photo credit: Sandy Noto
Raisu Japanese Fine Dining
The landlocked Midwest isn’t the easiest place to be a sushi fan - you typically need to go to some inconvenient and expensive lengths for the good stuff. Like waiting months for a reservation at a top-tier restaurant, or downgrading your family phone plan to tin cans connected by string to leave room in the budget for omakase. So when you come across a quality sushi place that doesn’t require a six-week wait for a table or a skipped mortgage payment, you get excited. And that’s exactly what Raisu in Albany Park is, if you do it right.
Raisu has “Japanese fine dining” in its name, and while the space is nice, that tagline doesn’t 100% fit - this definitely feels more like a casual neighborhood spot than anything else. Getting a reservation (or even just walking in) is easy, and the neon signs in the window, wooden high-top tables, and paper lanterns over the bar make the whole place feel pretty low-key.
Much of the seafood is flown in daily from Japan, so your server will let you know what’s available. Then you’ll need to decide how you want to order. As mentioned, it’s possible to have a great meal here for a reasonable price - but it’s also possible to end up with a significant bill, so put some thought into your strategy.
One option (and what we’d recommend doing on your first visit) is the omakase. It starts at $50, and can theoretically go up to one billion dollars - your server will call that “unlimited.” What you eat will depend on both availability and your budget: on one visit, our omakase included toro and scallop sashimi, and on another, we had some excellent uni nigiri topped with salmon roe. What’s distinctive about the omakase here is that for each type of nigiri or sashimi you try, you’ll get both a straightforward version and a signature one, with creative house toppings. For example, the signature maguro comes with fried pineapple, and the signature unagi has a sweet eel sauce with truffle. These additions really do enhance the sushi, and don’t feel heavy-handed or distracting.
If you’d rather order sashimi and nigiri a la carte, know that it won’t necessarily be less expensive, since you can still order the specialty items from the omakase, which get pricey. But everything is fresh and well prepared, so from a taste perspective, you won’t regret whatever you opt to add. Roll-wise, there are plenty of choices, too - certainly enough to make a spicy tuna lover happy. And if you happen to like over-the-top presentation and/or be a pyromaniac, you have an obvious option in the Infernal Dragon roll, which is served on a plate surrounded by real flames.
While we’d happily come back here anytime, what prevents Raisu from being a truly top-tier sushi place is inconsistency. On one visit, the scallops were sliced thinly and melted in our mouths, while on another the pieces were a quarter-inch thick and ice cold. Same with the maki: sometimes they’re rolled tightly, but sometimes they’re so loose they unravel. We can forgive the occasional imperfection, though, particularly since everything still tastes good overall and the service is consistently friendly and helpful.
Raisu is a quality neighborhood spot - one that you’ll actually want to leave your own neighborhood to visit. And if you do it right, you can have a great meal here without needing a side hustle to support your growing sushi habit. That said, you could always earn some extra cash selling fire extinguishers to Infernal Dragon roll junkies.
The omakase starts at $50, and can go up to “unlimited budget.” The selection will vary depending on what’s available and how much you want to pay, but some highlights we’ve had include the toro, the scallops, and the uni. Here are a few examples of what you might find.
The signature eel nigiri, served with parmesan, truffle oil, and a sweet unagi sauce, sounds overly complicated, but it’s not - it’s just delicious.
Jumbo Botan Ebi
Lightly cooked, and dressed with garlic, mayonnaise, and honey. Nothing overpowers the flavor of the shrimp, and the shrimp heads are served on the side, in case you like eating those, too. Definitely worth ordering.
Infernal Dragon Maki
This is probably the most impressive (and obnoxious) looking thing you can order, since it’s served on a platter surrounded by flames. The roll has fried salmon, cream cheese, and jalapenos on the inside, and is topped with white tuna. Very good, if you like this kind of thing.
Hi Jack Maki
Shrimp tempura, cream cheese, and mayonnaise, with tempura flakes on top. Again, if you like this type of roll, you’ll be happy.