Hilo is home to some surprising food options. Na’au Hilo and Moon & Turtle are two of the most visible (in my opinion), but other options exist as well. One of these is Kusano Sushi, which is a takeout-only sushi concept that requires preordering in advance. Sound familiar? It should. Kusano Sushi operates very similarly to the former FoodxJitsu, though both have very different overall styles.
The last time I was in Hilo, I gave FoodxJitsu a try. It was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had anywhere! But that’s no longer an option, as the concept’s owner – Daysen – made the move to Honolulu to run the sushi bar at Agaru Izakaya in Waikiki. That spot is currently on hiatus, but Daysen can still be found at Miro Kaimuki. Yeah, I know, this info isn’t really relevant to this review, but it kind of is. Bryan of Kusano Sushi and Dasyen are friends and have done collabs in the past. More importantly, though, I know many will want to know how the two compare and want to/have tried one or both.
Ordering Kusano Sushi
Like FoodxJitsu, you need to follow Kusano Sushi on Instagram to know when to order. Orders are placed via Instagram messaging and opens a quarter at a time. For example, orders are currently being accepted for January – March 2024. Orders will typically begin about two weeks before the new quarter begins (though this is subject to change) and will remain open until all slots are filled. It’s worth noting that pickup slots are only available on weekend days at 12 pm, 1 pm, 4 pm, 5 pm, and 6 pm, so try to plan your time in Hilo accordingly.
When placing your order with Kusano Sushi, be sure to include the following information:
- Item(s) you’re ordering
- Desired pickup date
- Pickup time
Standard wasabi is included with all orders, though you can also request fresh wasabi for an upcharge or opt-out entirely by including “Wasabi Out” in your request.
Please know that orders are processed according to when they are received. You cannot place an order outside of the specified ordering periods, and your order isn’t confirmed until Bryan lets you know directly. Also, be patient. This isn’t Bryan’s full-time gig. He works a regular job during the day and may take a couple of days to respond.
Kusano Sushi Menu
The menu at Kusano Sushi is pretty straightforward – everything is omakase, so there are no selections to make other than size:
- Omakase Box
- Small Nigirizushi Platter
- 30-34 pieces of assorted nigiri plus 2 hosomaki
- Large Nigirizushi Platter
- 48-54 pieces of assorted nigiri
- Medium Family-Style Bara Chirashi
- Medium Sashimi Moriawase Platter
- Assorted seasonal sashimi (no rice)
- XL Sashimi Mriawase Platter
- Assorted seasonal sashimi (no rice)
You’ll notice that the above prices include a plus sign after them. That’s because these are the base prices for each item. Due to the variable nature of the product, prices vary on a weekly basis based on what’s available. Bryan will do a final confirmation with official pricing on or around the Friday evening before your order date. You can pay with cash or Venmo. If you choose the latter, Bryan will send you his Venmo info, along with the pickup address, during your final confirmation.
What We Ordered
Initially, I was going to get us two Omakase Boxes. However, if you don’t mind sharing from a platter or replating, the Small Nigiruzhi Platter is definitely the way to go for two (or three, depending on how much you can eat) people, as you get the same number (or more) of nigiri pieces, plus the hosomaki for the same price. Naturally, that’s what I ended up getting.
Soaking wet from our day at Volcanoes National Park, I met Bryan outside of his house, where I paid (cash), he explained the platter, and we talked story a bit. Being dinner time and rainy, we promptly headed back to the Grand Naniloa to dry off and enjoy our sushi.
On that day (Memorial Day Weekend 2023), our Small Nigirizushi Platter included:
- Akami (lean bluefin tuna) zuke with kizami wasabi
- Otoro (bluefin belly) with gold flakes
- Aburi Toro (seared bluefin) with house yuzu kosho
- Sake (Ora King Salmon)
- Aburi Sake (seared Ora King Salmon) with yuzu mayo, yuzu tobiko, and crispy salmon skin
- Shima Aji (striped jack) with chives
- Ishidai (knifejaw) with house yuzu kosho
- Iwashi (sardine) with grated ginger and negi
- Saba (mackerel) with pickled daikon and shiso salt
- Aori Ika (bigfin reef squid) with sudachi and flaked sea salt
- Shiro Baigai (Japanese Babylon Shell) with lemon and chili sea salt
- Hotaru Ika (firefly squid) with su-miso and negi
- Uni Rice Kegami (Hokkaido Uni rice with horsehair crab)
- Tamago (omelet)
- Negitoro Maki (minced bluefin and negi)
- Kappa Maki (cucumber)
As was the case with FoodxJitsu, all of the pieces we enjoyed from Kusano Sushi are of exceptional quality. Every piece of seafood is pristine and perfectly seasoned. The primary difference, in my opinion, is that Kusano leans more towards leaner, lighter flavors and, as such, uses the more common clear type of sushi-su, whereas FoodxJitsu leans into more decadent flavors and, as such, uses the more assertive darker style sushi-su.
Of the pieces we enjoyed, my favorites included the Aori Ika, the Hotaru Ika, Uni Rice Kegami, Aburi Sake, and Ishidai. Personally, I love high-quality squid – it’s buttery and meaty with a clean flavor. Here, it’s accentuated by sudachi – a type of Japanese citrus – and salt. Hotaru Ika is another type of squid, but whole in this case. The texture is entirely different from the Aori Ika, though still on the softer side. This seasonal delicacy isn’t buttery like the Aori Ika but it is still amazing.
The Uni Rice Kegami was one of the richest bites of the night – rice with uni mixed in and topped with horsehair crab meat – it was an incredibly decadent bite, if not as rich as the ultra-fatty otoro. Speaking of, while I loved the Aburi Toro, I thought the Aburi Sake was even better, thanks to the flavor contrast from all the yuzu PLUS the textural contrast of the crispy salmon skin. I did like the other yuzu kosho piece – the Ishidai – better than the Aburi Toro, too, as it let the homemade yuzu kosho shine through a bit more.
Negitoro is my favorite type of maki, and let me tell you, Bryan’s version is the best I’ve had yet. The melty, fatty tuna is devoid of any sinew, while he includes just the right amount of negi to balance it out.
If you couldn’t tell from this review thus far, I loved our Small Nigirizushi Platter from Kusano Sushi! This is, without a doubt, among the best sushi I’ve ever had, it doesn’t matter what state or country I’m in. It’s certainly among the best sushi you’ll find in Hawaii, including places that cost much more than this. So if you’re planning a trip to Hilo, I strongly recommend you check out Kusano Sushi and get yourself a box or platter if you can!