Have you ever been to Yo! Sushi? It's a hip, fun sushi restaurant chain that is so eager to please - and does so in spades. While the bright lights and vibrant colors draw you into the restaurant, the real lure is the little plates of sushi that go round and round its countertop on a conveyor belt. According to Yo! Sushi, in 1997, it brought the concept of a Japanese kaiten sushi bar that delivers food to people via an 8 centimeter-per-second conveyor belt to the "masses" - something that helped propel it to its self-proclaimed place as the "most famous sushi brand in the UK."
My family first sampled Yo! Sushi's small plates in London where the restaurant chain boasts more than 20 locations found everywhere from across the street of St. Paul's Cathedral to a Harvey Nichols Food Hall. As we can easily attest, it's hard to resist the temptation of being able to scope out and then carefully scoop up a salad, dumpling, roll or dessert as it slowly rolls on by you. Each dish is served up in small portions and color-coded by price, making it easy to sample a big variety of sushi - and keep your eye on your increasing tab, too. All together, it makes for an ideal dining experience for sushi novices and aficionados alike.
But, much to our chagrin, there isn't a Yo! Sushi in Chicago. Luckily, there are two Sushi Station locations in the suburbs, offering us a closer-to-home option for us to get our fill of kaiten sushi.
Searching for kaiten sushi restaurants in Chicago
After eating at Yo! Sushi during a trip to London this summer, we had to try track down a kaiten - or rotating sushi bar - in Chicago. While, so far, you can only visit an American Yo! Sushi in our capital city, we were thrilled to find another alternative in the Windy City - well out in the northwestern and western suburbs. Yes, a drive to Rolling Meadows to the northwest or Elgin to the west, will bring you to Sushi Station.
Billed as Chicago's first rotating sushi bar, Sushi Station offers you sushi served up on a conveyor belt. While the design isn't quite as hip and fun as Yo! Sushi, Sushi Station fits the bill just fine, and will easily be a place we frequent whenever our travels take us out of the Windy City and into the suburbs.
Savoring the large variety of sushi items at Sushi Station
Sushi Station offers up a varied and innovative selection of sushi items. Most items are colorful and visually pleasing, making it difficult to let any one dish pass you by on its journey around its conveyor belt path.
Similar to Yo! Sushi, most plates offer a small appetizer portion, about three to four maki roll pieces and two nigiri pieces. This makes it easy to sample your way up and down the conveyor belt without filling up on one particular item.
At Sushi Station, you also will spot signs scattered along the conveyor belt, encouraging you to order popular appetizer items that aren't currently available for you to grab and eat on the spot - and hot dishes, too. When we dined at the Rolling Meadows location, we followed the urging of one of the posted signs and asked our server for the seaweed salad. We also ordered a shrimp crispers appetizer that must have been all snatched up before we had a chance to grab one for ourselves.
We went to Sushi Station on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and were admittedly a bit worried about the selection that would be available at a potentially quiet time. We were surprised to find that the restaurant was crowded even at 2 p.m., and there was an ample selection of items up and down the on the conveyor belt.
Kaiten restaurants offer a fun way to introduce your children to sushi
My sons love Japanese food, and I'm always glad to see them slowly become more adventurous in their meal selections. These days, my older son demands seaweed salad and readily devours anything that's wrapped up inside a gyoza. Not to be left out, my younger son eagerly eats tempura shrimp (or really anything breaded and friend) and edamame. On our recent visit to Sushi Station, my sons asked to eat more of the nigiri pieces and selected smoked salmon and boiled shrimp.
To me, Yo! Sushi and Sushi Station are great places to build your children's interest in and willingness to try more and more sushi items. There is nothing more fun than letting them select and then grab a dish or two to eat. It's kind of like going to the sample bar at the back of Trader Joe's - they'll often be more adventurous with their food selections than at home. Just be sure to help little hands take the plates off the conveyor belt - we sadly lost one plate to the floor.
Our helpful server at Sushi Station suggested my sons try a Ramune, or Japanese marble soda. The flavored carbonated soft drink is sure to please kids before they even take one sip. The glass bottle is sealed with a marble. To open it, you need to push down on the top of the bottle to push the marble into its neck. Once you do, kids can enjoy their soda with a marble that rolls around with each sip. Our server offered to open our two Ramunes. If you've never done it before, I suggest you take your server up on their offer.
Are you a fan of kaiten sushi, too?
I can understand if you haven't made it to Yo! Sushi yet given its limited (but promising) presence in the U.S. But, there are no excuses - and tons of reasons - to go to one of the two Sushi Stations in the Chicago suburbs.
If you are a big sushi fan, or just someone who loves to add a little fun to your meals, it's worth making the trek to Sushi Station and grabbing a passing sushi dish off of the conveyer belt. Do it for the novelty of it and the chance to see if it just may entice your children to be a bit more adventurous at the dinner table.
A few tips for dining kaiten-sushi style
I'm glad to be able to share a few final words of advice for anyone who has yet to dine at Yo! Sushi, Sushi Station or any kaiten sushi-style restaurant:
Know your colors. At both restaurants, each menu item comes on a color-coded plate. The color of the corresponds to a particular cost. At Sushi Station, the costs ranged from $1.25 for a white plate and $5.25 for a purple plate. At the end of the meal, your server will count up your plates, do the math and present you with your total bill.
Pace yourself. It's hard not to grab one of every plate that goes by you on the conveyor belt. But, to be honest, the fun is selecting and grabbing each dish - even more so than actually eating them. So, be sure to try to pace yourself and allow the "grabbing" to last all meal long.
Use your menu as a guide. Not sure of what's in a particular maki roll? While Sushi Station posts cards that list the ingredients in each roll, you always can consult your handy menu to find out more.
Don't be afraid to order off the menu. While it's more fun to only eat the food that slowly goes by your table, you should feel free to order off the menu too. In some cases, that may be your only opportunity to eat a particular appetizer, hot dish or a popular item.
Be adventurous. With plates going by you with three or four maki roll or nigiri pieces, you can sample a little bit of everything - without a huge investment. So, it's best to go into your dining experience ready to have fun and be a culinary adventurer.
Are you a fan of conveyer belt or keitan sushi? Have you ever been to Yo! Sushi, Sushi Station or another keitan sushi restaurant? What other sushi restaurants do you enjoy in Chicago? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you enjoyed reading about my family's quest to find conveyer belt sushi in Chicago, you also should read my recent post on our wish to have another UK Asian restaurant, Wagamama, open here in the city or suburbs.
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