Scouting: 5 Tips for Avoiding a Bad Sushi Restaurant

It’s interesting how things change over time.

As a kid growing up in a suburb of Seattle, sushi was not a very popular food. In fact, I remember the week that my elementary classmates discovered that I ate sushi and mere seconds after (no really) I was soon known as “the kid who’s family eats raw fish. Ewwwwwwww.” I think they probably could have come up with a shorter nickname, but were just being lazy.

However, fast forward to today, and you’ll find the atmosphere around sushi is completely different. In fact, in several areas of the U.S., sushi is not only a popular food, but is considered to be “trendy.” Now, I find it more unusual if someone doesn’t like sushi rather than if they do.

Another example: When I’m at a sushi restaurant, it’s a strange experience for me to see kids as young as 5 years old fighting over the last piece of sashimi. It’s such a contrast from what I remember as a child and I can’t help but ask, “Where am I???”

Of course, I’m only joking about this, and I’m extremely happy that sushi is growing in popularity, because – if anything – for my own selfish reasons, it means more sushi restaurants will open and it’ll be easier for me to fill my cravings.

However, with more sushi restaurants becoming readily available, how do you know if the one you just walked into is a good one? Or worse, how do you know if it’s bad?

As scouting is all about helping you discover and explore things to do and try, today I’ll share with you a few tips on finding good sushi spots.


5 Tips for Avoiding a Bad Sushi Restaurant

Tip #1: Sushi Restaurants Shouldn’t Smell… Fishy

For many people, this is actually a pretty big surprise as one might expect a place that serves seafood to smell, well, like fish. However, this is actually untrue as good quality fish shouldn’t have much of a smell at all, and you certainly shouldn’t be able to smell it as you walk into the restaurant.

This goes for the taste of the sushi as well as it shouldn’t taste fishy (read: Sushi should not taste like bait).

So what should you smell when you walk into a sushi restaurant? In my experience, one giveaway that I'm in a good sushi restaurant is the scent of the sushi rice – which has a delicate and distinct rice vinegar aroma. Of course this is only my opinion and others think sushi restaurants should smell like other things.  One person in particular believes a good sushi restaurant should smell more like watermelons or cucumbers. Sound weird? Sure, until you realize it’s the opinion of renowned Head Sushi Chef Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo Restaurant in Vancouver. I think he's pretty much a sushi jedi…

Tip #2: How Does It Look?

Another way to tell if the sushi restaurant you’re in isn’t the best is to check out the fish and the area it’s being prepared in (no duh, right?).

If you’re able to sit at the sushi bar, I say by all means, do it because it’ll allow you to have a first-hand look at the preparation of what will soon to be your meal. While you’re there, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the fish look fresh?
  • Is it being kept cold and contained?
  • Is the preparation area kept clean?
  • Is the fish being sliced to order or is it pre-sliced and manufactured?
  • Is the sushi chef well groomed and well mannered?

Will answering all of these questions ultimately help you determine how good a sushi place is without actually trying the sushi? No, but it may be a very good indicator. For me, answering these questions helps me take a pretty good guess at the likelihood of the sushi being of good quality even before I put in an order. It also may or may not reinforce my first instinct about a place – and when in doubt, trust your gut.

Sushi Tip: When at an unfamiliar sushi restaurant, start out by ordering something small from the sushi chef and work your way up. If the first item you order is not good, you may consider taking your bill and going elsewhere.


Tip #3: Avoid Restaurants That Serve EVERYTHING

Have you seen places that serve three or four different types of cuisines? Many times, places like this which serve sushi, also serve foods from all over Asia, most commonly Chinese, Japanese and other cuisines from nearby countries.

While at first glance, places like this might seem like a killer way to satisfy a craving for a variety of different foods all in one spot, in my experience, this is actually a major red flag – especially if they serve sushi.

My rule of thumb is, if a restaurant serves several types of cuisines all under the same roof, chances are, they probably don’t do any of them very well.

Tip #4: Don’t Skimp on Quality

For anyone who’s ever had a killer sushi craving, going to a cheap sushi restaurant can be one of the easiest ways to get satisfied in a hurry. Traditionally, sushi has not been easy on the wallet. So what’s the problem?

Simply put, if you want quality sushi, you’ll have to pay for it. Why? For a variety of reason:

  • High quality fish isn’t cheap – similar to beef, pork, or other delicacies.
  • Many types of fish served at a sushi restaurant are to be transported from other areas of the world.
  • Maybe more importantly than the fish itself is the person serving it. A top level master sushi chef who has been training his entire career and understands the many techniques involved can make upwards of$100,000 per year in the top restaurants.

Tip #5: Check Reviews Before You Go

Lastly, the best way to know if you’re at a good sushi restaurant is to see what other people are saying before you even head out the door. How? Right now, there are millions of people who are sharing their sushi eating experiences online. They’re recommending their favorite restaurants, talking about their customer service and prices, rating them, and much, much more.

So how can you find out what people are saying about a particular sushi restaurant? Here’s a pretty good place to start.

Reading reviews and comments about a restaurant before you head out the door is probably the single best way to know if the restaurant you’re about to go to is a good one. But with that said, take them with a grain of salt because everyone’s experience and expectations around sushi is different – just like everything else in life.

So What Will You Do?

Some people say that even bad pizza is pretty good pizza.  The same certainly cannot be said of sushi because bad sushi is absolutely horrendous and at its worst, might be something you might feel the effects of for a few days.

However at its best, great sushi served by a truly skilled chef might be an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Hopefully these tips will help you create happier sushi memories like this in the future.

Happy Scouting!

Kenji from the Scout Team

Do you have a favorite sushi restaurant? What’s it called and what do you recommend there?