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Sushi: An Expensive Culinary Habit

I am far from the suavest of sushi aficionados (try as I might, the most adventurous I get in terms of raw fish is with tuna sashimi, and I love rolls). Even at a more pedantic level of enjoyment, however, sushi is an expensive culinary habit.

Case in point: Last Saturday night CB and I went to a new sushi restaurant that had gotten rave reviews from my friends. The place did not disappoint and was entirely reasonable for a nice Saturday evening meal. Still, for two people, with no drinks, the total tax & tip came out to $50 for three specialty rolls (with all of my favorite ingredients – spicy tuna, unagi, crab, roe, avocado, cucumber, tuna, and salmon), and a bowl of green tea ice cream. The food was beautifully presented and delicious, the service was friendly, and the atmosphere cozy.

It was a wonderful dinner, and I view our $50 bill as money well spent. After all, sushi are truly works of art – it costs money to prepare the labor-intensive dishes and to purchase high-quality fish and other seafood. At some other restaurants, the cost of sushi can go as high as your wallet will expand (or is it contract?). I doubt that I will develop the sense of adventure or sophistication necessary to truly enjoy sea urchin, squid, or octopus sashimi. I do know, however, that I’ve graduated from $5 spicy tuna rolls at the mall sushi shops, and I don’t think I can go back. We’ve all heard of lifestyle inflation. This might be the very first step on my road to sushi inflation.

How often do you eat sushi? Are you willing to spend more on sushi than on other meals? What is your favorite dish?

  • everydaytips - I have never eaten sushi. I am actually kinda glad it doesn't intrigue me because I know those that enjoy it eat it a lot, and it can be expensive.

    If I had to pick something that I will splurge on, it is a good steak from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - I am addicted to sushi, its really bad. But I really limit myself to once every two weeks, or if I go to the sushi buffet, which is only $14.99 during lunch, then I go every week. :/ … I tend to go to pricey sushi places only on special occasions, other times, getting the lunch box meal typically saves you money too because it comes w/ sushi. ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - My husband and I tend to do sushi for lunch. Our local sushi joint has a great lunch special where you get one and a half rolls, miso soup, and a salad for $8. Their green tea (which is the best I’ve ever had) is $1 and that’s unlimited.

    We get great food, in a wonderful atmosphere, for the same price to go to a family-oriented chain to get a burger.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - L-o-v-e sushi–just had it for dinner last night actually. It's funny because I didn't like sushi at all until I met my fiance six years ago–I was scared that I'd get food poisoning from eating raw fish. I am glad that I got over my fears and went from eating only California rolls to trying the real stuff.

    My fiance and I usually have sushi every two weeks, but when we're feeling flush, we sometimes have it once a week. It can get really expensive though, especially if you add a glass of plum wine and some sake and then maybe fried ice cream for dessert (soooo good). I am willing to spend more than usual for sushi though because it's healthy, delicious, and an experience.

    I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite sushi roll because I like so many of them, but I will say that most of my favorite rolls have unagi and avocado in them somewhere. I love me some BBQ eel. ReplyCancel

  • Ciawy - I think me and SO eat sushi at least 2x a month. There are times also that I'll have sushi with family. Yes, we do end up paying more on Japanese food than if we go other way. I prefer salmon sashimi over tuna, and of course, sushi tempura and california rolls. ReplyCancel

  • Kate - Love the stuff. At one point, in an attempt to cut back on the cost, I started making it from scratch at home. While that's a neat skill to have, I really don't find that I save that much doing at home, and it's A LOT of work.

    Our compromise has been to find a mid to low end sushi place that we frequent regularly (an all you can eat place in a strip mall) and then splurge maybe once a year for the really good stuff. Our AYCE place is good enough that we often feel ripped off if we go to most other sushi places- "you're charging 8 bucks a roll for that?? It wasn't even that good!" ReplyCancel

  • amberto - um – i love sushi. if i could eat it every day i probably would. i actually prefer the more authentic, mom & pop shops over the Americanized "fancy" sushi. There's a GREAT sushi bar/japaneese grocery store in the Detroit area called Noble Fish. The sushi is beyond reasonably priced and is better than any of the "fancy" places, hands down.

    I have a standard order (its kind of a lot, but i LOVE sushi!) – spicy scallop roll (special, write-in request), tuna teryaki roll (tuna marinated in teryaki – maybe cooked), eel & avocado roll, and usually 3 pieces of nigiri :) NOW I'M HUNGRY! ReplyCancel

    • Cara - Ditto on Noble Fish! Best sushi in the Detroit area (along with its sister restaurant, Sushi Do, in Troy), hands down. Prices are incredibly reasonable because they focus on the sushi, not on the atmosphere, and if you're getting carry out like I always do, atmosphere doesn't matter anyway. ReplyCancel

  • seenonflickr - How often do I eat sushi? Mmmmmm, not as often as I would like to!

    And to me, really cheap sushi is kind of not worth it. I'd rather pay a bit more and get quality.

    (I'm going to email people right now to invite them out for sushi tomorrow!) ReplyCancel

  • karijo09 - In order to get good sushi, you always have to pay more. But you don't have to pay through the nose. We have trendy sushi shops that are crazy expensive, and then we have the hole in the wall sushi restaurants that are cheap, and honestly better. Look the the sushi places where Japanese people eat and you'll always find the best sushi and usually at a reasonable price. ReplyCancel

  • Becca - Yeah, sushi is definitely a downfall for me. I love the good places, but I'll use it as my fall back fro lunch by eating the crappy sushi they make downstairs. When I went to San Fran for work, I'd regularly blow $75 bucks on my portion of the bill and pig out on some of the best sushi in the city.

    I hate roe on my sushi, but really good unagi nagiri that melts in your mouth and anything tuna are my favorites. Mackerel is usually a go-to as well. My roommate and i tend to go family style to get more variety, and we're very American and order so much that they give us 3 or 4 chopsticks every time.

    Man, now I want sushi. Or oysters. Really, something raw, clearly. :-) Luckily, my favorite place does a 10% discount on take out orders! ReplyCancel

  • Sunflowers - I LOVE sushi. :) Definitely willing to spend more than on regular meals. My dad and I had omakase (chef's choice) at a hole-in-the-wall that ended up costing an arm and a leg – but it was the best meal of my life. BUTTERFISH! omg! If I could afford it, I would go there weekly.

    Favorite dish… aforementioned butterfish, unagi, salmon (the first thing I get to test out if a place is good). Bf calls me a snob because I won't eat grocery store sushi… but if that makes me a snob, then so be it. :p ReplyCancel

  • Meg - I eat sushi at least twice a week – usually I'll grab a tray from the grocery store for a quick lunch or dinner, but even grocery store sushi is more expensive than buying a quick sandwich or salad in general. I usually spend $7-$9 for a tray of spicy salmon rolls (lately I've been getting them from Whole Foods made with brown rice for an extra healthy twist). When I go out for sushi I love to get adventurous though. For an indulgent treat I love jalepeno rolls (usually they are made with cream cheese and are often tempura battered – plus they come with their own special dipping sauce). ReplyCancel

  • Rainy-Day Saver - Sushi is our one culinary splurge. We rarely go out to eat, but if we do, it's to a fancy sushi place nearby that we love. We usually go once every two months or so. I love the special rolls, but we usually get a combination of special & regular ($5 tuna/avocado and the like) rolls to keep it reasonable. Sometimes, we'll get 5 total rolls between us (yes, a splurge). With soft drinks, the total for two is about $50 plus tip. ReplyCancel

  • Nunzio Bruno - I love sushi and I completely agree with your point about lifestyle inflation. Even though they aren't adventurous your tastes have grown to be more specific, you can def tell the difference between what you like and what you get at the mall. I wish that it wasn't so expensive but maybe that scarcity ( the dollars to spend on it) is what makes the experience a little richer and why it's great to have every once and a while but not every day. Good old Demand Elasticity lol. I don't think you should be afraid to get a little riskier with your choices the next time you go..it's all about the experience right ;p ReplyCancel

  • eric1985 - I am a big fan of the Salmon Avacado roll and the Spicy Tuna roll. There is a great place about ten minutes from my apartment that I visit every few months. I don't do any shell fish or oddities (squid, octopus, eel, shark, etc) so it stays reasonable. Happy hour is key to a good sushi experience on a budget. ReplyCancel

  • Kim - I did not like sushi until about a year and a half or so ago. Ever since my tastebuds decided they liked it, I have been insatiable. From $5 grocery store rolls to $16 all you can eat places, to $60 "sushi boat" meals (what an amazing/awful idea those places are!), I can't get enough. I LOVE SUSHI.

    There is a place near us that delivers for free (minimum $15 order) from 5pm-3am, and I don't know what I'm going to do when we move away. My favorites are salmon, avocado, crab (or "krab," as in California Rolls), roe, tuna, and hamachi…but I'll pretty much eat anything. LOVE LOVE LOVE SUSHI and desperately wish the good stuff was more affordable.

    I'd say I eat it once a week (maybe every 10 days), but it's usually not the good stuff…it's usually just something to satisfy the craving. I'm lucky if we go to a really nice place once a month :)

    Darn it, now I want sushi! Thanks for writing this post! ReplyCancel

  • Cindy - I also looooove sushi! I've been a fan of the spicy tuna lately but before that I loved the Philadelphia roll. I'd eat it every day but it's just too pricey.

    P.S.: Sex and the City 2 was AWESOME. ReplyCancel

  • FabulouslyBroke - I am still not picky. I can eat it from a grocery store, in a store.. it doesn't matter. :)

    But I do prefer the higher end rolls (nothing like fake crab or scallops for me) ReplyCancel

  • Money Reasons - Yes, I love sushi!

    I like mainly the spicy roll. So I'll get spicy crab, spicy tuna, spicy salmon,and (eel or unagi). The non-spicy sushi is good too though…

    I was incredible surprised to find that I liked eel!!!

    I usually only eat sushi once a week, I would like to eat more often and try some of the more expensive options… but I need to keep my money in check! ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I love sushi WAAAAY too much. I don't even eat enough as I'd like. ;___;
    Thank goodness for All you can eat sushi restaurants now though.

  • Car Coach - I freakin' love sushi and it's one of those guilty pleasures of mine where I spend too much.

    I've talked with a sushi chef though and at some places there is definitely a quality difference you get for the extra bucks. When restaurants buy sushi grade fish, there is a wide range of quality they get: AAA, AA, AA, A, BBB, etc…..just like grades of beef. And once you try the top range, it's hard to go back to grocery store sushi.

    My favorites are standalone yellowtail, tuna, and a super crunch roll! ReplyCancel

  • youngandthrifty - I would marry sushi if I could…I love it so much.

    You HAVE to come up to Vancouver if you love sushi…. you can get deliciously fresh sushi for super cheap here. After 9pm, you can get all you can eat sushi for $12. Two weeks ago I had the best sushi ever in my entire life.. it was so good that it tasted like the chef caught the fish just 5 minutes before we devoured it. =) ReplyCancel

  • Money Smarts Blog - I love sushi – we've spent up to about $100 on it, but that is waaay too much.

    There is a an all-u-can-eat place near where I work, which is pretty good. It's only $13 so I try to stick to that place.

    Mike ReplyCancel

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  • @closedblueyes - Back when I was in the Bay Area, Sean & I were eating sushi every Friday at our favorite spot. We spent WAY too much money, but we had so much fun talking with the sushi chefs & trying new things. We've cut back to 1 or 2 times a month since moving to Austin. Plus, sushi here is not nearly as expensive unless you go to Uchi, which is a fine dining sushi restaurant.

    BTW – Octopus is always cooked (not raw). You should try an octopus salad if you're feeling adventurous. It will be combined with other ingredients and if they squeeze some citrus juice on it, it will help to make it less chewy. It's really delicious, but just like any sushi, it takes a little getting used to. ReplyCancel

  • Bonnie - Am I the only person who doesn't care for sushi? 😉 I've only had it once, about 10 years ago, and I was violently ill for a week. So, haven't had it since.

    I will spend some serious money on amazing Italian food and occasionally a really nice steak. Also, my city has a handful of fantastic organic, "local" restaurants, and I'm always happy to pay more for that, when I can. ReplyCancel

  • Austin ces - That was my go-to date might meal in America. Well-worth the $40-50. Throw in some sake and, for me, there's no better dinner.

    Sushi in Japan's different. They do more sashimi and less rolls (my preference). They have some good stuff, but my American taste buds are too different. ReplyCancel

  • Laura - There aren't many places I feel safe going out to eat because I have a lot of food allergies, but sushi is a godsend for me. It's a dining out staple. To save on cost we only get drinks and nigiri on special occasions. We usually get a nice meal for about 30 dollars, but it can be 50 or 70 if we go all out.

    We started making our own sushi though, with cooked shrimp and salmon. Very cost effective and it was a lot of fun for celebrating my boyfriend's birthday with friends. We prepped the ingredients and everyone had fun rolling them. ReplyCancel

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