Experts will tell you that paying for fancy sushi is worth it, but they also know that an insatiable hunger for bluefin doesn't have to put your bank account in the red. To find out how to make the most of your money, we consulted Trevor Corson, author of The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, for tips on how to have an authentic sushi experience without breaking your lifelong commitment to being a cheapskate. Take his advice, then toast to him with a beer -- not a sake.
Sushi experts tend to order more traditional rolls, many of which are just one or two types of veggies and no fish. They're generally hidden at the back of a menu, not expensive at all, and are a filling way to offset the cost of more expensive nigiri.
Find a fancy organic market -- or, better yet, a Japanese grocery -- that has a cheap takeout roll for $5. It can be a crapshoot, but once you find the real deal, you're set.
Don't assume "expensive" means "great"
All that glitters is not yellowtail. “The real trick is to find the high-end sushi bar where the quality is really good, but it's not the $300-a-person place,” Trevor says.
Avoid crazy rolls
If you're spending $15 for a roll, odds are there's an aquarium of different fish and a water balloon's worth of mayo. “They're going to charge more for all those different fish, and you're not going to really appreciate the taste of them mushed together with sauces,” Trevor says.
Order non-seafood appetizers
“Anything with fish will be more expensive than edamame or simpler seaweed salads,” Trevor says. If you're not soybean averse, try the deep-fried tofu.
Say no to bluefin tuna
Few fish are as endangered, expensive, and delicious as bluefin tuna. “Most high-end sushi chefs will tell you that bluefin tuna toro is the ultimate piece of sushi,” Trevor says. The belly of the bluefin is a fatty flavor explosion, but it's a very non-traditional sushi fish and would've been an insult to order in a Tokyo sushi bar 100 years ago. Save your money and the ocean by skipping the bluefin.
A common complaint about fancy sushi joints is that you'll need to eat a cheeseburger afterwards, which is actually traditional according to Trevor. “That's what they do in Tokyo. They'll drink some beers, have sushi, and if they're still hungry, get ramen before they go home. If for you it's a burger, that's fine.”
“You're just paying for the fish," Trevor says, "and while it's a nice experience, if you're more inclined to get more bang for the buck, you should save your appreciation for the nigiri.”
Tamago is a filling dessert
A piece of nigiri topped with egg is a very authentic move, and it's usually eaten at the end of the meal. So if you've hit your budget on fish, it's an inexpensive way to pad your stomach.
Order beer, not sake
Don't feel pressured into splurging on an expensive bottle of sake. Especially because (authenticity alert!!) in Japan, sake's usually not paired with sushi, since both are rice-based.
Get to know your chef
You're likely to have a better meal with a chef who knows your tastes, even if you're spending less. And, even better, when he's trying to get to know your tastes, he might ask you to try stuff on the house. And that, friends, is the cheapskate's dream.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He recommends you try the sardines. Follow him to eating all the little fishes at @Dannosphere.