Sushi platter at Raleigh's Kai Sushi and Sake Bar.

Raleigh’s Kai Sushi and Sake Bar: solid sushi in the suburbs

In between planning a trip to Tokyo and its Michelin-star sushi-yas in the springtime, sushi in the Triangle will have to tide me over. The sushi selection in Raleigh and the surrounding area may be comparatively pallid, but some bright spots like Raleigh’s Kai Sushi and Sake Bar lurk in the strip mall shadows.

Sushi can do some serious damage to the purse strings, so you’re looking for a sushi restaurant that consistently delivers good quality for the money, Kai is your place. In fact, Kai’s permanent sushi roll special, “3 for $24, and 5 for $37” as advertised on its chalkboards signs is a practically unbeatable deal in the Raleigh area for the quality of fish. Throw in the complimentary edamame appetizer given to every table, and it’s a no-brainer.

The sushi chefs at Kai work fastidiously in tandem behind the neta case, and look up frequently to peer at the guests as they enter the cozy and modern dining space. The fish is fresh and hearty; you can expect sizable cuts of rich fish like yellowtail tuna draped over tightly-packed cushions of rice. The shari is light and delicate and the chefs are restrained with their deployment of wasabi. For those concerned with the provenance of their fish, Kai denotes where it sources its fish, like its amberjack from Japan, on the menu.

Kai’s special rolls are err on rote and really what you might expect from a sushi restaurant in the area, with some of the usual suspects like Rainbow, Piano, Spider and Screaming “O” all making their obligatory appearance on the menu. There are a few more specialty rolls with whimsical pop culture monikers like the Dark Knight and Darth Vader that are made with black rice and the Raleigh Pop, made without rice, that may intrigue those that wish to deviate from the norm.

Of all the rolls I tried, the Punk Rock seemed like one of the best values, especially in conjunction with the three-roll special, which applies to any of the rolls on the menu. Some of the rolls can veer into the overly-salty category with the liberal drizzling of tataki sauces and soy glazes, but the presentation remains pleasant and appetizing.

If raw fish is not up your alley, Kai offers a selection of lunch and dinner hibachi and bento box and bowl selections, and an ample menu of Korean dishes as well. Kai is routinely busy, so service can be very spotty at peak times, but it is amiable and eager to please overall. You can expect a revolving stream of guests circulating in and out of the dining space to the bar picking up to-go orders throughout the night.

KAI SUSHI AND SAKE BAR | 7713 Lead Mine Road, Ste. 9 Raleigh NC 27615 | 919.870.4923

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