The food at Hon Sushi tastes as good as it looks, and it looks spectacular.
Chef Charlie Yun, the impresario behind the counter of this intimate new Carrollton spot, thinks just as carefully about presentation as he does about preparation. Even his salads are festivals of color and texture. Nowadays many Japanese restaurants serve sushi on little wooden boats, but how many serve dishes in pastoral scenes, complete with picket fences, edible flowers and trees carved out of cucumbers?
An elegant swan made of fingernail-thin apple slices can make photographing dinner seem just as urgent as eating it. But Yun’s cuisine isn’t superficial; his craftsmanship matches up to the visual promise of his plates. Hon Sushi, which opened its doors in a suburban strip mall in early spring, is one of the best Japanese bargains in metro Dallas.
Take a moment to admire each plate before devouring it. Salmon belly sashimi, recommended by the staff as especially fresh, comes with its pat of wasabi molded into the shape of a serrano pepper, with a pepper stem stuck on the end. Not that this salmon belly needs any wasabi or any of Hon Sushi’s soy sauce, which is made in-house. It is a first-rate cut of fish, richly flavorful, just fatty enough and judiciously sliced. For a party of three, chef Charlie added a free sixth slice of sashimi to his usual plate of five, to make sure nobody felt left out.
During one visit, ono sashimi, made from the fish known stateside as wahoo, was served on a block of ice. But not just any block of ice: this one had sprigs of parsley frozen inside it, a bold, eye-catching flourish. On the other hand, leaving the fish on ice too long yielded the unfortunate side effect of letting each cut freeze up slightly. Sashimi is not prized for its crunch.
The “Flyin’ Hawaiian” special plate ($12.90) arrives under the shade of a cucumber hand-carved into a palm tree. Thin slices of ono are topped with flying fish caviar and a mango salsa so perfectly balanced that I scrambled to scoop up leftover salsa on the ends of my chopsticks. Another starter, “Japanese ceviche” ($12.90), is a sort of sashimi sample plate with finger-licking ponzu sauce and both sesame and nigella seeds. “Monkey brains” sort of resemble their name ($8.95), but are in fact delectable tempura-fried mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat and served on a little boat.
Salmon skin salad celebrates a delicacy too many American eaters discard. Slices of broiled salmon skin, crispy and gently fatty, top a handsomely-dressed plate of greens, along with thin slices of avocado and apples. This plate may not be complicated or overly sophisticated, but for the contrast of its flavors and textures, it’s among the best salads in Dallas. Sometimes simple is best.
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Hon Sushi offers a full slate of main courses — chicken katsu, udon bowls, teriyaki — but the specialty sushi rolls are far too tempting. Chef Charlie is likely to serve an order of two or more rolls on a spinning lazy Susan, enabling a hungry table to share easily. Even here there are presentation flourishes, like an upended martini glass with sushi pieces balanced on top and herb and veggie garnishes captured underneath the glass’s rim.
The addicting mango salsa makes a return appearance on the Waikiki Roll ($10.95), topped with tuna and filled with both crabmeat and a cucumber crunch. The Kai-Lana Roll ($13.95) combines the crunch of fried soft-shell crab with the darker savory flavor of grilled eel. “Popcorn Lobster” may be false advertising ($11.95), since the popcorn-fried seafood pieces are in fact crawfish, and they’re piled atop a pretty conventional spicy tuna roll. But the combination is more appealing when those contrasting elements are balanced in one jaw-stretching bite.
All of Yun’s sushi rolls are immaculately constructed; not one piece fell apart on our visits, nor was any shortchanged in fillings or toppings. It’s easy for Western diners to take sushi for granted, but pause, here, to observe the perfect ratio of rice to filling, and the way that Yun balances textures of meat, vegetable and, when applicable, tempura batter. Even with simple items, like a couple of immaculate pieces of eel sushi, he is making a difficult task look easy.
And, as if this mastery weren’t enough, he is sending out boatloads of sliced fruit after the meal, at no extra charge. Hon Sushi may not rival local legends like Yutaka for sheer virtuosity and exotic yet ultra-fresh ingredients, but then, Hon is in a very different price range, and it’s a dozen miles to the north. Between the very affordable sushi, the free surprises and the silly-cheap Japanese bottled beers, Hon Sushi presents a remarkable bargain for Carrollton diners.
Indeed, this small space, wallpapered with nature scenes and ceiling-tiled with pictures of clouds, is making some very fine food without attracting much attention. Hon Sushi has been open since March, and aside from a handful of regulars, the crowds have yet to find it. On two Observer visits, not one dish really disappointed; the seafood is fresh and the craftsmanship is there. The biggest risk at Hon Sushi is that the food will be too pretty to eat.
Hon Sushi, 1902 E. Belt Line Road, Carrollton. 972-417-7001. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m Monday through Thursday., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m Friday through Saturday.