REVIEW: Reno’s Hinoki and Nevadan Sushi

IMG_7135
IMG_7128
IMG_7126
IMG_7139
IMG_7153
IMG_7152
IMG_7150
IMG_7147
IMG_7146
IMG_7145
IMG_7144
IMG_7142
IMG_7141
IMG_7108

Hinoki Sushi on Longley and McCarran in Reno’s Longley Town Centre serves delectable Nevadan sushi. I suspect that the restaurant’s name alludes to the Japanese tree – Chamaecyparis obtusa, also known as Hinoki cypress or just Hinoki.

Something like 20 years ago, sushi made its way to Reno as a niche cuisine for a niche customer base. Now, Nevadan sushi has evolved, mutated, and diverged into a treasure as dear to us as anything else we eat. As adulterated as our sushi is, I don’t condemn it. Instead, I lean into the hybridization and bow down to our Dr. Moreau-esque creation.

The Birth of Nevadan Sushi

Many, but not all, know that Nevadan sushi is a great leap from how the cuisine began across the world. There weren’t any jalapeños, cream cheese, or tempura shrimp in the early beginnings of sushi. What was a distinctly Southeast Asian cuisine became a distinctly Japanese cuisine hundreds of years ago. In the modern era, many places treat sushi as a fine dining experience only.

Reno does not boast what I would call fine dining sushi, but what we have is a gastronomic gem nonetheless. Sushi in Reno is a fascinating culinary case study with layers of appeal ripe for analysis. To better understand sushi as it exists in Reno, I point to another type of hybridized cuisine: Tex-Mex. The 20th century gave birth to Tex-Mex food as we know it today. The cuisine started as a little of this and a little of that. It has influences from Spain, Mexico, and the southwestern United States, but the cuisine doesn’t strictly belong to one culture.

Ceviche Roll
The Ceviche Roll’s pickled onions and lemon are a tangy paradise. Image: Kyle Young

I argue that the same thing is taking place in northern Nevada, but with fish. Nevada took a pure and beautiful thing, raw fish with vinegared rice, and baptized it with our signature brand of excess: the all you can eat buffet. Not only did we take a preexisting cuisine with rigid culinary parameters and make it our own, but we also sought to make it economical enough for even financially modest diners to enjoy. Most sushi spots in Reno offer lunch and dinner options for $15 – $30. Food at this price range is definitely not accessible to everyone in our community, but even people living life paycheck to paycheck will often budget for a sushi feast.

We didn’t just seek to improve the price and volume of sushi in Reno. We gave it our best effort to make the cuisine something that everyone can enjoy. For those that dislike raw fish, we began cooking it. For those that wanted heat, we adopted Sriracha as our sushi sauce mascot. For those that sought crunch, we began frying the shrimp, vegetables, and eventually entire rolls.

We took the idea of condiments and side dishes and dialed them to 11 with pickled ginger, cucumber salad, imitation wasabi, sodium dense soy sauce, mayonnaise, and Sriracha.

We began offering toppings of fruit, beef, cream cheese, tobiko (fish eggs), herbs, shakers, and seeds. As if the choices weren’t already legion, we expanded the appetizers to include steamed mussels, baked mussels, broiled mussels, miso soup, quail egg shooters, fried jalapeños, fried squid, and fried everything else.

According to Yelp, Reno/Sparks now has about 29 sushi restaurants excluding sushi burrito and poke restaurants. If you question Nevada’s ability to absorb, celebrate, and pervert foreign cultures, look no further than the sushi burrito. Our sushi preferences have become as distinct as our fingerprints. Nevada will try whatever is conceivable in the world of sushi, and I, for one, am pleased as Punch.

Hinoki Sushi Delivers the Goods

Hinoki’s owner and manager, David Chau, was tirelessly working to keep operations running smoothly during the Saturday lunch rush. My fiancé and I were happy to see the staff serving a packed house. The lunch price for each of us was $19.99. Had we eaten later in the day, the dinner price would have been $24.99 per meal.

Sushi chef
Chef Carlos doing work on some unagi. Image: Kyle Young

Our server, Monica, was friendly and kept our water glasses full throughout the meal. At Hinoki, like many other sushi restaurants, all hands get used to run food out from the chef stations to the tables.

Chau very graciously allowed me to photograph one of his highly skilled chefs, Carlos. I watched Carlos make the Dragon Roll start to finish. Any job that requires a blowtorch is generally awesome (enhanced interrogators excluded).

Given the multitude of offerings that my fiancé and I selected, I won’t bore readers with exhaustive descriptions of every facet of everything we ate. Know this: we greatly enjoyed everything we ordered and we ordered a vast spread.

Tempura Veggie Hand Roll: wonderfully crisp veggies, a little salty, perfectly chewy and crispy textures; sesame seeds; zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, avocado, sushi rice, and teriyaki sauce all wrapped in crisp nori (seaweed). The roll was served piping hot.

Miso Soup: salty, soft cubed tofu, chopped scallions, and a velvety mouthfeel. The soup was served wonderfully hot.

Mussels: my favorite meaty mollusk; topped with mayo, Sriracha, and served in shell.

Quail egg shooters: vinegar, sugar, scallions, Sriracha, tobiko, and a tiny bit of viscosity and egg flavor. Try one! It’s not that weird, I promise. Who doesn’t love a silly toast before taking a shot?

Mickey Mouse: seared tuna, avocado, imitation crab, Sriracha, rice and sweet sauce; a well-executed Reno classic.

Donald Duck: fresh salmon, avocado, imitation crab, Sriracha, rice, and sweet sauce; this one was done well, too.

Cajun tuna nigiri: seared tuna with a Cajun rub atop rice; the Cajun spice adds a jerky-like quality to it – in a good way.

Salmon nigiri: despite missing those distinct fat lines that make everyone happy, the fish tasted fresh and delicious. The lemon slices were thin and fresh. The rice to fish ratio was on point.

Volcano long roll: spicy tuna, salmon, tuna, yellowtail, green onion, habanero sauce, hot sauce; distinct habanero blended with mayo and scallions produced high and tasty heat; a well-designed and executed roll with a subtle smokiness.

Ceviche long roll: imitation crab, salmon, lemon, yellowtail, avocado, red onion, cilantro, jalapeño, ceviche sauce, and a bit of Shichi-mi tōgarashi (spicy shaker); the roll was citric and the mound of pickled onions warmed my heart; the cilantro and lemon went well together to create a bright and fresh roll.

Hinoki Sushi is located at 5270 Longley Lane Suite 110 in Reno. They are open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Give them a call at 775-409-4994. David, Monica, Carlos and the crew will take good care of you.

Kyle Young
About Kyle Young 37 Articles
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his fiancé.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you, Todd. I’m grateful for your perspective. My love for sushi began during the Sushi Club phase you mentioned in the 90’s. I’ll totally grant you that sushi as it exists here did not appear in a vacuum, but sushi as it exists here with the AYCE price point is distinctly Nevadan. The ability to choose from a myriad of AYCE sushi joints in a 10 mile radius is distinctly a Reno phenomenon. To my knowledge, we have a unique experience available to us, one that was multiculturally shaped.

  2. As usual, a well written piece. However, I do have a few comments. U.S. sushi first appeared in New York City and Los Angeles in the ’60s, but didn’t start to blossom until the early ’80s. Most of the classic Americanized rolls come from California sushi, e.g., the addition of avocado, cream cheese, kewpie mayo, deep frying, etc. date back to that period. The first sushi available in Nevada was in Las Vegas, but it didn’t take long for it to appear in Reno. Also for the record, nearly all of the innovations you attribute to Nevadan sushi were imported from California, and some of those were actually inspired by Japanese trends, like kewpie mayo. They love that stuff, but don’t put it on sushi. Sriracha is, of course, a California thing. It started showing up on sushi about the same time Vietnamese noodle shops started featuring it, also in the ‘80s.

    If I’m not mistaken, the first Reno sushi was at the original Ichiban Japanese Steak House (located where the Silver Legacy is now, since moved a couple times). They served nigiri and a couple basic rolls in the ‘80s, and it was ala carte. The first stand-alone sushi bar was Sushi & Teri–circa 1989–located next to Toys R Us. It closed in 2012. Shortly after that, Sushi Bar opened in downtown Reno, later moving to Plumb Lane and re-christened Sushi Pier. By the mid ‘90s they were joined by Sushi Club and Aloha Sushi, both on Moana and both now closed, in 2016 and 2010 respectively. I’m not certain, but I think the AYCE thing started with either Aloha or Sushi Club, and that’s when sushi really began to take hold here (I was a regular at Aloha starting in 1996). Soon after, the only sushi bar that still resisted AYCE was Ichiban, and they eventually acquiesced when they moved into their current location.

    By 2000, sushi really began to take off in Reno, and obviously it hasn’t slowed down since. By my count there are at least 38 restaurants serving sushi in the Reno/Sparks area, not counting all the related things like poke, sushirritos, etc. If you include those in Truckee, Tahoe, Carson, and the others within a 60 minute drive, that number doubles. Amazing how much “sushi grade” fish is being consumed in our area! It’s no mystery why all those Californian, non-Japanese ingredients started showing up here; nearly all the original Reno sushi chefs learned their craft in the Golden State. Reno chefs have of course escalated the arms race with some pretty crazy combinations in order to compete. Me, I just prefer the simplicity of nigiri.

    P.S. Pickled ginger, cucumber salad, and fake wasabi are actually Japanese and traditional, though Americans tend to overuse and abuse them. I’ve read that true wasabi root is even rare to find at sushi bars in Japan, and pretty expensive when you do find it. More shocking to me, imitation crab stick is actually more popular there than real crab. Some surimi is made with a mixture of white fish and real crab, but it’s outsold by the straight up fake stuff. Funny, no?

Comments are closed.