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Toraya - the hidden gem

I was warned by a friend not to "spread the word" on this place, but I can't help it. Out on Mass Ave. in Arlington, Toraya was a real find, excellent sushi and Japanese food, very "down home" feel. I'd put the quality of the sushi right up there with Oishii, though the menu tends to be a bit more straightforward: nothing with macadamia nuts on the menu at Toraya. The fish was very, very fresh, and the rice perfectly seasoned (which matters a lot in my book).

Started with the agedashi tofu which was *superb* -- four squares of fried tofu in a wonderfully savory broth topped with tiny mushrooms and grated daikon. I'd go back to Toraya just for this dish. Scallop sashimi was subtle and sweet. Went for various kinds of sushi: squid, toro, salmon, unagi, hamachi, etc. -- everything was great. No need for soy sauce or wasabi here. The only roll we tried was a spicy tuna and cucumber roll -- very nice, although the spicy mayo tends to overwhelm the fish, and with sushi this good it's not necessary.

For non-sushi eaters they have a number of entrees on the menu (tempura, tonkatsu, and the like); based on the agedashi tofu I'd say the kitchen can do as well as the sushi bar. They have a few beers and a nice selection of a dozen or so sakes. The only downside is that the interior is a little grubby -- not a place I'd want to go on a date for example. If they put some money into sprucing up the interior they would probably see lines forming each night ... for now it's nice to know there's a place where you can get great sushi without a wait. Just don't spread the word, OK?

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  1. I concur - it's my favorite place North of Cambridge to go for sushi. They do a nice fried lotus root appetizer with asparagus, I think, that is also great.

    1. Not only is the sushi good, it is incredibly consistently good -- my highest compliment for a restaurant. The kitchen also does a very nice job, as you note -- the agadashi tofu is a favorite of mine too, as is a miso-coated salmon wrapped in banana leaves. The last time I was there at the sushi bar I was chatting with a man who used to live in Japan and he said that this was the place in the Boston area which reminded him most of being in Japan.

      1. Thanks for the tip... I disagree with your friend's view. We all want places like this to succeed. Tell everyone. That way it will (hopefully) be there 5-10+ years from now.

        Too many off the beaten track tiny gems fade away for lack of enough business.

        Will definitely check it out.

        1. Toraya is my favorite local sushi place, although I am still trying to get out to Sushi Island. It does regular business with a loyal following and they are hardworking folks, so I don't think there is a risk of going out of business, but none of its fans here hold back on suggesting it. It doesn't get the Arlington Center foot traffic, though, which keeps it as"hidden gem"... although given the proximity to Blue Ribbon I am quite surprised Striper Guy has never been. The Armenian market next door has a surprising array of goods for its size (always worth a look in their chest freezer), although not as fresh as Arax.

          2 Replies
          1. re: itaunas

            Sushi Island, awesome place. Haven't been for a while, but I enjoyed every bite. The chefs prep is what you'd expect from a great sushi house.

            1. re: itaunas

              Hey Itaunas... if I head out that way it is only with pork products on my mind...

              Guess I might have to add sushi to the list.

            2. How does it compare to Oishii in Chestnut Hill, pricewise?

              1 Reply
              1. re: sheila

                Hmmm, cheaper, to be sure. We didn't ask but I'd be surprised if Toraya did a $100 per head omekase the way Oishii in CH does. IIRC the prices at Toraya are pretty standard sushi joint prices, not much different than, say, Bluefin.

              2. Thanks for the rec, snacker. Dad, hub, and I checked out this place today on the way to visit RCN. Agedashi was delicious -- loved it and haven't had it quite this way before. The little teeny mushrooms were a nice touch. I had the maki combo platter, which was good, but I really wanted spicy tuna so I should have just ordered it instead of going for the 'deal'. We also started with the pork gyoza, which were ok. Hub had the soba noodles -- "very good" he says. I really liked this place b/c it had such a mom and pop feel, with just 7 or so tables. I hope they do well and would visit again, although I too heard my name being called by the pulled pork up the street.

                1. Funny that everyone heads out here for the nearby Blue Ribbon, whereas I only head out here with sushi in mind. I'm happy just going to Redbones, which is more convenient and has all that lovely beer. But for sushi, in my opinion nothing in Cambridge/Somerville is good enough to save a trip to Toraya.

                  1. Went tonight and thought I'd add a little capsule review to the thread....

                    We had such a great meal tonight, and with the super friendly service, I don't really know why we don't go here more often. Now we will.

                    We started with a dish whose name I can't recall, but it consists of two nice sized pieces of salmon, broiled with a spicy/sweet bean sauce, stuffed with soft tofu, and wrapped in a leaf. The salmon was perfectly cooked: tender and moist on the inside, caramelized and crisped on the outside; the silkiness of the tofu added a lovely textural note. It's also a *great* dish to share with another person. Next we had the sashimi deluxe, which had not only a sassy selection of great fish, there were a couple of nice surprises as well. First, big points for not giving us shrimp or crabstick, which really seem like a waste of sushi/sashimi to me. Tonight's assortment of sashimi included one of the best scallops I've ever had (perfectly sweet and tasting lightly of the sea), as well as a mound of sea urchin, which was both briny and sweet. In the past I have really disliked sea urchin, but I wanted to try everything that had been given to us, so I gave it a shot. It was a lot better than any other sea urchin I've had, and I ate almost all of it myself. We also had a few pieces of tonight's special, fluke, which was lovely and buttery. My favorite item was a small cube of firm toro, with a thin sheet of nori wrapped perfectly around the outer edge of the cube. The texture/flavor contrast added a lot to what was already a great piece of fish. MrLit had a yellowtail roll that he declared delicious, and we also had an order of japanese pickles, which were excellent, and consisted of daikon, carrot, lotus, and something that closely resembles a traditional cucumber pickle, only much smaller and wrinklier. And I enjoyed them more than the same order of pickles at Momofuku in NYC. ;)

                    I love the people who work there -- so sunny and friendly. We dropped $50 for two -- not bad for a sushi meal when you walk out full and happy. We'll be back a lot more often in the near future.

                    1. Husband and I finally made it there last night, for the first time. Despite my high expectation, Toraya did not disappoint. Service was excellent.

                      We had 2 apps to start: Edamame (served cold) and pan-fried, lightly salted beef tongue (on the daily special board). The tongue was so flavorful, though a bit greasy.

                      We then ordered 1 sashimi entree and 1 sashimi deluxe. Husband & I love sashimi and we love to taste the fish, rather than some fancy-schmancy rolls with various sauce. All the fish tasted so fresh. The deluxe has giant clam, sea urchin. We weren't quite full after all this (we have hearty appetites), so we ordered another sashimi entree.

                      We used to live in Dallas, and we found the prices here are 30% lower than in Dallas. We were used to pay ~$120 (before tax/tips) for sushi & sashimi a la carte. Our bill last night was ~$90.

                      We'll definitely go back again, hopefully once a month!

                      1. Heading to Toraya tonight; very excited! Will be getting sushi. Any menu stand-outs or additions to the menu to suggest since the last post?

                        Toraya Restaurant
                        890 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: SaraASR

                          I haven't been in a couple months, but love it every time. I recommend the beef tongue appetizer (which has been on the "daily specials" board every time since I've started going there, and the ohitashi appetizer (spinach and sesame) is really special. Other than that, I would look to the specials board for what fish is freshest (unlike the cooked dishes on the specials board, the fish does change often).

                          1. re: lipoff

                            When Prav and I were there in September we looooved the beef tongue appetizer too. Soft shell crab tempura too.


                          2. re: SaraASR

                            I was there two weeks ago - lots of great stuff on the specials board, including the beef tongue and the soft shell crab. I'll also say that their chirashi is probably the best in Boston: interesting fishes, perfectly seasoned rice. Just an idea if you don't want sushi!

                            1. re: SaraASR

                              The scallop sashimi (from the specials board), when available, is always fabulous. Slightly sweet, melts in the mouth, the last slice, next to the lemon, is slightly different in flavor and texture.

                              They frequently have the egg custard soup whose name I can never remember - cooked in a steam bath, rich, tasty with layered goodness of ginko nuts, mushrooms, etc inside.

                              Last time I was there I had a baby squid in red miso appetizer that was also off the specials and really, really good.

                              1. re: SaraASR

                                Most definitely the Agedashi Tofu. In my opinion and experience, it is the best of form. It is served in a piping hot cast iron pot with the most rich broth, little enoki mushroom caps, and the proper accompaniments. I cannot recommend it enough. Sometimes one order is not enough for us when we go.

                                Otherwise they do a fine bento box, chirashi-sushi, and just excel at the basic freshness of sashimi.

                                1. re: marcreichman

                                  Yes, it is the best Agedashi Tofu I have ever had as well.

                              2. It is close enough that I eat there or have takeout pretty much every week - it is always pristinely fresh and carefully cut, if not the largest or fastest place in town (takeout orderw often require over an hour at peak times).

                                I had the (takeout) jewel box of chirashi (which included the amazing scallop noted - the salmon is also always among the best I have anywhere) and soft shell crab last night - awesome as always. My wife came home later from Fugakyu in Brookline pretty ill and highly disappointed in contrast (she blamed the soft shell crab there), but that's for a post elsewhere.

                                Other menu highlights at Toraya are the asparagus salad and the crunchy maki (the spicy tuna is just as fresh as it is in any other preparation). Tempura is always great as well, though the portions are pretty petite.

                                A final tip is to show up after 8p to seldom have a wait for a seat on weeknights.

                                Toraya Restaurant
                                890 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

                                1. Toraya is very good. He really should open in a larger space. I've seen the waitress refuse customers too often than not. The owner is from Kyoto, Japan. He has a brother who owns a soba restaurant there. You can see the photos of his restaurant on the wall by the sushi bar. The food is always good but the service (one waitress) depends on her mood.

                                  Toraya Restaurant
                                  890 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

                                  1. Robertif- yes, the female server was in quite a mood; not very nice at all. I haven't had such rude service in a long, long time.

                                    Initially I ordered the crunchy roll and unakyu roll. I was very surprised when my unakyu roll (eel and cucumber) wasn't served as an "inside out" roll. It was served with the seaweed on the outside and was very small (like a typical tekka maki). There was barely any eel on the inside. From what I could taste it was delicious, it's just that I've never had an eel roll like that... I've had sushi at at least 100 places.

                                    I ordered the negahama maki afterwards, which was also delicious. I left satisfied but not overly stuffed or gross feeling.

                                    My mom had the soba noodles and loved it.

                                    I think I need to go back and try their agedashi tofu and tempura- which looked AWESOME.

                                    Thanks, Chowhounds!

                                    1. I just noticed that I've replied to this thread 18 months earlier after our *first* visit to Toraya. Since then, we've been going to Toraya every 4-6 weeks regularly.

                                      We've tried most of the appetizers. While the beef tongue is good, I find it too greasy. We've had it a few times but I don't order it anymore due to the fat. I like the agedeshi tofu, their shumai and gyoza. Last night, we had their eel/cucumber appetizer which was delicious.

                                      We still order their sashimi deluxe. IME, it's best to go on a Saturday, as the sushi bar is stocked with more varieties. In the past, we've gone on weekdays (to avoid the crowd), but we've received unagi and surf clam in the deluxe order. But on Saturday nights, we usually get uni and lots of other fresh fish. I love the sea scallops sashimi with its sweet flavor.

                                      We sat at the sushi bar last night so we got to see the chef doing his magic. Just beware that if you order take-out, your fish is pre-sliced. I assume the chef cut the pieces in advance to save time during rush hour. For our sashimi, we watched him slicing the fish from big pieces.

                                      P.S. We've never experienced poor attitude or rude service from either one of the 2 waitresses. They are always very courteous to us. A few times we had to wait for 30+ minutes for a table and they were always very apologetic for our wait.

                                      1. I recently had the opportunity to try this place for lunch on two occasions after reading the very positive reviews on this and other boards. I have to saythat I was very impressed. First of all it is Japanese owned and operated and Toraya only serves traditional and authentic Japanese food. No Asian fusion of Chinese, Korean Thai or anything else. Having lived in Japan and traveled there for over 20 years Toraya reminded me of the countless little places in every city in Japan where you can get great food served in a pleasant environment with very nice service. I agree with the other posters that their Agedashi Tofu is excellent. The tofu is perfectly fried and the nameko mushrooms in the broth are a nice and flavorful touch. On my first first visit I also had the Unagi-Don which was very good too. I have tried the Chirashi and thought it was definitely a much better selection of fish than in most other Japanese places and I also ordered the Ankimo (Monkfish liver pate) that was a special of the day. This is now the season for this dish and it was very good and served in a nice ponzu sauce and seaweed. Toraya along with Sushi Island in Wakefield are now my two favorite Japanese places in the area. I love O-Ya too but the price puts it in the "special occasion" category.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: RoyRon

                                          Toraya and Sushi Island are my favorites around town too. Some people scoff at sushi in Wakefield and that's fine. More superb sushi for me.

                                          1. re: yumyum

                                            I was at Sushi Island on Sat night and had an excellent meal as usual. I am hooked on the Himachi-Kama (Shioyaki style) and also had some excellent Ankimo to go along with it. Finished up with a Natto temaki and a Negi Toro temaki both excellent as usual. I also enjoy the small jazz combo they have on Fri and Sat nights.

                                            1. re: RoyRon

                                              Hey RoyRon -- visited Sushi Island after some time away and I still like it. I was worried though, because it was empty on Saturday night. Could have been the snowstorm but I hope they are generally busier than that.

                                              The hamachi kama was yum and the ankimo too. Salmon skin app, just okay. The uni with quail egg was also okay -- not the freshest I've had. Toro nigiri was good but I'm kinda spoiled for good toro lately. Salmon sashimi was great, but that's one of my favorites anyway -- silky smooth and fatty on the tongue. Sardine and white tuna specials okay, not mind-blowing. We were hoping for fresh aji but that was sold out. Should have tried a cooked dish or a noodle.

                                              Tried several sakes from the list -- the Momokawa silver being very good. I wish knew something about sake, though. I never know what to order and just wing it. Luckily these guys have a good list and the one substitution that was necessary was good too.

                                              I posted my photos on flickr here --> http://www.flickr.com/photos/7284555@...

                                              I favor Toraya more at this point, but it's almost impossible to squeeze in there on a Saturday night. The atmosphere at Sushi Island was very relaxed and the staff was sweet even when I made multiple faux pas with my chopsticks. Sitting at the bar and watching the snow come down accompanied by the piano man and singer was nice too. I'll be back to the Island in the spring.

                                              1. re: yumyum

                                                Dear gawd...that scene sounds straight outta "Lost in Translation."

                                                1. re: digga

                                                  Thanks yum, the flickr photos were excellent. Of course, I went straight to the turkey first (WHAT!) and cracked up at the "just kidding" tag - nicely done. A couple of years ago we had a few Japanese friends living in Cambridge and Toraya was "their" spot. It's beginning to look like lunch at SI tomorrow, shop Ebisuya, and stop at KamMan on the way back to Cape Cod, if time. The comments on the board you linked me to were very good.