The first rule for enjoying one of Charleston's popular sushi deals is to plan ahead. You can't just pop into O-Ku at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday halfway into their half-off sushi roll happy hour deal, and expect to find a seat. The unflappable hostess was happy to put our name on the list, but the 90-minute wait meant we'd be getting a spot 30 minutes after the deal ended.
Luckily, Poke-San on St. Philip Street has a much more luxurious window for its half-price sushi rolls, which you can enjoy from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
If you plan your week just right, you can probably eat discounted sushi every single day. Of course, sometimes you just need to eat sushi, saving money notwithstanding, and I have some recommendations for those moments, too.
Mondays at Locals Sushi
1150 Queensborough Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Locals has become a Mount Pleasant standby. Not only does it have a casual sports bar vibe, but it has sushi, and lots of it. Plus tacos, just in case. It quickly became famous for its Monday night half-off sushi deal. On a recent Monday, I stopped in at 4:15 p.m. and the place was already almost full (the deal begins at 3 p.m.), but the staff was ready for the onslaught.
They provide a Monday menu, with prices already reflecting the deal, and have two sushi bars at which I counted eight chefs working. I'm a food snob about lots of things, except sushi. I eat Americanized rolls with gusto, and I find the combinations that chefs come up with fun to eat. And even if I don't love the roll, the soy sauce makes up for it. Sometimes I think when I'm craving sushi, I'm actually just wanting some soy sauce.
The Competition Roll 2011 gives a clear idea of what Locals is up to. It comes stuffed with cream cheese, snow crab, jalapenos, asparagus, yellowtail and avocado with a slice of sweet mango draped over the top and crispy onions sprinkled over them. Then the whole thing is drizzled with sweet chili sauce.
It's not bad at all. And for $6 on a Monday, it's about the same price as sushi at Harris Teeter. If you can't make it by on a Monday, they also have a three-classic-rolls-for-$12 deal Wednesday and buy-one-get-one-half-off Thursday. And if Mount Pleasant is too far away, they'll soon be opening two new locations, one near Park Circle and the other on Daniel Island.
Tuesdays at The Loophole
2817 Maybank Highway, Johns Island
As it goes at some of the suburban sushi hotspots, there's also pizza on the menu at The Loophole. And tacos. And chicken wings. Probably not the right destination for a sushi purist, but if you are looking to turn your pie-hole into a sushi-hole, you can drop in here for the Tuesday night buy-one-get-one-half off sushi deal.
Safe bets include the Paradise Roll, which is a combo of spicy salmon, avocado and cucumber that comes with even more fish on top (tuna, yellowtail and super white tuna) plus green onions, smelt eggs and wasabi sauce ($14), and the Dragon Roll with snow crab, cucumber, avocado, eel and eel sauce.
Wednesdays at O-Ku (Also available Mondays and Fridays)
463 King St., downtown Charleston
For a brief two hours at a time, three days a week, O-Ku discounts the sushi rolls half-price, and it's a very popular time to visit. I had to plan to return after the first time I missed the window.
The trick to getting the most of this special is to ignore the rest of the menu. Head straight for the potato roll. A sushi roll designed to make the purists cringe, it's got french fries on it, for crying out loud. But it's probably one of the more popular rolls among the beautiful people who frequent this beautiful space, and it's only $6.25 during the happy hour deal. You also can find some tried and true rolls like a spicy tuna crunch roll or a rainbow roll. Prices during the deal range from $3 to $9 per roll.
Thursdays at Poke-San (also available Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays)
207A St. Philip St., downtown Charleston
A relative newcomer, Poke-San is a family-run neighborhood spot that has a sushi bar in addition to a range of poke bowls and sushi burritos. I first noticed its half-off deal when I saw a line out the door one afternoon as I drove past. They offer the deal during happy hour, 5-7 p.m., four nights a week. The rolls are already pretty reasonably priced at $6-$12 and it's quite a steal when you can call in a to-go order and still get the deal. I particularly love the simple yellowtail jalapeno roll, which gets some serious heat from the crunchy dice of peppers tucked inside.
Sushi places for the purists
Of course, if you're the type of person who would die before mixing your wasabi in your soy sauce and has an appreciation for the true art of sushi, don't despair. Here are some recommendations for a full-price sushi experience.
334 East Bay St., downtown Charleston
This has been my go-to sushi spot for more than a decade. A family operation, the children used to do their homework at the back tables. Now the son is a sushi chef, rolling up sushi alongside his father. The prices are already reasonable, with hand rolls priced $5-$8, while regular rolls start at $3.50 (cucumber) and top out at $11 (Rainbow Roll). My children would recommend the Super Crunch and the Special Crunch Roll, both of which feature the sweet crunch of Asian pear and the tang of mayo. They have literally eaten hundreds of dollars worth of these.
688 Citadel Haven, West Ashley
My colleague Hanna Raskin recently returned from a visit to Miyabi Steakhouse where she went specifically to try chef Takeshi Kawasaki's sushi, which she described as "flat out great." From the rice to the fish, she found everything here to be worthy of a visit. So now we know that Miyabi isn't just for birthday celebrations full of rice volcanoes and yum yum sauce anymore.
1171 Basketweave Road, Mount Pleasant
A neighborhood joint on Hwy. 17 in Mount Pleasant, Sushi Taro is a pleasant surprise for those not acquainted with it. The Taro Signature Roll was unusual in that the shrimp, avocado and seared tuna roll was topped with thin slivers of bell peppers and sweet onions with a bit of ginger sauce. And if they call a roll with crab, tempura flakes, cream cheese and spicy mayo the "Scam Roll," they've got to have a sense of humor about our American taste in sushi. They also take the time to make a dragon out of your Dragon Roll, too. They have to get points for that, right?
1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Any Charleston sushi list would be remiss without including perhaps Charleston's most well-known sushi chef, Sean Park. After a stint at O-Ku, he and his family headed to Mount Pleasant to open this small sushi bar, which has become a favorite. If you want to embark on an omakase, which means chef's choice, this is the place to do it.