Akai Hana Japanese restaurant and sushi bar has stood quietly at the crook of Main Street in Carrboro for 21 years. The staff serves authentic, handmade sushi that has been praised by locals and critics alike.
Staff writer Drew Wayland visited the local sushi staple on Friday and indulged in their most popular dish.
Akai Hana is all about simplicity. Walking in, I immediately noticed the quiet, understated ambiance that the restaurant creates. Soft Japanese classical music was the only sound accompanying the whispers of the patrons, and the staff seemed to tiptoe from table to table carefully. I felt like I was entering a library more than a Carrboro sushi bar.
The bar itself is located at the front of the restaurant, stocked with assorted sakes and Japanese beers. A TV showing a college basketball game, the only anachronism in the entire restaurant, was perched above the bar, muted to not interrupt the minimalist atmosphere.
I was seated in the back room, a small area just as quiet as the front with accents of Japanese design and color. The tables were sparsely decorated, with only a menu and small bottles of soy sauce waiting for guests’ arrivals.
The service at Akai Hana was prompt and enthusiastic. The staff quickly took my drink order and patiently guided me to their most popular sushi dishes. I barely had time to look around before my food arrived, the server smiling and personable.
The staff at Akai Hana blend almost effortlessly into the ambiance of the restaurant, taking care not to disturb conversation or patrons eating. There was no rush for me to leave, even though I was dining at peak dinner hours on a Friday evening.
The menu, like everything else at Akai Hana, is simple and to-the-point. A leather-bound menu describing each sushi roll, nigiri order and dinner entree is accompanied by a paper ordering sheet and a pencil to check off which items you’d like to order.
The menu is extensive and includes sushi of all varieties and styles as well as hot Japanese dishes like chicken, salmon or vegetable teriyaki and miso soup. The appetizers are separated into three categories: meat, vegetable and Japanese seafood.
The prices at Akai Hana are slightly higher than you would see at a smaller sushi venue, but the dishes are prepared with enough elegance and flavor to make the cost well worth it. Nothing on the menu seemed overpriced given the quality of the food and the service provided.
To drink the restaurant offers a choice of green tea, iced tea, domestic beers, milk and hot sake.
The Hurricane Roll
When I asked the server what the most popular dish on the menu was, she informed me of a fierce debate between Akai Hana’s Alaska Roll and Hurricane Roll. Her personal preference, she told me, was the latter.
The Hurricane Roll consists of crabstick and cucumber wrapped in delicious sticky rice and seaweed, topped with salmon and fresh avocado. It came displayed on a wooden plate with cucumber shreds, wasabi, gari and an orange slice to compliment the flavors.
The dish was both filling and flavorful, and each piece brought out new textures and ingredients. For only $11.95, it was some of the best sushi I have ever had.
My experience at Akai Hana was everything I hoped it would be and more. The service was genuine and fast, the food was appropriately priced and, best of all, delicious. The location, deep in the heart of Carrboro, is a bit of a hike for students without cars and other Chapel Hill residents, but well worth the trip.
I would recommend Akai Hana to anyone who enjoys Japanese cuisine and wants to try some of the best sushi the Triangle has to offer.
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