Making the Most with Madison: The best worst sushi around campus

Affordable sushi on every corner is one of the great hallmarks of big-city living, and San Francisco students know this best. The issue is, with so many options, it can become difficult to weed out which restaurants just suck. And with raw fish, you don’t want to find out too late.

Sushi is a popular choice on campus, so an investigation was in order. I found out exactly which grab-and-go sushi places students enjoyed most both on and off campus.

The first place to investigate was Trader Joe’s. A short walk to Stonestown makes it the ideal trip for an in between class snack or quick grocery run. After talking to an employee in the store, they say the sushi sells out very quickly. They have a limited and basic variety of rolls that consists of the California and spicy tuna.

At only $3.50, it becomes clear why the California roll is a quick sell. After eating it, it becomes less obvious why people continue to buy it. In a review by a former employee at Trader Joe’s, sushi is one of the two items employees were warned to never buy.

Trader Joe’s employee and former SF State student Kendra said that while the freshness of the sushi — once it gets in the store — is assured with daily rotations of product, the general consensus of the employees is that it isn’t their best product. In fact, over time it’s popularity has decreased.

“A few years ago sushi was a very popular item here but not so much now,” Kendra said adding that the person in charge of ordering product for the store has subsequently begun to order less. “We all agree it’s pretty gross.”

First off, the roll lacks the basic components of a California roll which usually is avocado, crab and sometimes cucumber. Instead, the filling is entirely imitation crab. The ratio of filling to rice lends itself to more rice than necessary, which because of a high refrigeration temperature has become gummy and texture-less. The sesame seeds on the outside serve as nothing more than decoration.

It’s not all bad for the price. The imitation crab is what you would expect for the price point and included in the package are some essentials: wasabi, ginger and soy sauce. The sushi is well-packaged so it holds its shape and won’t get smushed in your bag. It seals tightly so it will keep well as leftovers. Unfortunately, you will not get chopsticks, only a gesture to the fork basket by the escalator.

The next stop was an even closer choice for students, located in the middle of campus at the Cesar Chavez Building. Across from the bookstore, you’ll find Healthy U, which offers a variety of individually packaged salads, sandwiches and rice bowls in their refrigerator among a slightly bigger selection of sushi.

The variety changes, depending on the day. On a fully stocked day, you’ll find rainbow rolls, spicy tuna, some hand rolls and California rolls. For a fair comparison, I picked the California roll and it was almost twice the price of Trader Joe’s.

When asked his opinion on students eating sushi from and around campus, SF State student Austin Stoffel said, “I thought sushi was supposed to be a luxury type meal that you go to a sushi bar to get. So it seems weird to get knock-off sushi at school.”

The sushi roll’s appearance was more of a true California roll than Trader Joe’s. It was rounder, smaller and had all of the traditional components. There was just the right amount of avocado, cucumber and while they were a little light on the crab, it’s forgivable. The ratio of rice to filling was just about right and because it was held at a lower temperature, did not become gummy or hard.

The same fixings were provided, as were chopsticks. However, packaging won’t let you keep it well after opening it and definitely not for long in your backpack. Is it Nobu? No. But no one expected it to be.

Healthy U is the place to go near campus for grab-and-go sushi that is light and quick. Paying a little more than the popular Trader Joe’s roll is worth it for the highly noticeable increase in quality. Plus, it will save you the walk. Or, you could just go to an actual sushi restaurant.

Akiko’s and Eiji are San Francisco proclaimed favorites. If you’re wanting to stay out of the city, check out Amami San Sushi in South San Francisco for quick service, reasonable prices, and an impressive Omakase menu.

Sushi for sale.
(Bryan/Golden Gate Xpress)

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