Sushi to go in Atlanta: How to dine like you’re in Japan — at home

Mujo, currently operating out of Cooks & Soldiers until its permanent home next door is ready, offers an exquisite to-go nigiri set for $65, including soup (not shown). (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Mujo, currently operating out of Cooks & Soldiers until its permanent home next door is ready, offers an exquisite to-go nigiri set for $65, including soup (not shown). (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Sushi purists may cringe at the thought of takeout omakase. The whole point of the chef’s choice experience is to create an intimate exchange. Often, the sushi master will hand you a finger of nigiri just seconds after making it.

ExploreSushi pop-up’s lovely appetizer a good choice for connoisseurs and novices

For the most part, I’ve shied away from sushi for the AJC’s takeout column, Atlanta Orders In. At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed a bit pricey and precious for pickup. One restaurant owner told me it was ideal for takeout, because you don’t have to worry about it getting cold. “But what about it getting hot?” I thought.

Still, it’s possible I haven’t given sushi its due. After all, the Japanese have been packing it in bento boxes for centuries. On a quest for raw fish to eat at home, I recently checked out these four options.

The $70 omakase bento box from Yakitori Jinbei comes in a black box tied with a ribbon and includes a thank-you note from the chef. Labels on the underside of the lid identify the contents. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
The $70 omakase bento box from Yakitori Jinbei comes in a black box tied with a ribbon and includes a thank-you note from the chef. Labels on the underside of the lid identify the contents. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Yakitori Jinbei

When I asked a Japanese restaurateur where he liked to go for takeout sushi, I expected him to tout one of his own businesses. Instead, he gave me a straight answer, and a sterling insider tip: the takeout omakase from this humble spot in a Smyrna strip mall.

Indeed, since buying Jinbei four years ago, owner Jae Choi has worked hard to improve the sushi. (Jinbei also serves ramen and a few dishes from Choi’s native South Korea, including a Korean fried chicken that was rhapsodized on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”) Recently, he brought in Shuma Kuwamoto from glitzy Umi in Buckhead to work alongside Joseph Kwon at the sushi counter. The plan is to open a second restaurant in Peachtree Corners later this year.

The $70 omakase bento box hit all the right notes for me. In a sleek black package tied with a silver ribbon and bow, plus a handwritten thank-you note from chef Shuma, it was a wildly generous, seriously good selection of nigiri (10 pieces), sashimi (akami, hamachi, madai); a generous scoop of uni; a negitoro maki roll; and a nice hunk of sliced, seared tuna. And I didn’t have to guess what I was eating: The underside of the box lid was carefully affixed with labels arranged to correspond with each piece of fish.

Chef Shuma knows how to coax out flavors with just a brush of wasabi, a dollop of caviar, a hint of chile pepper. It’s extremely rare to have a raw scallop without the filmy texture; Shuma’s was pristine. A finger of wagyu nigiri was sheer luxury, too. I highly recommend this bento box experience. Note: Requires 48-hour notice.

2421 Cobb Parkway SE, Smyrna. 770-818-9215, yakitorijinbei.com

ExploreCobb County dining news
This is chirashi bowl A ($14) from the lunch menu of Circle Sushi. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
This is chirashi bowl A ($14) from the lunch menu of Circle Sushi. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Circle Sushi. If you know, you know. If you don’t know, you have to look very hard to spot this almost invisible restaurant, in a Sandy Springs shopping center anchored by a Publix.

After driving around a bit, I finally spied the “sushi” sign, naked as a piece of fish, over the front door. I wonder if owner Yuki Tanaka cultivates a sense of mystery on purpose: Circle has no website; it can be difficult to find a menu online; and for some time, Tanaka, a Kyushu native who opened Circle in 1998 and also owns Circle Noodle in Roswell, has demurred when I asked to interview him for Atlanta Orders In.

After getting a chirashi bowl and a hamachi kama (broiled collar of yellowtail) to go, I can see why several of my friends praise it as their top choice for sushi takeout. I felt like I was back at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Next time, I’d pass on the eel-avocado roll, but the hamachi kama was perfection itself — crispy skin, tender flaky fish — and the chirashi was exquisitely fresh and beautiful. I love tucking into the bowl of sashimi over rice and finding treasures like eel and shiso leaf.

ExploreNorth Fulton County dining news
Circle Sushi’s hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) comes with rice and a choice of salad or soup. It's shown here with salad. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Circle Sushi’s hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) comes with rice and a choice of salad or soup. It's shown here with salad. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

I can’t wait to go back for a sit-down experience and a thorough exploration of the menu. While many sushi spots around town water down the experience by catering to American tastes, Circle Sushi remains steadfastly true to its Japanese self.

8725 Roswell Road, No. 7, Sandy Springs. 770-998-7880, instagram.com/circle_sushi/

Nakato Japanese Restaurant allows you to bring a first-rate sushi experience to your home. Shown here are a selection of nigiri; the white kelp roll and the rock and roll. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Nakato Japanese Restaurant allows you to bring a first-rate sushi experience to your home. Shown here are a selection of nigiri; the white kelp roll and the rock and roll. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Nakato Japanese Restaurant. One year shy of 50, Nakato has served Jimmy Carter and Robert Shaw and sealed its reputation as the doyenne of Japanese cuisine in Atlanta. I hadn’t been to Nakato in years, but on a recent Sunday, I placed an online order and drove to Cheshire Bridge to pick it up.

I must say: Nakato has mastered the curbside routine. No need to fool with the valet or go inside: Pull into a covered parking spot on the side of the fortresslike building; give the attendant your name; and within minutes, you’re on your way.

The salmon-skin salad from Nakato Japanese Restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road is fresh and travels well. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
The salmon-skin salad from Nakato Japanese Restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road is fresh and travels well. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

ExploreDeKalb County dining news

From the all-encompassing menu, I chose a variety of dishes — soba salad, salmon-skin salad, shrimp and veggie tempura, a couple of rolls and seven pieces of nigiri, all pristine and pretty. Rolled in white seaweed streaked with green, the white kelp roll was a luscious package of chopped soft-shell crab tempura, scallion and masago caviar — heavenly. I enjoyed the tempura, particularly the little bundle of onion slivers, and loved mixing the components of the soba salad — buckwheat noodles; a tiny boiled quail egg; pearl tomatoes, snippets of seaweed; sesame dressing — into a perfectly balanced umami bomb. Everything was quite good, though next time I might pass on the $9 slice of otoro (heavily marbled tuna).

1776 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta. 404-873-6582, nakatorestaurant.com

J. Trent Harris is the sushi chef behind the well-received Mujo pop-up, which is being turned into a restaurant. (Courtesy of Heidi Harris)
J. Trent Harris is the sushi chef behind the well-received Mujo pop-up, which is being turned into a restaurant. (Courtesy of Heidi Harris)

Credit: Heidi Harris

Credit: Heidi Harris

Mujo. Operating from one side of Cooks & Soldiers’ cocktail bar, J. Trent Harris offers a rarefied omakase experience. For my takeout meal, I got nine pieces of nigiri (including some rare-to-me choices like grunt fish and Japanese shad); exquisitely briny uni from Hokkaido; a wedge of sweet egg cake; and a cup of deeply flavorful miso soup. It’s clear that Harris works at a supremely high level, summoning precise knife strokes to craft gemlike slivers of fish. Yes, you pay for it — $65 per person for takeout; $155 per person for dine in. (This includes extra dishes.) But as a singular dining adventure, it’s priceless.

691 14th St. NW, Atlanta. 404-996-2623, mujoatl.com

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.

About the Author

In Other News