Find a back issue

What’s the Big Fuss About Oishii?

gang1
Diners sit here for hours, not wanting to give up their spot. (left) The Oishii roll comes with crab meat and Sriracha sauce (right) photography by Desiree Espada

Before you guys start raising your pitchforks, hear me out.

Like all of you Oishii fans, I’ve been rooting for this restaurant’s comeback. The owner, Thanh Nguyen, is an Asian-American like me. His Pan-Asian sushi restaurant suffered through a fire on December 30, 2012, and it’s taken him almost 10 months to re-open. Nguyen deserves a lot of credit for not giving up. And maybe a couple of hugs, too.

He probably knew just how valued his restaurant is to the Dallas community.

Oishii_01
The new Oishii sign
Oishii_04 copy
Shrimp-filled spring rolls (left); spicy tuna roll (right)

Oishii fans have been waiting on the edge of their seats for their favorite sushi spot to re-open. When it finally did this past weekend, there was a collective sigh of relief. I could feel the joy emanating from some of your emails and from a few sales girls who work upstairs.

Because I grew up in the suburbs (and still live there), Oishii wasn’t on my radar. I’d never eaten at Oishii prior to this Monday, its official opening day. I went, two days ago, because I got caught up in the Oishii fan storm and couldn’t help my curiosity. I went in with high expectations. Maybe too high.

From what I’ve heard, the interior is definitely a step-up. Bright, beautiful orange lamps hang from the ceiling, there’s a full sushi bar that can seat up to 18 people, and a salt water aquarium like every other Asian establishment striving for good feng shui. It’s sleek, it’s modern, it’s for yuppies.

Owner Thanh Nguyen stood at the front of the sushi bar, making rolls for everyone. People often went up to greet him and congratulate him. He seemed to accept it all graciously.

Oishii_02
The sushi bar can seat up to 18 people.

On Monday, it took 15 minutes to get seated for lunch at Oishii. The restaurant was teeming with people. Nobody seemed to want to leave. Everybody wanted to eat.

But the menu baffles me. I tend to avoid places that serve three to four different types of cuisine, like Pei Wei. If a restaurant has so many cuisines to focus on, it might not do any of them well. That’s the theory, anyway. Oishii combines Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese food into one menu. The lunch options—beef and broccoli, chicken and broccoli, orange chicken, and orange beef—completely turned me off. The prices are great (everything is under $10), but nothing about the lunch plates I spied at other diners’ tables looked appetizing.

So I turned to the sushi menu. Our loyal SideDish photographer, Desiree Espada, and I ordered the Oishii (softshell crab, avocado-wrapped, wasabi cream, and Sriracha), spicy tuna, and the Wycliff (Escola tuna-wrapped, eel, tempura flakes) rolls.

All three rolls arrived on one plate. The spicy tuna gave off plenty of heat. I like that chef/owner Nguyen doesn’t shy away from a good kick, but each spicy tuna piece was almost the same size as each Oishii sushi piece, which was a full $6.50 more than the spicy tuna. The sesame flakes in the sushi rice are a nice touch, but Des and I expected more from a roll, like the Oishii, that puts us back $13. Extra fake crab meat on top of the roll just isn’t going to cut it. Especially when the sushi pieces are quarter-sized already.

The sushi was fine. “I didn’t love it,” said Des, who vocalized exactly how I felt. I guess I expected fireworks from Oishii, but all I received was sushi on par with this random hole-in-the-wall called Carrollton Sushi. It’s a place you go when you’re looking for cheap sushi.

So maybe that’s why. It’s not too expensive. People I’ve talked to say that I need to go for dinner. They say it’s a nostalgia thing. They have great memories at Oishii. “There’s nothing else really like it in Dallas,” they tell me. Matt Shelley thinks I should’ve ordered the Tribeca roll. (It wasn’t on the sushi menu when I went.) Clearly, I’m missing something about Oishii. I get it, but I don’t get it. I love that it’s a neighborhood restaurant, but all this hype over it is completely mind-boggling.

Oishii_05
The Wycliff roll (left); Oishii roll (right)

 

23 comments on “What’s the Big Fuss About Oishii?

  1. Carol, I think what you are missing is the familiarity people have with Oishii. Than and his staff know their customers. I’ve seen generations of families dine there. Yes, it is inexpensive, which I why I keep going back. No, there isn’t a lot of “fancy” rolls there, but that has been a sign of sushi restaurants who haven’t survived in Oak Lawn/Uptown.

    The “hype” surrounding Oishii is warranted. It is a local restaurant that has stood the test of time and survived. Compare that to the hype around In-and-Out, Trader Joe’s and Shake Shack, and you’ll see the difference.

  2. Also their half price nights (is it still wed?) are famous in uptown.. .or were when i used to live there. Where else can you get decent fresh sushi for so cheap? And all night not just happy hour from 4-6 as some places…

  3. I guess I don’t understand what the significance is when you say “[the owner] is Asian-American, like me.” Does this mean he’s more likely to be subjected to favorable reviews? Or maybe you like him because he’s Asian-American? Does this position jive with your panning of Mot Hai Ba because you didn’t like the name (or found it too Asian/ not authentic).

    If he were Black or Latin-American could we expect a different response to the restaurant?

  4. For the most part, Dallasites can’t tell good sushi from farmed tilapia. Watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix, then tell me how good the sushi is at Oishii. Totally agree, never go to a place that serves 4 different Asian foods.

  5. Parents bringing their adult children and grandchildren was the point I was trying to make. Three generations.

  6. Well, last time I talked about Mot Hai Ba, a commenter called me xenophobic and racist. Some people can’t tell from my last name that I’m Asian, too. I added that in this time for extra measure.

  7. That’s the great things about opinions. Everyone has one and is entitled to their own but no one else really needs to give a damn about your opinion. Oishii is not trying to be Jiro Sushi or even Nobu for that matter. My wife and I have dined there since 2004 and now our almost 5 year old son does too. That would qualify as 2 generations. I don’t think anyone believed the prior commentator meant generations as in tens of years. Thanh is the sole reason Oishii has legions of fans. There might be better sushi in town but there is not a better guy. He is an amazing guy, as is his family. He has busted his butt to build a successful business. We should praise someone like that, not knock them down with snide comments.
    I go 2-3 times a week for lunch. I have made lifelong friends just by sitting at that old sushi bar. It attracts a different kind of crown. Not hipsters, not someone looking for the typical Dallas scene, but people who want a casual and relaxed evening out with friends. It’s the Cheers of sushi. So what if it has 4 types of food? If you don’t like it, don’t go. It clearly says Pan-Freakin-Asian cuisine on the sign. It is not billed solely as a Japanese or a sushi bar.
    I know Thanh really well. I was at his wedding. Our kids are in school together. We have become adults together. He is not the kind of person that would want to see you do well because you are “asian american” like him. He would want to see you do well because he wants that for everyone. And I am also “Asian-American” since that needs to be disclosed.
    I don’t get the hype about restaurant reviewers because as I started off with, nice opinion but who gives a damn.

  8. I actually just sent you an email about that. Someone pointed out to me that’s probably what you meant.

  9. Seems like the only hype around here is a clueless SideDish blogger who posted about the restaurant without ever having gone there in the first place. Just a thought. (I’m not Asian.)

  10. I went Friday with very high expectations as well. Maybe too high. Food from the kitchen took about 45 min to come out, and Sushi ordered after nearly 1+ more wait and it never showed up. I tasted the only the food that came from kitchen and it was simple, no spice at all. I will give them another shot because I still have to see what the fuzz is all about. Best luck to the chef though!

  11. That’s the great things about opinions. Everyone has one and is entitled to their own but no one else really needs to give a hoot about your opinion. Oishii is not trying to be Jiro Sushi or even Nobu for that matter. My wife and I have dined there since 2004 and now our almost 5 year old son does too. That would qualify as 2 generations. I don’t think anyone believed the prior comment meant generations as in tens of years. Thanh is the sole reason Oishii has legions of fans. There might be better sushi in town but there is not a better guy. He is an amazing guy, as is his family. He has busted his butt to build a successful business. We should praise someone like that, not knock them down with snide comments.
    I go 2-3 times a week for lunch. I have made lifelong friends just by sitting at that old sushi bar. It attracts a different kind of crown. Not hipsters, not someone looking for the typical Dallas scene, but people who want a casual and relaxed evening out with friends. It’s the Cheers of sushi. So what if it has 4 types of food? If you don’t like it, don’t go. It clearly says Pan-Freakin-Asian cuisine on the sign. It is not billed solely as a Japanese or a sushi bar.
    I know Thanh really well. I was at his wedding. Our kids are in school together. He is not the kind of person that would want to see you do well because you are “asian american” like him. He would want to see you do well because he wants that for everyone. And I am also “Asian-American” since that needs to be disclosed.
    I don’t get the hype about restaurant reviewers because as I started off with, nice opinion but who gives a hoot.

  12. Although personally I’m not a big fan of Oishii’s food, I would never tell anyone not to go there. I truly respect the owners courage and persistence in getting his business up and running again. I wish him all the good fortune in the world and hope he can make up for the cost and time lost in reconstruction.

  13. Sad to see this lackluster review. Especially from a single experience. On a positive note your meh review may keep a few hipsters from keeping me from waiting in line to go to my favorite sushi restaurant in the city. Their sushi is typically great, but every sushi restaurant has hit and miss days. Oishi is normally great or magical. And like every other restaurant anywhere you need to know what to order. Try that Tribeca roll next time, and tell me you aren’t hooked. In the meantime, I’ll be there chowing down. Tomorrow night in fact.

  14. Oishii is aptly billed as Pan-Asian because while it’s known for its popular sushi Thanh is, of course, Vietnamese. His rolls are some of the most creative in town but he’s not claiming to be Teppo or Yutaka. If you venture into the Vietnamese section of the menu you see the strength of the restaurant. Most of the time the sushi is just the right thing (ask for the tuna hand roll). It’s incredible to run through a Vietnamese omakase but it’s also great to hang out with Thanh and numerous friends drinking Black & Gold to quench the fire of the 911 roll.

  15. We went last night, so great to see all the same staff has returned which speaks volumes. Oishii is Asian comfort food to me, I like the whole low-key vibe of the place and am really happy they have reopened.

  16. Totally agree with this. I went there a few times before the fire and thought the sushi was pretty mediocre. It’s alright, but not a place I am excited to go back to.

  17. Honestly, it’s inexpensive, good sushi in a casual atmosphere. I think that’s why there is hype around it. Every other sushi place that I’ve found in Dallas is pricey…so when my husband and I are craving sushi but don’t want to get all gussied up and spend over $50, this is the place.

  18. It’s a Thanh thang! One of the sweetest guys around. We went in Friday for the soft opening to support – and they were completely overwhelmed. I’ll let them get back in the groove. then go back and have Thanh cook for us. It can be a great time. Check this out, pre-fire:
    http://bit.ly/Thanh_Love

  19. Thankful for Oishii that a “white lady” from the burbs has has made many life long friends with ALL kinds of folks! Even you my friend. You’ve said it best of all I ‘be read. That said, I really do like/love the food!