As a transplant to Miami from New York I try very hard not to be one of those people who continually goes on about what they left behind. Yes, the Magic City lacks some things compared with NYC (like good public transportation) but it also has plenty of advantages (like the beautiful surroundings). So, for the most part, I keep my mouth shut.
The one exception is excellent, cheap Asian food. I miss it so much, and I’m often vocal about not being able to find it easily here. Yes, there is excellent Asian food in Miami, but generally it’s expensive. There’s also cheap Asian food in Miami, but usually it’s mediocre.
Of course, there are some hidden gems out there. Over time I’ve found one or two legitimately cheap, good spots for each type of cuisine. The exception has always been sushi; every place I heard about turned out to be either pricey or not great.
Finally, that’s changed. I got around to trying Japanese Market, a long-time locals’ favorite tucked away in a strip-mall on the JFK Causeway, and it’s accessible sushi at its best.
If you read the Yelp reviews of Japanese Market (yes, that is its full name) you’ll encounter three themes: 1) The decor isn’t all that inspiring; 2) There are a lot of rules/the staff can be rude; and 3) The food is excellent.
All of those are somewhat true, but there’s also a deeper story to each.
The decor is indeed pretty meh. The sushi bar is tucked inside an aging Japanese grocery store, and the restaurant takes up maybe a quarter of the space (at most); the rest is all shelves stocked with products. There are only a few tables, which means that there’s almost always a wait during peak times. Speaking of times, the sushi bar is only open noon – 4pm on Wednesday through Saturday, and noon – 3pm on Sunday, so plan accordingly.
Tap water is served in old nalgene sports bottles, and the rushed servers are clear that they’ll only take your order once (i.e., no additions). Basically, if you want ambiance or to be pampered, go somewhere else. That said, the place is clean, the service is quick, and there are a number of small things — like wet towels for your hands when you sit down — that show the restaurant takes pride in its offerings.
As for the rules and rudeness, the market has posted a set of guidelines — don’t talk on your cellphone, don’t bring drinks to the table until you’ve paid for them, etc. — and they’re strict about enforcement. Honestly, its all pretty commonsense stuff and wouldn’t be that big of a deal outside of this anarchy-loving city. Still, if you don’t like structure this isn’t your spot.
So why should you go to a restaurant with odd hours, a lot of rules, and little ambience? Because the food is absolutely delicious.
The core of the menu is simple and affordable — there are all the usual sushi, sashimi, hot plate, and roll standbys (spicy tuna, crunchy shrimp, etc.), as well as set combos ($7 – $15) and some experimental offerings (like the ceviche roll). All of it is very tasty and well-priced, including the accompanying soups and salads.
However, where Japanese Market really shines is off-menu. We ordered the omakase sashimi platter ($30), sushi (~$2 per piece), and rolls (~$14) — and were blown away.
Chef Michio Kushi takes deep pride in paring high-quality ingredients — house-cured salmon, bluefin tuna, whitefish, etc. — with creative garnishes and preparations. He is also a true artist, and has fun with everything from little touches, like slivers of peppers on the sashimi, to big statements like surprising eaters with huge tempura prawns.
The experience wasn’t just good (like I’d hoped), or excellent (like my memories of my neighborhood NYC favorites), it was truly spectacular. If you want sushi that’s affordable, fresh, and delicious, definitely give it a try.