With a New Waterfront Address, Sushi 86 Keeps Adapting and Evolving

A tight and well-executed menu has kept fans coming back

click to enlarge With a New Waterfront Address, Sushi 86 Keeps Adapting and Evolving
Photo by Doug Trattner
Sushi 86 is here to disprove that old adage about “good, fast and cheap.” In the time it would take an online food order to be delivered to one’s home or office, a diner could enjoy a speedy and delicious Japanese lunch – complete with soup, a trio of nigiri sushi and a roll – for the equitable sum of $25. And unlike that dreary workplace cubicle, this meal comes with nautical views of the North Coast Harbor and beyond.

If you’re a fan of this tenacious local restaurant, then you know it’s wise to double check the address before heading out. Since Rachel and Mike Hsu opened the first shop in 2000, Sushi 86 has called seven different locations home. Compared to the first – a five-seat, 250-square-foot shoebox on Public Square – this latest residence is downright palatial. This past summer, the owners swapped their previous digs in the 5th Street Arcades for an attractive space at Harbor Verandas, which is a two-minute stroll from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The fishbowl dining room offers panoramic views of attractions such as Browns Stadium, Great Lakes Science Center, SS Mather and the Goodtime III.

There has always been a dearth of waterfront dining options in this neck of the woods – who can forget the maritime delights of Hornblowers? – and the situation hasn’t much improved. It’s understandable given the feast-or-famine economics of operating in a tourist district; Sushi 86 fills those gaps with steady event catering.

Indoors, a 10-stool sushi bar anchors the 60-seat dining room, which is equipped with a pair of soft-seating areas that are ideal for a casual lunch or place to wait for carryout. When the weather warms up, diners will be able to enjoy those watery views from the other side of the glass thanks to a sizable harbor-side patio.

Sushi 86 was created as the quick-serve alternative to raw-fish temples like Shuhei, where the Hsus worked prior to going solo. Their menu was shorter but fresher, they argued, with carryout-friendly items like rolls and bento boxes designed for harried commuters. The name “86” was a nod to the items that Shuhei would invariably run out of.

All these years and locations later, Sushi 86 still plays it pretty tight. This isn’t the place to come for an exotic, ever-shifting roster of raw fish. Nigiri and sashimi lovers are limited to a greatest hits-style roundup of varieties like tuna, yellowtail, salmon, eel, mackerel and the like. Those fishes are available as part of a 3-piece ($11) or 6-piece ($21) nigiri plate or in the 6-piece sashimi box ($12). Uni was unavailable during a recent visit.

Sushi 86 has always excelled at rolls, with a dizzying assortment of slender 6-piece rolls and fatter 8-piece rolls. Over the course of two meals we enjoyed the spicy scallop roll ($9.25), yellowtail jalapeno roll ($8.25) and the rainbow roll ($14.95). That last large roll featured large pieces of escolar, tuna and salmon draped over crab and avocado centers. The “best name award” goes to the 3-Way Reverse Cowgirl, a shrimp tempura, avocado and faux-crab salad devised by the band Hinder when they passed through town some years ago.

In terms of starters, the options are equally concise, with edamame, seaweed salad and a dish of alien-red pickled baby octopus ($7.95) served cold in a sesame-flavored marinade. Inari ($3.50) is a sweet and savory snack of fried tofu skin stuffed with seasoned rice. An order of uber-crisp shrimp tempura ($8), it soon dawns on us, is one of only two items on the entire menu that is served hot, the standard miso soup ($3.75) being the other.

Sushi 86 has survived these many years by adapting to the unpredictable forces around them. During Covid, management condensed the menu, went essentially virtual, and even sold off the liquor license. An as-yet-unopened poke concept was brought under the Sushi 86 umbrella. Those bowls are available here, generous portions of white or brown rice (or greens) topped with any combination of fish, veggies, toppings and sauces. The Shell-a-Bowl ($16.95), for example, features shrimp, “crab” salad, cucumber, avocado and crunch.

After a meal of some nigiri, a few small and large rolls, and one of those bottomless poke bowls, rice fatigue begins to creep in. The good news is that, once again, change is afoot at Sushi 86. In the coming days and weeks, Hsu will be adding gyoza and ramen to the menu.

Less than five years after peddling her liquor license, Hsu says that she’s found joy on the open market and will soon begin offering hard beverages.

Sushi 86
1050 East 9th St., Cleveland

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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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