Sushi holds a special place in my heart. Not just as the ideal first date feast, but also as the go-to meal for my high school friends and I. Back home in Indiana, we would get sushi at Sushi Bar on every possible occasion: after school, celebrating someone’s birthday or after a sudden palate craving. 

Now that I am in Atlanta for college, I have been searching for a sushi spot that reminds me of the comfort of home. Although it took a lot of searching, I have found the place I have been looking for: Nakato Japanese Restaurant.

While located only a few miles away from Campus Crossings and Emory University’s main campus, Nakato seems to reside in its own little world – complete with neatly trimmed bushes, stone steps that lead straight into the door and lights illuminating every corner of the building.

Inside, the server led my friend and I to an open table in the back, where I quickly became enamored with the open sushi bar, the wooden décor, and the strings of cranes and paper lanterns that flew across the ceiling. They reminded me of my late grandma and idealistic dreams of following the Japanese proverb, “If you fold 1000 cranes, one of your wishes will come true,” and saving the people I love. Even if the restaurant owner did not know about my personal attachment with the cranes, I instantly felt more connected to the ambiance and meal soon coming to my table.

Despite dining at their peak hours on a Friday night, our server came almost immediately, asking us if we wanted anything to drink and gently setting down the menus. She explained that all their fish are flown whole from Japan, giving customers the most authentic and fresh experience while being halfway across the world. The menu didn’t look expansive, but a closer look made me realize how intricately organized it was, with chef recommendations, sushi and sashimi, and Hibachi and hot pot items. Needless to say, I wanted to order a bite of everything.

The crunchy lobster and well-balanced super crunch rolls. (Sophia Ling / Opinion Editor)

We were offered hot towels to wash our hands, a tradition known as oshibori that is a staple of Japanese hospitality culture. A calming, relaxing night was set, and the chaos of school, homework and the billions of deadlines coming up seemed out of sight. Just like back home, the moment we step into Sushi Bar, we would forget everything we had to do and focus on the meal in front of us. In fact, I spent so much time there that all the staff knew me and would ask about my day.

After much self deliberation, I ordered the lobster roll and super crunch roll. The lobster roll had lobster tempura, shiso, and Japanese mint aioli. On the outside, there was spicy snow crab and masago caviar. On the inside of the super crunch roll, there was shrimp, smoked salmon, avocado and crabstick, mixed with Japanese aioli and tempura flakes. On the outside, there was a slice of smoked salmon and a thin piece of a lemon. Though the portions were not incredibly big, we felt stuffed in the end. Everything was a perfect balance between sweet and salty and crunchy and smooth. I usually do not enjoy lemons or very sour foods, but the acidity cut through the fattiness of the salmon and added a layer of flavor that rounded out each bite. It reminded me of the first time I ate the birthday roll at Sushi Bar on my birthday — everything about it was perfect.

As we ate, our waitress stopped by on multiple occasions to ask if we needed anything else and if the food was to our satisfaction. To end a tasteful night, we shared a silky cheesecake with vanilla ice cream. Cheesecake is my friend’s favorite dessert and a birthday tradition, so being able to share that, despite not being either of our birthdays, made the meal far more memorable as well.

Although slightly pricier and further away from Emory than other Japanese restaurants like Wagaya, Nakato is worth it. There is no justification needed to enjoy a plate of fresh sushi, even if it may be more of a trip to get there. And I can say with certainty that I will be going back very soon.