Is Good Cheap Sushi a Paradox? The brand new Naruto Sushi doesn’t think so…

Ever since the news hit that the Malaysian chain Sakae was bringing conveyor belt sushi to Midtown, I’ve been in the mood for raw fish.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about Kikku, a sit down place on 55th btw. 5+6th that is considered one of the best cheap sushi options in Midtown, and of course there was my trip to Mitsuwa in New Jersey this past weekend.  But the quest for good, but cheap sushi in Midtown continues. 

Logic (and basic economics) tells me that it’s impossible to find good and fresh raw fish, in a 100% takeout setting- that doesn’t cost over $10.  But I refuse to give up.  Kikku and Taki have established themselves as decent and cheap sit down sushi meals, but I want sushi you can grab and go.  Right now that kind of lunch is dominated by Midtown Delis, the last place I want to be eating raw fish from.  Enter Naruto Sushi, a brand new exclusively take out place on 49th btw. Madison and 5th that is hoping to be the solution to my cheap sushi problem.

Why it is, and why it isn’t as part of a gigantic +/- with photos, after the jump…

Just like Kiroii Hana (which closed months ago), Naruta is cheap, take out sushi that comes from a nicer Japanese restaurant (with a more expensive menu).  In this case, Naruta shares a kitchen with Shinbashi, a fancy Japanese restaurant on 48th St. btw. 5th+Madison.  But instead of setting us shop on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, they’ve opened their own, stand alone location on the opposite side of the building- and like all cheap sushi, it’s got a lengthy list of positives and minuses.

Here’s the +


1.  The selection is alot of fun.  Despite being a tiny place, the choices are pretty cool and they have some interesting things that most Midtown deli sushi bars don’t have.  Authentic Japanese pickles, rice balls, gyoza, and shumai just to name a few.


2.  Really good prices.  Not only do you feel like it’s not that expensive, there are a good number of things for $3-4.50, like packages with three pieces of sushi, and small rolls (PLUS the things mentioned above), making it easy to mix and match 2 or 3 different things into a $10 lunch with a lot of variety.  They also have a few salads in the $4-5 range that looked pretty good.

3.  Did I mention the variety?  One of the things they have, which I really like, is this variety box for under $7 that had 3 different pieces from 4 different rolls.  For the person who hates to chose one kind of roll.  Good stuff.

4.  They have a non-mayo version of spicy tuna roll.  This may come as a surprise to some, but if you are eating sushi because it’s “healthy” or low fat, the secret ingredient that makes a spicy tuna roll so creamy and tasty, is mayo (no authentic Japanese secret sauce here).  Sorry to disappoint, but it looks like you won’t have to swear off Spicy Tuna rolls completely thanks to Naruto’s really tasty mayo-less spicy tuna roll.  The best part is, fat guys don’t need boycott…  they still have the regular mayo filled spicy tuna roll, PLUS extra little containers filled with spicy mayo, just for you!

5.  They don’t do the fake out, half roll thing that almost every Midtown Deli sushi bar does.  The rolls at Naruto are normal height, unlike places like Variety Cafe or Food Emporium where you open up your package only to find that the rolls are half the height of a normal sushi roll.  It must be some sort of optical illusion and it drives me crazy!  Naruto, thankfully, doesn’t play those games.

6. Free Miso Soup to the first 30 customers of the day.  Not sure how they keep count, but I’m guessing if you get there before 12:30, you won’t have a problem.

7.  Finally, and the biggest plus of all- TEMPURA ROLLS!  The complete nutritional opposite of the mayoless spicy tuna roll, and something I have never seen at a cheap, takeout sushi place or Midtown Deli sushi bar.  Is there a better way to deal with a roll of sushi made from cheap fish than breading the whole damn thing in tempura batter and deep frying it!?!  Not sold on it?  On one of the days I was there, they had free samples of the tempura roll available on top of the fridge.  I partook, and enjoyed it very much.  I will return to Naruto, if for no other reason than the tempura rolls.  (In case you are wondering, they are cold- but cold tempura roll is better than no tempura roll!)

With any cheap sushi, there’s going to be negatives, and Naruto is no different…

1.  The rice.  Anytime you take sushi rolls, and refrigerate them the rice is almost always going to suffer.  This rice is no different.  It doesn’t taste as plasticky as a lot of deli sushi, but it does sort of solidify into a chilled rock of rice surrounding the fish.  You can tell it’s been sitting in a fridge. 

2.  The fish. Despite being attached to a fancy sushi restaurant, Naruto is a cheap offshoot, so they use cheap fish.  It’s not even the best cheap fish there is in Midtown, but it’s not terrible either.

3.  It looks a little better than it tastes.  (In other words, go in with low expectations, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)

All in all the positives outweigh the negatives enough that Naruto will have alot of fans in Midtown, but the negatives are enough for me to continue my neverending quest for good, cheap sushi in Midtown.  We keep getting closer, but we’re not there yet.

Naruto, 12 E 49th St. (btw. Mad+5th)


  • This place sounds great! Did you find out if they sell sushi throughout the day…do they only have this set-up for lunch?would love to pick some up for dinner on my way home…

  • tempura rolls look really interesting.. are the cold tempura rolls still crunchy?

  • The tempura rolls look great! I’m gonna trek xtown for them.

  • Hey Zach, fyi Sakae Sushi is owned by someone from Singapore, not Malaysian. :o)

  • BREAKING NEWS: Naruto offers 30% off all sushi after 2 (or possibly 2:30) pm. Not sure which, but I just went in with 2 friends and I gorged on a 6 pack of tuna tempura rolls and a variety pack of 1 cali roll, 1 ell roll, 1 mayoless spicy tuna, and one salmon avocado. All together, with the discount, it was $9.62 for a very large amount of food. Warning: there wasn’t much sushi left to choose from at this time.
    Also, as you can discern from the top photo, there are two tables, each of which seat 2 or 3 comfortably.
    As for the taste, we three agreed that it’s a good find, with good, but not great sushi.
    Good lookin out, Zach.

  • Your quest is pointless. Cheap/good sushi is an oxymoron and this just encourages bad-sushi purveyors. And I’m not going to go into the depletion of the oceans, but that, my friend, shd be a consideration. Anyway, in my humble opinion, sushi is out, declassé, over, finito. Move on to other ‘authentic’ Japanese delicacies as most Japanese chefs in NY are inviting us to do. Favor your local izakaya, ramen shop, sobaya, and prepare yourself for the kaiseki meals Chef Bouley is promising to bring us next year in Tribeca.
    PS: THe amount of rice in proportion of the tidbits of whatever is stuffed in the rolls pictured above is ridiculously enormous. IT just looks bad.
    What most people these days like about sushi is the combination of rice+wasabi+oodles of soy, and for good measure, mayo. Fish in these cheap places is second or third banana when it shd really the only thing that matters.

  • Total douche.

  • it looks like a lot of rice and very little content. the california roll alone looks incredibly skimpy. that tempura roll looks really good though.

  • Man, I SO come to this site in order to be preached at and lectured to. Thank you Jesus, I mean Eve Shebang, for your generous extension of advice.

    You know SO much about so many things! I love how you know about oceans, fish, Japanese cuisine and how those all intersect with ethics and propriety. Wonderful. Thank you.

  • Word, Crackhead.

    And a MidTown food site with a $10 limit is definitely the right place to discuss “the kaiseki meals Chef Bouley is promising to bring us next year in Tribeca.”

    Like I said, total douchington.

  • Or, in the immortal wordcraft of my ex-roommate, Douchy McDouche.

    Went to Naruto today. Must have been too late, ’cause they were seriously low on supplies. From the looks of it, Naiya is a little bit better of a deal, but it’s nice to have a choice.

  • They charge 75 cents for extra ginger and wasabi. (And dont put enough in the containers). What’s next paying for soy sauce??

  • went today. Good find. Thanks Zach! Right down the block from work.
    I hate prepackaged refrigerated sushi. But as far as refrigerated sushi goes, this is excellent.

    The just opened last week, so the staff is still nice – they are not jaded yet. Very nice.

    Today they were giving out free samples- I tried different flavored teas and a tempura roll. The roll was very interesting…I probably wouldn’t order it, but I was grateful to try it for free! It was tasty, I am just not that into fried foods (yes, blasphemy I know) to order a whole roll of it.

    Lunch was $10 (2 rolls) and I was one of the first 30 people, so got free soup. (although kikku gave me soup and salad free for my sushi lunch last week, and it was only $8 with tax- and the rice wasn’t all hard from sitting in a refrigerator case).

  • Went by today—it’s no longer Naruto, it’s explicitly the takeout branch of Shinbashi, and it’s medium-expensive: Rolls for $5-$6 or so.

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