Brave it for the crave

Arigato Sushi

1608 Howe Ave, Suite A5
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 920-5930

Based on the restaurant’s filled-to-the-gills conditions, if the servers and chefs at Arigato Sushi said thanks to every patron, they’d reduce their voices to a croak in a very short time. Even on an off night like Monday, business here is brisk. There are four sheriff’s deputies at a table—always a positive sign. Like they’d be dining someplace sketchy? A solid group of 12 diners boisterously celebrates a birthday with many a “Kampai!” as cup after cup of sake goes down the hatch.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, there are clogs of wannabe patrons chillin’—literally—outside the doors, clutching vibrating, red-light-ringed alarms to let them know when they can come in out from the cold. Tucked inconspicuously—nearly invisibly—into a strip mall on Howe Avenue, Arigato’s signage is but a brief peripheral splash to the passing motorist before it’s passed. Circle back. Here’s why:

The restaurant’s centerpiece, as the name implies, is a spacious, sparkling white sushi bar lighted by dangling silver pods. A team of six or so black-uniformed chefs, behind glass cases crammed with fish, is focused on the numerous tasks at hand. There is no sense of feverish desperation to keep pace, merely stolid efficiency honed, no doubt, by the unremitting stream of customers.

Similarly, the waitresses gather to collect completed orders for the Pink Lady, (spicy tuna and crabmeat in a deep-fried roll) and the I [Heart] You roll (shrimp, crabmeat and cucumber), receipts spiked on a tall pile of filled orders of nigiri and specialty rolls.

The décor seems skewed to a youngish demographic. One wall is scalloped, like sand from lapping waves, lit with changing colors—blue, green, magenta. Silver bamboo stalks stand out against a red wall mat. There have been some recent improvements; a can of white paint and some drop clothes lie near the restrooms. Throbbing music beats below the white noise of table conversation.

Comparisons require yardsticks. So, absent atmosphere, it’s best to initially examine some items common to all sushi restaurants. The miso here is somewhat bereft of the tofu and seaweed flotsam and jetsam found in many bowls elsewhere. Some version of pepperfin—which Zen Sushi calls Better Than Sex—and poki, the Hawaiian ahi dish that usually includes daikon slivers and wakame, are stalwarts.

At Arigato, which also boasts a location in Roseville, both compare favorably. The poki, with slices of cucumber and onion, is artfully presented and more than lives up to its “three red chili” billing in the menu with a boisterous, unrelenting assault on the tongue. The pepperfin—thin slabs of tuna, spattered with jalapeño slices, adrift in zippy ponzu sauce—comes on a triangular plate garnished with a tumbleweed of daikon threads. Diverging from other offerings of the same name, the fish is striped with a mustardy yellow sauce whose nuance is buried by the competing tastes.

There is also value in sampling signature dishes. In this case, that’s the Arigato roll, large both in size and expense—$15.95. This is an amalgam of five kinds of fish, plus deep-fried shrimp and the sweet shrimp, known as ebi usually offered as two-piece nigiri. There are two sauces, which the chefs will gladly light up with a splash of sriracha. This could also be named the “synergy roll”—the sum is greater than the parts.

Elsewhere, the Aloha Roll’s connection to the islands is tenuous, but the spicy tuna and spicy crabmeat coupled with seared albacore and some jalapeños is a memorable mix that is somewhat cooled by the yellow, mayonnaisey sauces.

The chef recommends the Spanish mackerel (aji) over the mackerel for dessert. He’s right, of course. There are beginner’s sushi samplers, bento boxes galore, and the usual udon, teriyaki and sukiyaki options. But, as the name implies, Arigato’s chief attraction is raw fish bits. And if that is what you crave, then this place’s crowds you should brave.