PHLReview

photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: Kerry McIntyre

DAWA Sushi and Ramen review image
8.0

DAWA Sushi and Ramen Bar

$$$$

1204 N Front St, Philadelphia
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

There are a few reasons why you tend to save omakase experiences for special occasions. These multi-course meals usually cost a lot. They will likely involve servers wearing coordinated, freshly-pressed outfits who refill your water glass after every sip. And, in general, they’re elaborate meals where you feel the need to photograph every course that’s put in front of you, as if you’re going to string together a slideshow of photos that live as your laptop background for eternity.

The omakase at DAWA on the other hand, is something you could have tonight. This small, BYOB sushi and ramen shop under the El in Fishtown isn’t as polished as traditional omakase - but its more approachable elements make it great for a casual weeknight dinner.

The restaurant is split into two separate experiences. There’s a room with a few tables where people are ordering things like shoyu ramen and yellowtail handrolls. And then there’s a seven-seat sushi bar, where the owner of the place serves a few 15- to 24-piece omakase meals per day, all by himself.

That omakase is why you come here. There are better places to get ramen, and cheaper places to get a basic sushi roll, but DAWA is the best place in the area to get an omakase when you don’t want to dress up or think about your posture every 52 seconds. On most weeknights, it’s $59 for a 15-piece omakase, but sometimes they decide to randomly switch to a $100 omakase that can have up to 24 pieces. So if a lower-commitment meal is what you’re after, make sure you go on a night when they’re offering the $59 option.

Kerry McIntyre

DAWA Sushi and Ramen review image

Once you sit down at the sushi bar, you’re not given a menu or any idea of what’s about to come. You just get a quick hello from the clearly super-busy chef, and then your meal begins. You’ll start with a salad, and then get 12 pieces of fish - all of which are served with a bit of wasabi and a wash of soy on top of a small pile of rice. The order of fish you’ll get here seems to jump around and isn’t served from light to heavy. A piece of seabream may be followed by some fatty tuna, which is followed again by a mackerel or golden eye snapper. Whatever piece of fish is placed in front of you, though, is guaranteed to be fresh and delicious. A couple of handrolls and a bowl of miso soup cap off your 15 courses, and you’re usually out in about an hour flat.

As good as the fish is, the operation has some obvious flaws, and you’ll certainly see them on any busy night. When the chef doesn’t get the shrimp he’s been waiting for from the kitchen, he’ll disappear for a few minutes into the back, or yell across the restaurant into the kitchen something like “Faster!” or “Where are the goddamn shrimp?!” if they still haven’t arrived. You might wait a little longer than you’d like for a refill on your water, or have to get up to find some extra paper napkins. And the fact that the omakase can change any given night, both in price and number of courses, is certainly not ideal. But as a whole, Da-Wa is only showing you all the hard work that usually goes into preparing an omakase without any gentle spa music or black marble chopsticks to dress it up. And that’s what makes it the kind of place you’ll want to book for a Wednesday night - especially when watching the slideshow of your last omakase becomes too much to handle.

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Food Rundown

DAWA Sushi and Ramen review image

Omakase

The fish you get here vary depending on what’s in season, but they’re all prepared simply with a dot of wasabi and a soy wash. It’s fresh, delicious, and the only thing you want to order here.

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