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How to get Houston’s fanciest sushi for half the price

Would you believe me if I told you that you can eat highly acclaimed sushi in Houston for almost half the price? The happy hour menu at Montrose hot spot Uchi is by no means a secret, but it can’t hurt for Houstonians who crave Japanese cuisine that won’t drain your savings.

Great sushi is often beyond the average diner’s budget. High-quality, sushi-grade raw fish itself is expensive, and you’ll want to eat it, because the raw seafood you’re eating is better off not poisoning you. On top of this, expensive Japanese restaurants often import salmon, tuna or some rare species of crème de la crème from top-notch suppliers in Japan.

While Houston certainly has great budget-friendly sushi — my favorite is Oshii in Richmond, if you can wait — the many high-roller sushi spots make me wish I’d chosen a more rewarding career. There’s Kata Robata, of course, the gold standard of Japanese restaurants led by chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi. The new Soto at Montrose is a luxurious, sometimes dramatic experience. And just down the street from Westheimer’s, Uchi’s has stood on the corner of Grant near Montrose Boulevard for the past 10 years.

Uchi's happy hour menu offers special items not found on the core menu, such as this pork belly, shallot and pineapple dish served with soy aioli.

Uchi’s happy hour menu offers special items not found on the core menu, such as this pork belly, shallot and pineapple dish served with soy aioli.

Emma Balter

Uchi Houston originated from the pioneering Austin restaurant of the same name, which opened in the Texas capital in 2003. Owner Tyson Cole and his umbrella restaurant group High Hospitality have expanded significantly since then. There are five Uchi locations, including two out-of-state; The Houston outpost opened in 2012. Sister concept Uchico has locations in both Austin and Houston, there’s Uchiba Bar in Dallas, and most recently, Cole partnered with barbecue legend Aaron Franklin to create Loro, an Asian smokehouse you’ll find in the Heights. .

I’ve eaten my way through many of the best restaurants in Houston, but I hadn’t been to Uchi until this week, because I didn’t think I could handle it. Until recently I failed to discover that the Montrose destination has a daily happy hour from 4pm to 6pm, offering a robust menu of sushi and other bites, along with a limited wine, beer and sake selection at discounted prices. The restaurant has been offering this since the first day it opened.

So, I made a reservation this week on a whim and finally got my feet under Uchi’s sushi counter. The happy hour menu has fewer options than the core menu, but still plenty to order. There are regular nigiri and rotating nigiri from specialty fish, maki rolls and non-sushi cold and hot dishes.

This pair of nigiri costs $18 on the regular menu but "only" $10 on Uchi's happy hour menu.

This pair of nigiri costs $18 on the regular menu but “only” $10 on Uchi’s happy hour menu.

Emma Balter

Most of the dishes on Uchi’s special happy hour menu are exclusive to it, but there is some crossover. A spicy crunchy tuna roll is just $9 for the first two hours after doors open, compared to $13.50 after that. Kurodai and Managatsuo Nigiri are $4 and $6 instead of $8 and $10 respectively.

“The idea behind Uchi Happy Hour is to create a special dining experience apart from the typical Uchi experience,” said Amber Quist, Chief Brand Officer, High Hospitality. “Offering an entry point for many new guests and a different experience for our existing guests at a great value.”

Between me and my dining companion, who was not as hungry as I was, we ordered three makimono rolls, two nigiri, two “hot tasting” dishes, and one dessert. The total—without our drinks, tax or tip—was $52 for two people. If we had ordered the same dishes or similar dishes on the regular dinner menu, it would have been around $90. And we got the same friendly service and atmosphere as if we were shelling out big bucks.

While still a special occasion meal for me, I was thrilled to find that Uchi’s happy hour was a great value. As long as you’re willing to eat dinner at the most inconvenient times, it can be yours too.

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