A lot of teriyaki joints turn out underwhelming food, but restaurants in Chinatown can't get away with generic Americanized fare so easily. Irashai, a sushi and teriyaki spot on Kneeland, proves worthy of the 'hood's standards with dishes like the salmon teriyaki ($14) — light-handed with the sauce, yet flavorful. It also features one of Chinatown's most satisfying noodle-soup selections: steaming bowls of homegrown comfort food perfect for battling winter's onset. Vegetables served in miso soup with udon noodles ($7) makes a great remedy for colds, while grilled steak served in soy-sauce soup with ramen ($9), with a fried egg on top ($1), cures both college nostalgia and the inevitable New England weather-induced malaise.
Still craving soul-warming liquids? Order up a round of Japanese green tea ($1), or try the savory, earthy brown-rice variety. Or get Irashai's all-day "lunch" combo — the storefront touts this deal with an oversized green banner — since it comes with miso soup. The grilled pork ($9) and chicken curry ($8.50) combos, which include sushi rolls and steamed shumai, are great for midday pit stops. They're arranged with an eye for elegance and balance, though they can't compete with the lunch deals elsewhere in Chinatown in terms of value.
On the cold end, Irashai's sushi rolls range from classic to extravagant. While the California maki ($4.50) is what you'd expect, the texturally complex Irashai maki ($13) — salmon and mango wrapped in rice and topped with yellowtail, white tuna, and a spicy orange sauce — is quite an experience of the senses, especially when eaten in one bite. And with the sashimi regular combo ($16), Irashai's chefs, who hail from China's Fujian province, prove Japan hardly has a monopoly on tuna-slicing mastery.
Irashai means "Welcome!" in Japanese, and despite a modest exterior, the restaurant's minimalist lights and shiny granite counters do well to make you feel at home. I certainly felt cozy after I plopped down at the seven-seat sushi bar and was immediately greeted with soup, salad, and an amiable chef who showed me a thing or two about carving fish.
EAT UP :: 8 Kneeland St, Boston :: 617.350.6888 or irashaisushiteriyaki.com ::Sun–Thurs, 11 am to 10 pm; Fri–Sat, 11 am to 11 pm