  Really, I've thought this through, and you need to order the avocado soup.

Third Course: Ignore the other options and focus of the "Your Choice of Any 1 Roll" option.  If you have not properly built up an immense appetite the morning before (which was a mistake), then you can order any of the rolls (with the exceptions of the Houstonian and the Sushi Lovers rolls, which are extra), and get out of here with a pre-tax/tip bill of $12 or $14, which is amazing.  If you worked up the proper famished-ness, then you'll be ordering the more expensive of the two rolls you're going to eat with the lunch special, plus one more, somewhat cheaper roll in addition.  For the lunch special roll, I suggest:


  • Green Lantern: (normally $12, Ranked 8/10)
  • That's the Green Lantern up front, with the Town Square Roll hangin' out in back.
  • Hawaiian: (normally $12, ranked 8, a sweeter roll,) shrimp and asparagus tempura
    with cream cheese rolled in soybean paper, topped with avocado, chili powder, mango and coconut sauce
  • Austin Hippie: (normally $11, ranked 7.5, spicy tuna, jalapeno, avocado, a little cream cheese, masago & unagi sauce)
Austin Hippie Roll - a sweet, spicy, creamy, salty delight plus tuna!  I would've preferred a bit higher or a fish to sweet unagi sauce ratio, but if you like your rolls sweet, this guy may be just the thing for ya.
  • Volcano: (normally $10, ranked 10), comes in 4 big pieces) spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber, kaiware, spicy mayo topped with shredded kani, tempura flakes, sriracha sauce & green onions
  • Ika Crunch: (normally $10, ranked 8.5, a sweeter roll), ika frita (fried calamari strips), crab meat, cream cheese, and tempura flakes, wrapped in soy paper, with avocado, topped with unagi sauce and sesame seeds
  • Crazy: (normally $10, ranked 9) shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, kaiware, spicy mayo & cucumber, rolled in soybean paper
For your supplementary roll:

  • Shredder: ($9, ranked 10), spicy salmon and avocado rolled in soybean paper topped with black, green and red tobiko
  • Caterpillar:($10, ranked 9) baked unagi (eel) & cucumber inside, topped with avocado, sesame seeds and unagi sauce.
  • Town Square: ($10, ranked 8), kani, avocado and cucumber inside with crawfish and japanese seabass, masago and spicy ponzu on top 
Left: Town Square, Right: Green Lantern
On top of that awesome lunch special, there's a nifty happy hour every day from 3 PM - 6 PM.  $1 nigiri pieces, $2 Bud Lights, $3 Modelo Especial, $3 Kirin Ichiban, a bunch of $5 wines and cocktails, and several of their appetizers at $3 (get the Tajadas or Yuquitas, each normally $5).  More importantly, several items are discounted to $5, the ones you should order are:

  • Crunchy Roll: ($9, ranked 9), kani, cucumber, avocado, tempura flakes, green onion & spicy mayo
  • Crunchy in the back, Tiger ($9, ranked 7) in the front
  • Crab Puffs (normally $8, ranked 9): crab and soft cream cheese in a crisp tempura shell, topped with their sweet and mildly spicy sauce and a garlic cilantro dipping sauce

Finally, there are also $7 dishes.  They're all good: a $1 discount on the Veracruz Shrimp Cocktail, and $2 off the Peruvian Ceviche, but make sure you get in on the $3 discount off the normally $10 Shaggy Dog Roll (ranked 8): shrimp tempura, cream cheese wrapped in soy paper topped with shredded kani, japanese mayo & sriracha sauce


The most important thing to know when you go to Japaneiro's:
You must order the Baja Sauce.  It comes with the Cabo San Lucas (an $18 double decker roll, with a half roll $9 option, which I ranked at an 8), and now the sauce is also listed with the best vegetarian roll on the menu, the Sunkist Roll (fried tofu, avocado, steamed asparagus, seaweed paper; outside: steamed sweet potato, shredded carrots, chili powder).  But you don't need to order either of those rolls in order to get the nectar of the gods known as Baja Sauce.

Baja Sauce - As we all know, orange is the best color for dipping sauces!


Order it with everything!  I often add a little low sodium soy sauce and squeeze in the lemon from my water.  After you dip most of your pieces of sushi in this creamy wonder, there'll be little pieces of tempura flake, tobiko, cucumber and whatnot in there.  At this point, you can also dip your leftover crab and avocado in the baja sauce too, scooping up whatever sushi detritus remains in the bowl, finishing off your ginger while you're at it.  This is to be able to enjoy just a few more bites of deliciousness without the indignity of tipping the bowl back into your mouth.*


Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro & Latin Grill on Urbanspoon

Off the Menu:


The last time I was there (December 2012), one of my dinner companions asked if he could still get the Fresapillar roll even though it's been taken off the menu.  Apparently he could:

Front: Colorado Roll ($9, Ranked 8). Back: Fresapillar Roll ($10, Ranked 9)

The Fresapillar roll consists of tempura unagi, cucumber and shinoda sauce, topped with avocado and strawberry slices.  It's a good choice for converting people to sushi.  As one friend aptly put it, it actually kind of takes likes a PB&J.  It's a sweet, creamy treat of a roll, a little indulgent, perhaps to be shared for dessert.


A few things I can't wait to try:

  • Caribbean Volcano ($12): warm bed of sweet plantains covered with fresh spicy tuna, topped with avocado, miso reduction, coconut milk and sesame seeds
  • Wildflower Roll ($9): spicy tuna, avocado, cilantro, kaiware, jalapeno and parsley
  • For dessert (for at least 2 people, I'm sure): Ice Cream Roll $8

What I learned about my taste from all my sushi eating experiments:
  • I love eel, tuna, crab, yellowtail, avocado, tobiko, kaiware, sesame seeds, and tempura flakes, spicy mayo, sriracha and jalapenos in moderation
  • I like shrimp, cucumber, cream cheese, unagi (eel) sauce, masago, asparagus, green onions
  • I don't particularly care for smoked salmon (fishiness overpowers the other flavors), soft shell crab, the roll being fried or even much of anything in the roll being tempura-ed, 


I once wrote the owner a letter asking him about the ingredients of the Baja Sauce, during a short manic phase when I had first moved to NYC in which I decided that I was going to make a restaurant that bagled everything, including and especially sushi.  You could order it "whole" or "roll,"which would mean a bagel sandwich or a bagel sandwich cup up into 6 pieces for dipping purposes.  I had fallen in love with soft, amazing, bagel goodness and realized that all dishes that have other carbs would probably be all the better if a bagel replaced them.  Anyway, I would of course need to be able to put this sauce on the sandwiches and serve it on the side with the rolls, so I asked for the recipe.  The owner said he couldn't just tell me his secret but encouraged me to experiment around, that he was sure I could figure out something at least as good.  He also told me I could have as much Baja Sauce as I want when I'm in town.  A few days later, while perusing a Japanese grocery store in St. Mark's, I smelled sesame oil on its own for the first time and had an epiphany.  I had found the missing ingredient, purchased it, and began experimentation.

My first experiment was only so so: smoked salmon, cream cheese, seaweed, Calexico's Crack Sauce + sesame oil and soy sauce, tobiko, cucumber slices on a Murray's Bagel.


*which isn't to say I haven't done that once or twice