Good sushi for only $25? This Oakland restaurant believes sushi is for people

On a chilly night in Japan, as I was wandering drunk through the back streets of Ikebukuro, I came across a brightly lit sushi bar. The buzz in my head made the experience feel like a David Lynch fever dream filmed with a fish-eye lens. Inside, a woman wore a mink fur coat. There was a man with a missing tooth. The room was dark with heavy cigarette smoke. And every few minutes, deafening laughter broke out.

I wasn’t sure if the screaming was somehow at my expense, but it didn’t matter. I was in the experience, and it was awesome. And as for the sushi, it was solid and cheap and plentiful, if I remember correctly.

Eating at Mujiri, a sushi bar in North Oakland, took me back to that night in Tokyo when I first fell in love with accessible sushi. It has that same community feel, where the restaurant is owned by patrons sharing slices of fish and clinking tiny bowls of sake. Only Mujiri’s sushi isn’t just affordable: it’s legitimately fantastic, so much so that you’ll start to feel like you got away with a robbery.

Sushi has many realities. It may be one of the more expensive dining experiences dictated by the high quality fish, setting and hype. But it can also be pre-packaged convenience store food. I gravitate toward the mid-tier options, where the quality is great without the pump.

The nigiri and sashimi sets are the main draws at Mujiri in Oakland.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Nigiri and sashimi sets are rolled out for dinner parties at Mujiri in Oakland.

Nigiri and sashimi sets are rolled out for dinner parties at Mujiri in Oakland.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

At Mujiri, you won’t find flamboyant rolls with a dozen ingredients. The emphasis is on raw fish, although there is the occasional flame from a blowtorch. Large prints are the two set options – nigiri and sashimi – filled with soft, high-quality sliced ​​fish.

The nigiri combo ($25) comes with seven pieces along with a maki (roll). Nigiri choices could include tender bigeye tuna; vibrant orange cuts of salmon, arctic char and sea trout; pale pink hamachi and kanpachi; fatty scallops from Hokkaido; and rich, melting toro. The guests have no say in the maki. One week you might come across sour pickled ume with shiso, then spicy salmon or tuna on another visit. If you fancy more premium nigiri, you can request them (or order a la carte) for an additional fee: slippery cured ikura ($5), creamy uni ($18), ebodai (butterflyfish, $5) slightly charred and garnished with chopped ginger and green onions.

Mujiri is on busy San Pablo Avenue in Oakland.

Mujiri is on busy San Pablo Avenue in Oakland.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The sashimi set ($35), on the other hand, is not customizable. It comes with 16 pieces – two slices of 8 different fish – chosen by the chef. Arranged in a fan shape on a bamboo leaf, the pieces of fish burst with color and freshness. Goldeneye and red snapper can be seared for smoke, while tuna is meaty and toro is nicely buttered. If you still want the extra carbs, you can order a side of rice to make your own sashimi donburi. About the rice, it is served hot and looks like brown rice. But it’s just well seasoned with vinegar and tamari.

Mujiri is a small sushi restaurant in Oakland, with only 10 seats at the bar.

Mujiri is a small sushi restaurant in Oakland, with only 10 seats at the bar.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Despite, or perhaps because of, Mujiri’s small size – just 10 bar seats and a few tables inside and outside – visitors will quickly sense the restaurant’s strong community. I like to sit at the back tables where the noise bounces off the walls, a godsend for dedicated evesdroppers like me. Yuppies talk about meeting quarterly quotas between bites, couples bicker, families toast, and we all feel like we know this secret: united in disbelief that sushi could be so economical and high-quality.

This is especially amazing given that most of the seafood comes from Japan (as well as New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Spain, depending on availability). This is owner Jane Sun’s first restaurant, but she’s a veteran of Japanese restaurants. Mujiri started, in late 2020, as a take-out establishment, and take-out sushi is still taking pre-orders. The sets come on cute wooden blocks that might be in the running for the best-looking take-out packaging in the game.

Mujiri nigiri set, packaged for takeout.

Mujiri nigiri set, packaged for takeout.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The maki changes regularly with the nigiri sets at Mujiri.

The maki changes regularly with the nigiri sets at Mujiri.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

But dining out offers a more casual and charming experience. The restaurant is usually packed for dinner and the bar seats fill up first, so remember to book. If you want to get rid of the crowds, try lunch. From the bar, you’ll watch the chef torch branded calamari, rolling up the chewy flesh to look like scales. In addition to pyrotechnics, the fish shoots smoke from cedar wood planks as they are incinerated, filling the air with the smell of sweet, burning wood. This beats the cigarette smoke haze I felt in Ikebukuro.

Jeremias Jimenez burns fish at Mujiri, which is becoming a community favorite for sushi in North Oakland.

Jeremias Jimenez burns fish at Mujiri, which is becoming a community favorite for sushi in North Oakland.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Dining inside also gives you access to sake and crispy Japanese lagers. The sake selection is double the size of the menu. Some options are available in 250 milliliter jugs or bottled, which range from individual size to 1.8 liter size. For something light and semi-dry, try the Hitakami Junmai ($22 for a carafe), the pleasantly sweet bottle of Dassai 23 ($45) or the fruity, unpasteurized bottles of Den Sake from Oakland ($38) .

Mujiri’s price is a statement: sushi should be accessible. I envy diners who will have their first sushi experience at Mujiri for just $25 or $35. A step into the world of good sushi, without the cost barrier.

If sushi existed on a spectrum, Mujiri would land right in the middle, perfectly tempered. Just like I felt that night in Japan, sushi for people is my favorite type of sushi.

Cesar Hernandez is the associate food critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]


6501 San Pablo Ave, #B, Oakland. 510-879-6597 or www.mujiri-oakland.com

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.

Accessibility: All floors are on one level.

Noise level: Moderate to strong.

Meal for two, excluding drinks: $50-$60.

What to order: Combo sashimi ($35), combo nigiri ($25), uni nigiri (+combo $18 or $28 à la carte), ikura nigiri (+combo $2 or $12 à la carte), ebodai nigiri (+combo $5 or $16 à la carte) ).

Meatless options: inari nigiri ($6 à la carte), ume-shiso hosomaki ($7), sushi rice ($5)

Drinks: Beer and sake.

Transportation: Right in front of bus lines 72 and 802. Street parking.

Best Practices: Lounge area, rear table or bar for a view of the pyrotechnics.


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