Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are the fast food of Japan. Convenient, fast, and cheap. The taste? Not bad but not famous for its quality. Breaking this stereotype is Shiogamakou Sushi (塩釜港すし), a conveyor belt sushi restaurant with a whole lot of flavor for a fair price. The restaurant is located a ten minute walk from Shiogama Station on the Tohoku-honsen line. The coastal waters off Shiogama are some of the richest fishing waters in all of Japan. As a consequence, the city has one of the highest densities of sushi restaurants in the nation. Even with the tough competition, Shiogamakou Sushi comes highly recommended from locals--and I was ready to find out way.
Step inside Shiogamakou Sushi and you'll see your norms of sushi restaurants, such as counter and table sitting, a fish tank with some of the menu still swimming, etc. Look more closely and you'll see private room options in the back, chefs with movements of experienced veterans, and other signs of quality everywhere you look. Help yourself to some complimentary green tea at your table then browse the menu. To order, write down the items you would like then hand it directly to the chef, or just grab it from the rotating belt which snakes around the restaurant.
After ordering anago eel, octopus, salmon, tuna, and more, I had a feast before my eyes. Items are 140-650yen per plate of two pieces of sushi. This is expensive compared to the sushi chains which charge 100 yen or less, but price isn't everything. Shiogamakou is all about fresh, delicious sushi. The fish arrive daily right from Shiogama Bay a few minutes away. The tuna melts in your mouth. The octopus is slightly chewy but not the consistency of rubber with a delicate taste. The pure white of the squid was amazing. My taste buds were under attack, and I surrendered. Even details such as hand roasting the nori seaweed over an open flame for sushi temaki rolls is standard service here. Everything I tried was great.
One of my dining partners told me I was eating sushi the wrong way. When dipping sushi into soy sauce, you are supposed to turn the sushi upside down to just dip the topping (not the rice). This actually doesn't work at many low grade sushi restaurants for two reasons: 1) This restaurant uses hand-shaped vinegar sushi rice with the necessary stickiness, while some others settle on mass producing machines with rice that is too dry and 2) The highly-skilled chefs use top-of-the-line knives. A low grade knife tears, not cuts, the fish. This results in a fractured filet surface which soaks in too much soy sauce when dipped, masking the true taste of the fish.
Having been in Japan for two years and eaten at a number of sushi restaurants, I can proudly say Shiogamakou Sushi has been the best sushi I have had since stepping off the plane. The professional staff and service is commonplace in Japan, but the sushi taste was almost beyond belief for the slightly higher price than your run-of-the-mill sushi. If you are in the Shiogama area craving some of the best sushi in town that won't break the bank, do visit Shiogamakou Sushi.