Fresh, cheap, all-you-can-eat sushi right around the corner from Tufts might seem like a mere pipe dream to hungry Jumbos. But at Nijiya Sushi in Medford Square, the fantasy is all too real. There’s no catch — no lines, no buffet, no imitation rolls skimping on all the best ingredients. There’s just good sushi, and a whole lot of it.
Here’s how Nijiya works: Customers sit down, get cozy and peruse two typical check-off menus. One consists of all the usual sushi staples, from spicy tuna to dragon rolls. The other offers a comprehensive sampling of soups, salads, dumplings and tempura appetizers. For an absurdly inexpensive blanket price ($13.99 for lunch, $21.99 for dinner, including desserts and specialty rolls for the latter), each person fills in boxes to their heart’s content.
From there, it truly is the raw-fish feeding frenzy of your fantasies. Servers swoop to and fro like well-oiled machinery, delivering stacked piles of maki, nigiri and hand-rolled perfection. Those of us used to the passable but ultimately frozen (and often questionable) sushi served at Hodgon and Hotung will arrive as skeptics and leave as believers. Nijiya proves that high-quality sushi can be quick, easy and uber-accessible to students.
Such a specialized (albeit gimmicky) dining experience demands some serious prior planning. If your party is anything like ours – and massive platters of sushi certainly work best in large groups – you’ll essentially forgo food for the rest of the day to lock down stomach space. Then, upon arrival, you’ll go crazy drooling all over the order list, scribbling dozens of tallies in a passionate whirl of anticipation. So many possibilities! Five of everything! It’s too good to be true!
Well, slow down sushi lover, it kind of is. Nijiya’s one rule is that patrons will be charged double for any leftovers. Financially, it makes total sense that conniving 20-somethings must leave their Tupperware and smuggling expertise at the door. Still, you better be sure you’re literally ordering all-you-can-eat and not a single roll over.
This turns the entire Nijiya Experience into a sort of competitive strategy game. Customers must calculate the best way to work the system and get the most bang for their buck. Upon noticing this rule in fine print at the bottom of the menu, we quickly sliced our order in half and reworked our tactic. There were whispers among our group of lining pockets with ZipLocs and taking well-timed digestion breaks. Luckily, the restaurant allows and encourages you to order as you go. Not that that stopped us from vacuum-sucking the sushi up like Hungry Hungry Hippos once it arrived.
As one might imagine, the vibe of Nijiya is anything but zen. Upbeat, staccato-laden jazz pulses through the loudspeakers in one large, brightly-lit room. The walls are the same aggressively blue and orange shades as a Miami Dolphins uniform. And there were conspiracy theorists among us: Why did they throw in this free, froofy Valentine’s Day special (a scrumptious salmon maki) to our group’s order? Are they trying to fill us up because they know how much food we ordered? Are they judging us?
No, apparently the servers are just incredibly generous. Our waiter was patient and pleasant, which is saying something considering the number of vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free customers at our table (five). Our server brought the food within minutes of us filling out orders, presenting the sushi in a gorgeous display of drizzled sauce and shiso leaves.
Everything is prepared to order. What most of the rolls lack in originality – the lunchtime options are pretty basic – they make up for in freshness and value. The fish-to-rice ratio was on point, and the sheer number of options was overwhelming. We dug into a head-spinning variety of rolls and appetizers: tofu skin, vegetable tempura, octopus, futo, gyoza and miso soups all around. Sure, some of it was simply flash-fried, and you could find more impressive arrangements at a higher-end establishment. But, again, we’re ravenous college students with a free food complex. Save the more high-end cuisine for Parents’ Weekend.
All in all, you get more than your money’s worth at Nijiya. Friendly service? Check. Delicious food? Check. Affordable tab? Double-check, as customers amusedly scan their end-of-meal bill to see a long string of zeroes. It might not be the most inventive or flavorful option the Boston sushi scene has to offer, but for students battling cravings on a budget, Nijiya is an all-you-can-eat castle on a cloud.
Nijiya Sushi is located at 9 High St., Medford, MA 02155. Reservations are required for parties of six or more. Reservations can be made by phone 1 (781) 874-2630. Nijiya Sushi is open Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m., Sunday noon-10:00 p.m.