PORTLAND, Maine — When city workday lunchgoers get a hankering for raw fish, rice and seaweed, they’ve got serious contemplations ahead. Portland has at least a dozen different restaurants serving midday sushi to choose from.
Here’s a list of the city’s sushi lunch hot spots to help them decide.
But first, some background sushi knowledge for those who don’t know.
When talking about sushi, folks generally mean either sashimi, nigiri or rolls, known as maki. Sashimi is plain cuts of fresh, raw fish. Nigiri is thin slices of fresh, raw fish pressed onto pillows of vinegared rice. Rolls are fish, vegetable and seaweed concoctions rolled up in sticky rice. They can be made of raw ingredients but are often deep fried in tempura batter.
Sushi is often served with sides of soy sauce, hot wasabi paste and paper-thin slices of pickled ginger. Fun fact: The ginger is supposed to be eaten between slices, as a palette cleanser.
The PBS television show The History Kitchen reckons the sushi concept came to Japan in the 9th century, around the same time Buddhism spread across the island nation. The Buddhists didn’t eat chicken, pork or beef, turning to fish as a dietary staple instead. At the time, the rice and seafood were strictly a pickled, preserved and fermented affair.
“This combination of rice and fish is known as nare-zushi, or aged sushi,” The History Kitchen states.
The practice of eating fresh, raw fish as sushi didn’t come about until the 1820s. The practice and popularity then grew along with technology.
“In the 1970s, thanks to advances in refrigeration, the ability to ship fresh fish over long distances and a thriving post-war economy, the demand for premium sushi in Japan exploded,” the TV show said.
According to the Portland Food Map, Portland’s first sushi restaurant, Sapporo, opened 36 years ago, on April 13, 1985.
Since then, many others have joined the ranks. Here’s a list of Portland’s go-to sushi lunch destinations. As always, the city’s restaurant scene can change fast. You’d be smart to call ahead and confirm all listed hours, prices and menu items.
230 Commercial St.
The city’s original sushi joint, Sapporo still serves lunch Monday through Friday, from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m. Lunch specials, complete with miso, include the tekka-don for $16. That’s raw tuna sashimi and seaweed on a bed of rice. You can also try two or three roll combinations for less than $15.
Pai Men Miyake
188 State St.
Not to be confused with the currently closed Miyake on Fore Street, Pai Men Miyake starts serving lunch at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday through Friday. Their spicy crunch rolls, festooned with toasted almonds, spicy mayo, sesame and your choice of fish or veggie fillings, are a real treat at $10. If you want an adventure, splurge on the $23 grilled eel and avocado unagi roll.
1 Danforth St.
Opened in 2003, Yosaku serves weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Choose their $13.50 bento box lunch deal and you’ll get miso soup plus one roll from their dizzying array of offerings. Choices include pickled radish oshinko, cooked salmon and avocado Red Sox roll or the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel roll.
16 Middle St.
Pay attention, because there’s another Benkay on Congress Street but they do not serve sushi. They’re strictly a grill. You want the Benkay on Middle Street. Locally famous for their late night, party-light and stage-smokey “rock and roll sushi,” they also serve a more sedate lunch weekdays from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Offerings include both the 16-piece lunch deluxe and the 13-piece lunch regular.
28 Monument Sq.
You’ve got two choices here. Mr. Tuna operates a sit-down establishment at the Market House in Monument Square and a mobile food truck. The brick-and-mortar location starts serving daily at 11 a.m. You can find the mobile tuna unit on Portland’s Eastern Prom most days for lunch. Try their inventive tuna tataki burrito with green chili sauce, pickled red onions, avocado and tempura flakes for $18.
426 Fore St.
This establishment does not serve sushi in the traditional sense. Instead, they offer hearty salads you can top with raw fish. Opening weekdays at 11 a.m., Crunchy Poke’s signature bowls all start with a base of lettuce, avocado, cucumber, carrot, edamame, red ginger, green onion, microgreens and their base sauce. You can then add raw spicy tuna or salmon. If you want something cooked, there’s lobster, scallops or crab, too.
Tokyo Sushi and Ramen
11 Brown St.
207-613-9919 and 207-613-9938
Tokyo Sushi starts serving daily at 11 a.m. and offers several midday specials. A five-piece sushi lunch, including a California roll and miso soup, costs $11.95 while the 12-piece version goes for $15.95. They’ve also got a bento box selection, which includes a cooked main course of fish, along with miso soup, rice and pan-fried gyoza dumplings for around $12.
King of the Roll
675 Congress St.
Aside from its decent and reasonably-priced lunch, King of the Roll easily has the coolest name of any sushi restaurant in town. Open for lunch weekdays from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., this place boasts outdoor seating and a long list of sashimi, nigiri and roll offerings. They include raw hirami halibut, ika squid and hamachi yellowtail. Many rolls come with evocative names like the spider, flower, 49er, dynamite and Casco Bay.
1053 Forest Ave.
Ginza Town, on outer Forest Avenue, opens weekdays at 11 a.m. They offer two, three, nine and ten roll lunch specials. Prices range from $12 to $15. For a few dollars more, you can get sushi with soup, rice, vegetables or noodles. A $13 lunch box special includes dumplings, sushi, rice and salad.
Kon Aisian Bistro
1140 Brighton Ave.
207-874-0000 or 207-874-0033
This large restaurant on the Westbrook town line serves lunch from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Midday specials include 15 sashimi pieces with a side of rice for $16.99. Classic rolls like spicy tuna, California and salmon are also available at the rate of two for $10 or three for $13.
Hannaford and Whole Foods
If you’re desperate for sushi and running errands inside Hannaford or Whole Foods, they’ve got sushi, too. Hannford gets its pre-packaged sushi from Toronto-based Bento Sushi. Whole Foods sources its offerings from Genji LLC out of Philadelphia.