This North Carolina sushi report in from Ryan Thornburg:
Every year some lucky journalist cons his editors in to letting him take a jaunt around the South searching for the Worlds Best Barbecue. Chapel Hill, NC, is often home to at least one place on the list. Now, for some unexplained reason, it is the home to a sushi boom. Popping up in the midst of coffee houses, pizza joints, and smoothievilles in the downtown area of this college town are two new sushi counters. However, from the taste of things, most Southerns will continue to use raw fish primarily as bait.
Oasis Cafe used to tout Boar’s Head Meats on its sidewalk sandwich board. Now it heralds the arrival of sushi by Toshi. They don’t make anything on the spot, but it’s the only place near campus where you can pick up a fast box of sushi for lunch.
I don’t know whether Kurama on Columbia St. is connected in any way to restaurants of the same name in Hilton Head, SC, and Savannah, GA, but if you want to catch its Chapel Hill incarnation you’d better act fast. The sushi is made fresh and circles by patrons on a conveyor belt. But it’s not fresh and the serving situation is confusing for the sushi novices that the business will have to attract to stay afloat. HOWEVER, it does have the best, hottest wasabi I’ve had anywhere and some great barley iced tea.
The king of Chapel Hill sushi is really in neighboring Carrboro — “the Paris of the Piedmont” and most densely populated city in North Carolina. Akai Hana has the quality, selection and atmosphere of any sushi bar in any big city. It’s been around for a little less than a decade and can hold its own in the land of grits and sweet tea.
In Chapel Hill, you can also get some freshly made (or pre-made) sushi at Wellspring grocery store and at Sushi Yoshi, which has a mixed reputation in the area.