Sushi Avenue on Scenic Highway in Snellville is the third restaurant in a small Atlanta chain that began with the original restaurant on Ponce De Leon and was continued with a second restaurant in Decatur Square.  It has been around at least since 1997, and though by almost all measures is a popular restaurant, it hasn’t been visited by any media or bloggers in some time.

The chopsticks wrapper shows the origin of this Snellville restaurant.

The chopsticks wrapper shows the origin of this Snellville restaurant.

What we saw today was a place that had newly opened, and was conveniently located on Scenic Highway just opposite the large mall that houses O’Charleys and Texas Roadhouse. The new “Grand Opening” sign simply cannot be missed.

Front of the restaurant.

Front of the restaurant.

Upon entering the eatery, you enter a longish room, with 4 booths to the left, a sushi bar in front of you and a bit to the right. To the immediate right, there are a couple more tables and there are also a few tables past the sushi bar. We were seated at a booth, and given a large menu, as well as a sheet which had a few dozen sushi choices, both nigiri and various rolls. Both staff and chefs appear to be Japanese.

From discussions on Citysearch and Yelp, I expected a very limited menu, but that’s not what I saw. There are dozens of dishes available at Sushi Avenue, including things most hibachi restaurants would never have. There is yakitori, for example. There are three different kinds of gyoza. Edamame is available. Donburi of various kinds can be obtained. You can order tonkatsu, and chirashi sushi is also available. For those looking for something other than garden variety teriyaki meats or tempura, I’d strongly recommend perusing Sushi Avenue’s specials.

My wife ordered a tempura and chicken teriyaki plate. My daughter was dying to try donburi, so she ordered the oyakodon. I ordered otsukemono (Japanese pickles) and their salt grilled salmon, a couple sushi rolls and some nigiri. It wasn’t long before the pickles, miso soup and a couple small salads arrived:

pickles on the left, salads and miso soup on the right.

pickles on the left, salads and miso soup on the right.

The pickles were good, the miso soup was good, the salads were good. Soon after the salt grilled salmon showed up, followed soon after by the sushi.

Salt grilled salmon, the hit of our meal.

Salt grilled salmon, the hit of our meal.

Rolls and nigiri from Sushi Avenue.

Rolls and nigiri from Sushi Avenue.

The salmon was the hit of the meal, firm but tender and it tasted great. The sushi was good as well. The maguro (tuna) nigiri was blessed with a thick slice of tuna, richly red. And soon after those two came, my daughter received her donburi and my wife got her tempura.



Chicken teriyaki and tempura.

Chicken teriyaki and tempura.

I only got a taste of the donburi after a while, but my daughter ate too much for it to be a bad dish. My wife’s dish, she really enjoyed the tempura but the teriyaki was just okay. She told me after the fact that she probably should have gotten the nabeyaki udon along with some tempura. She also said with a contented smile, “We can take my mom here.” As my mother-in-law is full blooded Japanese, that is fairly impressive praise.

To summarize, this was a very good meal. It wasn’t a perfect meal, but a very good meal. What impressed me was the breadth of the menu and the authenticity of the experience. I’ve talked about what makes a Japanese meal in America authentic before, and that’s when a Japanese restaurant gives you enough real choices to have some sense of the quality, breadth and character of the cuisine. It’s not about the Brookwood High roll or the Super Duper Snellville Roll in the end.  And it makes me wonder if Sushi Avenue, in all its guises, has been seriously underestimated.

Verdict: Good food, good sushi, good service, with a diverse enough cuisine to deliver an authentic Japanese experience. Highly Recommended.

Sushi Avenue
2118 Scenic Highway, Suite F
Snellville GA, 30078
(770) 985-1800

Sushi Avenue Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pure Taqueria isn’t your Dad’s Taco Bell. It isn’t your Mom’s Del Taco. It’s a shockingly good place to eat, with food that looks as if it could be on the menu of any fine restaurant. Pure Tacqueria is also in the process of becoming a chain. They openly promote franchise opportunities on their website, and there are two  locations now, one in Alpharetta Georgia and one in Woodstock Georgia. This review will cover the Alpharetta location.

I came during a lunch hour recently, and the first thing I noted was the total lack of parking at the site. There are about 10 parking spaces by the restaurant. About 1 block down Roswell Street, there is public parking, and plenty of it. And I’m thankful for that, because I then seemed to be in a foot race with 6-7 other people to get into Pure.

Once there, since there was one of me, I was quickly seated. People with larger groups were taking longer this day, maybe 5 minutes or so. Once seated, I had waitstaff asking for drinks almost immediately. To note, the look of the staff is pretty casual. The waiters, bartenders and cooks are dressed in T-shirts. And although the eatery is built from an old wooden frame house, the tables and chairs are of a modern, clean design.

The menu is a single laminated sheet, with one side reserved for drinks and the other a list of foods. Food here isn’t cheap, nor is it expensive. Appetizers run from $5 to $12, and entrees run from $8.50 to $15.00. A typical entree is about $10. Tacos, which run about $10, come 3 at a time at that price. I called my coworkers (this was a work day) and took orders. As for myself I was going to eat there, and ordered the Pescado Veracruz.

Chips came quickly. They were a little thicker than some corn chips, but dry and crisp and tasty. The salsa that came with it was bright with cilantro and moderately spicy. I can see some Atlantans complaining about the heat in this salsa, but I loved it, myself.

The Pescado Veracruz surprised me. I was expecting a fish dish, not fish surrounded by 8 mussels. The look of the meal was fantastic. And the taste was there too. I love mussels, and the fish was really fine as well.

As far up Highway 400 as this restaurant lies, Pure Taqueria isn’t convenient to Snellville. But there is a buzz about this place. It’s currently the #1 restaurant as ranked by Urban Spoon, and throughout lunch, there were people coming into the place. For those who work along “IT corridor” during the days, or have time on weekends, this place would be a worthwhile investment in time.

Verdict: Great little restaurant, really good food and a casual air. Highly recommended.

Pure Tacqueria
103 Roswell St
Alpharetta, GA 30o09
(678) 240-0023

Pure Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Haru Ichiban is on the southeast corner of the intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Satellite Boulevard, a bit south along Satellite, facing west from the strip mall that lies along the south of Pleasant Hill. It’s a bit hard to find, and a little inconspicuous. There is nothing on the outside that says this is a great place to have Japanese food.

Once inside, however, you can see the excellent review they received in 2000, the Zagat rating, the Atlanta’s top 50 ranking. You can see the long clean sushi bar, you can see the Japanese waitresses, the Japanese cooks, and the largely Japanese clientele that come to this restaurant.

My first exposure to Japanese food on a regular basis came on the island of Guam, which is a popular Japanese tourist destination. My favorite Japanese haunt there was the Yakitori II, a restaurant specializing in yakitori that sat on the edge of the harbor of Agana and had glass on three sides, so you could see out into Agana Bay while you ate. The bay is shallow, shallow enough that you could watch people spear fish while you were eating. The visual experience, particularly at sunset, was phenomenal. The culinary experience was that Japanese food need not be expensive, or so sophisticated the cuisine was the out of reach of an ordinary person.

While in Guam I met my wife, who is half Chamorro, half Japanese. My mother in law is full blooded Japanese, and yes, when I find a restaurant and my whole family is visiting, I have to please them both. The place I go to most often is Haru Ichiban, because it’s just more authentic than most restaurants in Atlanta.

Just how authentic is Haru Ichiban?

It should be understood that the order and presentation of food in a traditional Japanese meal is not the same as a western meal. Most Japanese restaurants in the United States follow a western format. Gone is the central place of rice, gone are the pickled vegetables (tsukemono), gone is the floor seating. Instead you are likely to be served a salad with a traditional dressing, followed by miso soup, then followed by an entree, and then dessert if so desired. Whether the waitress is in a kimono or not doesn’t change the essentially western character of the presentation of the food. In this respect Haru Ichiban is no exception.

By authentic, in this context, I mean that Hari Ichiban serves a broader variety of foods than a common hibachi (Benihana style) restaurant. This popular kind of steakhouse will specialize in grilled meat and shrimp served teppanyaki style, along with tempura and teriyaki steak and chicken, and fried rice. An overwhelming number of Japanese restaurants are serving just these dishes. When I go out to eat, I’d prefer to see something a bit more sophisticated than fried rice.

And in this respect Haru Ichiban does succeed. Appetizers do include yakitori. They have a variety of udon and soba dishes, a variety of ramen dishes, a number of sushi and sashimi specials. If my wife wants tonkatsu (breaded pork), she can have tonkatsu. If she wanted donburi, she could have donburi, even unagi (BBQ eel) don if she wanted.

These by the way, are the lunch dishes. There is a much larger variety of food at dinner, and as Haru Ichiban has changed their menu recently, I won’t speak of what can be found at dinner.

The lunch menu is considerably expanded. Lunch specials have been reordered and renamed. The old “Crazy Tuna Special” is now the special tuna combination. I’ve always liked it, more so when I get the spicy tuna roll. I recently had their chirashi don, a simple sushi where a bowl is half filled with chirashi rice and a variety of sashimi are placed on top.  It was pretty, from the deep red of tuna to the light yellow of a slice of egg, to the pale colored ginger they favor here.

Nigiri sushi slices are thick. There is none of this 95% rice, 5% fish stuff going on here. I’ll note that a good number of the Japanese patrons seem to have sushi at lunch, though in all honesty, they’re usually more creative with what they eat (a lot more ribbon sushi, for example).

The ramen this restaurant serves is quite special, as anyone who attends JapanFest can attest to. Haru Ichiban usually has a booth there, serving ramen and they run out quickly. My personal favorite is their seafood ramen, served sio (salt) style. Sio style implies the use of a chicken broth, as opposed to soy. If there is one complaint I can make about Haru is that their soy based noodle flavoring can be too strong sometimes. But the seafood ramen with sio style sauce is light, and the tiny purple octopus that are found in the ramen are just delightful.

Take home? Very good Japanese food, more authentic than most. It’s the one Japanese restaurant on the northeast side of Atlanta I dare take my Japanese mother-in-law. Highly recommended, for both lunch and dinner.

Haru Ichiban on Urbanspoon