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Aloha Sushi

Charles Street perch makes midtown sushi appealing

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden

Aloha Sushi

1218 N. Charles St., (443) 759-8531,

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There’s something about eating two stories above Charles Street that at times feels oddly thrilling. Even the most mundane space can take on the moody charm of downtown when boosted by the low rumble of traffic, the yellow-white glow of streetlights, and the sparkle of asphalt from the street below. Aloha Sushi is one of those spots, at once casual and comfortable—with light wood, royal blue and deep red walls, swoops of fabric that hang from the ceiling like bunting, and AM oldies on the radio—but still unmistakably urban. The sushi bar in the back of the dining room might afford great views of chefs in action, but scoring a table in the bay window overlooking the street feels like a coup, even when the foot traffic below is light.

There are more stylish sushi restaurants in town, as well as those whose menus reflect more unusual offerings, but Aloha Sushi does the basics well, and the kindness of the servers more than makes up for any missteps. (When was the last time you were offered an additional bowl of miso late in your meal because, according to the server, the kitchen had just made a fresh pot?) Prices are reasonable, and that plus the restaurant’s proximity to University of Baltimore and MICA makes it a popular spot with students who account for the majority of diners midweek.

The proprietors and much of the staff of Aloha Sushi are Korean, according to a server, so along with rainbow rolls and spider rolls you can also order kalbi ($15.95) and bulgogi ($14.95), the latter portion rife with onions and not quite as generous (or as sweet) as others around town. The menu also offers dinner specials like broiled fish, steak, and chicken (served teriyaki style or with garlic butter or black bean sauce), crispy fried chicken (or pork) katsu, and various tempura preparations. We saw none of those being served. Instead tables are dotted with silver bowls of bimbimbap ($9.95) and mild, fragrant nabeyaki udon ($12.95), brimming with silky strings of enoki mushrooms, radish slices, a slash of green scallion, and one long shrimp encased in panko, as gorgeous as a still life. Wasabi shumai ($5.95) are also pretty as a picture, so green and ruffled you could mistake them for Brussels sprouts until the heat kicks in.

But the biggest draw (naturally) is sushi. As is the norm in most sushi restaurants, special rolls such as the pink monster roll, a combination of salmon, crab, and avocado inside and spicy salmon and masago outside, or the baked, cream cheese-filled Japanese seafood lasagna roll, predominate, but most of the usual suspects—the tekka maki, the volcano roll, the unagi nigiri—can be ordered a la carte. And selections such as pickled radish or oshinko maki, brilliant yellow and chopped fine; sweet shrimp, fried, with their heads removed and served separately; and a stuffed to bursting aloha roll prove more than satisfying.

A chef’s selection in the sushi and sashimi deluxe platter ($31.95) is ample enough to feed four and, on our visit, offers a solid mix, including tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and flounder sashimi, all impeccably fresh; more tuna, nigiri-style, and two rolls; a respectable spicy tuna roll (mildly fiery and not mushy, as can often happen), and a crunchy soft shell crab roll, a slightly unusual but very welcome choice for this combination. All dinners come with an earthy, nutty miso soup and a small, sesame-dressed salad.

The evening’s one distraction was a persistent, industrial scent of either cleaner or air freshener that became more pronounced whenever the Aloha Sushi’s street-level door opened. Annoying, definitely, but in the end, not strong enough to be deal breaking. You come away from Aloha Sushi instead with a belly full of fish, an appreciation for thoughtful service, and the lyrics to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” tumbling around your mouth as you join the traffic on Charles Street.

Aloha Sushi is open seven days for lunch and dinner.

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