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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Tue–Thu noon–2:30pm
Tue–Thu 5:00pm–9:30pm
Fri–Sat noon–2:30pm
Fri–Sat 5:00pm–10:30pm
Sun 5:00pm–9:30pm

Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC
Reservations Not accepted


4822 MacArthur Blvd. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 625-9080
Cheap sushi that manages to not taste cheap? Who struck this devil’s deal?

There’s a certain genius to putting a lower-end sushi restaurant on top of a trendier, more highly acclaimed one. Think of the floods of people who may not be so picky as to endure the weeks-ahead reservation routine—or, worse still, the attempt at a walk-in—for Makoto, and who are drawn like moths to the lights of Kotobuki overhead. This thumbnail of a sushi restaurant often sees a line of people winding down the stairwell, perhaps to see which restaurant calls their name first. But look closer and you’ll find a strong contingency of fierce Kotobuki supporters, Makoto notwithstanding.

Kotobuki is like the poor man’s Makoto, with a more authentic (read: somewhat stark and utilitarian) feel to it. Lighting is much too bright to suggest that this place cares about ambience. On the other hand, there is one particularly adorable feature: the constant rotation of Beatles music on the speakers, all Beatles and nothing but the Beatles, at all hours of the day—and not just the most well-known tracks, either. This is clearly the work of an aficionado.

It’s almost inconceivable how far your dollar will stretch here: a piece of nigiri will set you back a buck, and almost all rolls are priced under four. Only the enormous Rainbow and Virginia rolls cost any more than $3.50, and these are still under eight dollars each. But is this categorically a good thing? Sushi-grade fish is one area where you get what you pay for. Quality fish from the best markets costs restaurants money, and that’s generally why sushi is expensive. So it’s suspicious when it comes this cheap.

Regardless, baffled diners agree that the fish tastes surprisingly fresh. (Seriously, is the chef friends with someone over at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market? Or is he using the downstairs walk-in?) Kotobuki’s rolls are simple—no more than two or three ingredients each and no designer names. The yellowtail is fat and buttery, and the eel’s natural sweetness comes through with a little light grilling.

The extremely abbreviated sake list has only one cold option, but it happens to be one of the better versions out there. Kotobuki may not be trying for Makoto standards, but cheap sushi that doesn’t taste like refrigerator versions? It sure beats the others in its class.

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