There are certainly many sushi restaurants in Boston- some are high-end, some are mid-priced and others cheap or not so great. Toraya in Arlington happens to be one of my favorite sushi places in Massachusetts. I have a handful of sushi places that I frequent regularly and this little sushi spot consistently provides good quality fresh fish. It is also a very traditional style Japanese sushi restaurant that is owned and run by true Japanese.
When you arrive at Toraya, it looks very unassuming. It is small, basic restaurant nestled in between 2 store fronts, just off Arlington center. When you step inside, there’s a small sushi bar directly in front of you and tables to the left. The space is not large, but it’s relaxed and has about 4 people working any time that I’ve been there. It has a hole-in-the-wall homey feel to it and the wait staff provides excellent service. Toraya isn’t well-known and its location makes it easy to overlook because it is out-of-the-way for most Bostonians. However, the place is crowded enough during lunch and dinner to warrant a short wait. It does a steady business. It seems like mainly locals, Japanese Americans, and serious sushi lovers are the ones who frequent this sushi gem. Note that there is parking in the back of the restaurant if you can’t find street parking. Prices are reasonable and they have a decent sake list.
The menu itself is limited in cooked dishes as the emphasis here is on classic traditional sushi. Toraya also has interesting specials, such as monkfish liver, grilled chicken hearts, egg custard soup, soft shell crab and scallop sashimi. If you’ve never been and don’t know what to order, try sitting at the sushi bar and doing omakase, or chef’s choice, if it’s available. It’s never failed to give me a good sense of the sushi quality at a restaurant. I’ve had several delicious dining experiences here and will continue to return.
Spicy tuna maki, salmon maki, tuna and salmon sushi
Toraya serves simple everyday sushi, like the salmon and tuna maki above, but the emphasis is on quality ingredients. They do not however serve brown rice if you are looking for a healthier carb option, try Genki Ya instead. My dining companion was disappointed they could not get brown rice but in the end, declared their maki and sushi to be delicious since the fish was among some of the best they have ever eaten.
Anyone who’s dined with me knows that I’m a sashimi hound. Nothing satiates my need for sushi other than fresh sashimi- a nice, clean protein punch or a really good handroll or two. The fish quality here is what draws me back every time. Especially if they have some great specials that day and the sushi chef, Mr. Toraya, is making the suggestions himself. The sashimi deluxe was actually too much fish for me to finish alone, even though I was quite hungry to start, and that is exactly why I always bring a handy dining companion with a good appetite along.
Yakitori or kushiyaki, grilled skewered food, are one of my favorite Japanese treats. They are often served up as bar food. Yakitori usually is made using chicken parts. My favorite are hato or chicken hearts and Toraya serves up a tasty version. Chicken hearts in general have very little fat but are juicy and tender when cooked. Mind you, they are horrible if they overcooked, like most meats. These were perfection, there was no tare sauce (sugar-mirin-sake-soy sauce marinade) here (I’ve had it made this way here before, just not this time around), just a sprinkle of salt and tossed on the grill. My dining companion couldn’t get over the fact I gobbled these chicken heart skewers right up… so just a reminder.. offal is not for the faint of heart. I’ll be back…enough said.