Growing up on the East Coast, sushi was a staple in my diet. Maki and sashimi were consumed at least biweekly, and every month my best friends and I would venture to our favorite all-you-can-eat and enjoy copious amounts of our favorite food. Since coming to Missouri, I've missed the fresh fish that used to be so readily available. I haven't explored as many sushi restaurants as I would have liked while at WashU so far, with my experience dining at Nippon Tei being the most notable of those that I have tried. However, from my limited experiences with sushi in the St. Louis area, I have found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that sushi in Missouri doesn't compare to sushi on the East Coast. 

Last weekend, my parents were in town, and we decided to visit Nippon Tei for dinner one night to see if it was worth the rave reviews. It was my first time eating there, and I was determined to find sushi in St. Louis that could meet or exceed my expectations. My parents and I were especially excited for this meal because the head chef of the restaurant previously worked at our favorite restaurant in Austin, Texas called Uchiko


The restaurant embodied the increasingly popular interior esthetics of cleanliness and simplicity. The back wall featured exposed wood paneling, giving the room comfortable, living room vibes while the sleek artwork and hints of color contributed to the modern feel of the restaurant.

The menu was minimalist. It is void of capital letters and only contains ingredients in the descriptions of the dishes. Though the lack of information regarding preparation was frustrating at first, the staff was more than happy to help answer any questions regarding the food. 

Hamachi crudo

Addison Liang

The food was notably a step above the St. Louis sushi standard. While it wasn't as fresh as some of the options from New York City and the rest of the East Coast, it was delicious nonetheless.

We started off with the hamachi crudo, which is strikingly similar to Nobu Las Vegas' signature dish. Both plates feature hamachi, orange segments, jalapeño, and a soy-based sauce. The hamachi at Nippon Tei was tender and light, the orange fragrant and sweet, and the soy ponzu was refreshingly citrusy. The jalapeño brightened the dish by adding a bit of a kick at the end. The similarities I drew between Nippon Tei and Nobu's hamachi were drawn for good reason; the flavors of each ingredient radiated freshness and contributed to a truly delicious dish.

Tuna tartare

Addison Liang

We then tried the tuna tartare. The ruby red tuna, which was paired with green shiso aioli and sesame prawn crackers, was as appealing to the eye as it was to the palate. The tuna was so flavorful, and the aioli added to the smooth texture of the fish. Thai chilis complicated the flavors, and lightly candied cashews added textural depth and a hint of sweetness.


Addison Liang

The next dish was an avant-garde take on the traditional unagi maki, or eel hand roll. The savory barbeque eel was contrasted with a cool, creamy garlic miso sauce inside, and blanched asparagus added an earthiness that balanced out each bite. The inside of the roll also featured tempura shrimp, which brought the experience to a new level by providing an additional texture and salty element. I almost always put soy sauce on sushi rolls since they often lack dimension, but this roll was truly perfect and needed nothing added.

Sweet potato tempura

Addison Liang

The last dish we tried was a sweet potato tempura. Upon ordering, I expected this plate to arrive first because tempura is usually served as an appetizer, but the staff understandably saved this dish for last. The dish was a playful take on the typical marshmallow-topped-sweet-potato-casserole served during the holidays. The sweet potato was beautifully battered and fried with a crisp, light tempura coating. It was dusted with toasted pistachios that added a salty nuttiness to balance out the natural sweetness of the potatoes, and it was served with brûléed marshmallow cream on the side. Overall, the dish provided a delicious, light ending to a memorable meal.  

My experience

The staff at Nippon Tei was friendly and receptive. When ordering, the waitress answered all questions thoughtfully and provided strong guidance as to which dishes she liked the best and which plates paired well with each other. After ordering, the first two dishes were quick to come out, but the maki was brought to the table half an hour after we finished the hamachi and tuna. The restaurant was obviously crowded, though, with tables always full and a crowd of people standing at the door, so the delay can most likely be attributed to the volume of diners. 

Despite ordering items in an eclectic manner, our dining experience was carefully thought out. Plates were brought in a logical order, starting with the lightest dishes, progressing to heavier bites and concluding with the sweeter tempura.

Although the fish was better than typical St. Louis sushi, it still fell short of my East Coast expectations. However, based on my sushi experiences in St. Louis thus far, it's a leap above average and was a great dining experience. The menu was on the more expensive side, though, and the tapas-style menu encourages sharing multiple plates, meaning this probably isn't the best weekend sushi restaurant for college students on a budget. But, the relatively upscale interior and high-quality service make it a fantastic option for when your parents are in town and are looking to take you to dinner.