Hon Sushi is 20 minutes south of Plano, at the corner of nowhere and Beltline Road. The interior is all dark wood with red accents and speakeasy lighting. Scattered ceiling tiles reflect a daytime sky and the wallpaper is a forest scene, tricks to make the space feel larger. The chefs at work behind the nondescript sushi counter greet guests the moment they walk through the beaded curtain at the entrance. So far, so normal for a sushi joint.
Complimentary bowls of cloudy miso soup are placed hot on the table, classic and rich with dashi. I also order iridescent plum wine. Shockingly sweet, it hides its moderate alcohol content behind a fruity aroma. Its three basic ingredients—green Japanese plums, rock sugar and liquor—have soaked together for a long time, until it can float to your head like helium.
An Ahi Tower arrives at the table and the show begins. Despite its unglamorous exterior, Hon Sushi works magic with raw fish, fruit and vegetables, resulting in something unique and stunning every time. The Ahi Tower boasts spicy tuna, avocado and crab layered on rice and pressed into a perfect cylinder. Ponzu sauce, Japanese white sauce, sriracha and spicy mayo ring around it, gently painted into each other. A filleted cucumber curls up from the top like a vine, supported by three different kinds of caviar and a lotus crafted from a carrot.
Cutting into the Ahi Tower gives me a twinge of heartache. Each layer shows off different strengths and lots of umami flavor: the subtle heat of spicy tuna, crab’s shy sea-infused profile, rice as fluffy as a groomed poodle. While experimenting with the four sauces is fun, they aren’t needed. It actually tastes as wonderful as it looks.
The chef behind this, and every other masterpiece at Hon Sushi, is Charlie Yun. After moving to Dallas from California, he saw a recurring problem in Dallas’ sushi consumption. Even the high caliber places with access to the best supplies of top-tier fish weren’t utilizing the aesthetics of their ingredients. Everyone used the same presentation tricks: a roll spread out diagonally to showcase its core, sauce drizzled with a zig and a zag. Charlie knew he could do better.
“If it looks beautiful, it tastes better,” he explains.
Charlie began serving sushi and sashimi masterpieces out of a strip mall in Carrollton. Strip malls may not be pretty but they provide good soil for unique restaurants that perhaps don’t have expansive resources or name recognition, but make up for it with quality and heart. All sorts of interesting places live in these lots, sandwiched between the Gamestops and dry cleaners. Looking between the gorgeous tower and the baffling view outside, it feels like a privilege to have found it.
Hon Sushi’s platters are not your typical regiments of seaweed-clad rice circles on a boat. Instead, Charlie presents a complex garden. Elaborate cucumbers carved into trees stand vigil over the heavy-laden Lazy Susan. Carrot blossoms dot up around vegetation displayed under an upturned martini glass. A naked cucumber slice arches over the eel roll.
It isn’t enough to serve sushi with electric, brain-cleansing wasabi; Charlie will shape it into a mock serrano pepper, pressing thumbprint dimples near the stem. Rather than stock his tables with the same Kikkoman soy sauce that everyone in the world buys, Charlie admits what we all know: that stuff is drier on the palette than uncut protein powder. He devised his own recipe for soy sauce. He boils a vegetable base for nine solid hours and builds it into a lighter sauce with a much lower salt content. It’s noticeably sweeter as well, softer on bare cuts of fatty tuna or snapper. But Hon Sushi’s signature soy sauce is an in-house privilege. If you order your food to-go, you get those red Kikkoman packets.
As fun and elaborate as a roll can get, however, Hon Sushi is remarkable because not only is the presentation eloquent, but the food lives up to the look. Take the eel roll. There’s something especially lovely about fish, rice and nothing else. The simplest sushi rolls star one thing at a time: eel, avocado, spicy tuna, yellowtail, salmon. On flashier plates in flashier places, showers of crab salad and spicy mayo have been used to mask poor quality fish. But not here. Hon Sushi rolls its morning-fresh catch of the day with the right amount of rice and lets it be. With bearing and balance, each roll has a solid foundation for the flavors to rest on without losing the natural joy of the insides, like freshwater eel.
More complicated rolls like Joanne’s Roll, named after Charlie’s wife, come with the same dedication and care. Joanne’s Roll is decadent and polished with a center of shrimp tempura, crab and avocado, and a topping of tuna, salmon and avocado, finished with Japanese white sauce. The Honda roll is a vibrant combination of buttery salmon, spicy tuna and crab, all rolled up together and bonded tightly. Dark red tuna melts under a wafu dressing, a rice wine vinaigrette that brings out its lighter notes. Seattle’s Best Roll is more mild-mannered, only tender slices of salmon and avocado, inside and out, glazed with Japanese white sauce. Since it was crawfish season when I visited, a Louisiana Roll featuring a house-marinated crawfish proved irresistible, particularly with spicy mayo running from an alligator along the top.
Signature dishes immaculately presented, like Japanese Ceviche or Screaming Orgasm, offer thin slices of albacore, salmon and snapper that brush shoulders under ponzu sauce and miso-sesame dressing. The North Shore’s brilliant yuzu-ponzu sauce embellishes yellowtail until it shines.
Other highlights include seaweed marinated with sesame oil, presented on a bed of lettuce and cabbage, sriracha on the side. If sushi isn’t your thing stir-fried noodles, vegetables and meat like Yaki Soba Beef will make an addict of you. Pro tip: If it happens to be lunchtime, Hon Sushi sports some phenomenal lunch deals from ramen to sushi bentos.
At first it was hard to fathom why Hon Sushi remains in Carrollton, instead of moving to a developer’s dream like Legacy West or The Star. With that kind of organic street traffic and nightly turn out, Hon Sushi would surely make a killing. But Carrollton has a large Asian population, supporting a network of small places that don’t need or want to grow. They thrive on an incredibly local, neighborhood scale, and leave the rat race to everyone else. And within that network, Hon Sushi is an unassuming champion of strip mall spots, patronized only by those who are in the know. Or anyone who got peckish while browsing Gamestop.
Originally published in Plano Profile’s June 2018 issue under the title “Ahi Moment”
- Mon – Thurs | 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 5 – 9 p.m.
- Fri – Sat | 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 5 – 10 p.m.
- Sun | Closed
Where: 1902 E. Belt Line Rd., Carrollton
More: 972.417.7001 | honsushitexas.com