Anyone doing research on Edomae-zushi is bound to come across Yoshino Sushi Honten at some point. The place is legendary! The restaurant was founded in 1879, and was the very first to serve toro nigiri, circa 1918. Story has it that a regular customer of Yoshino coined the name "toro" (which roughly translates to "melting" in Japanese) for the fatty maguro belly cuts that were served at the restaurant. Third generation chef / owner Masuo Yoshino was also well known for writing a number of books on sushi, including "Sushi: The Delicate Flavor of Japan", and excellent tome released in 1986. This shop has quite the pedigree.
I really wanted to squeeze a quick meal there on my trip, so, as any hardcore Sushi Geek™ would do, I opted to have a second lunch on Thursday after my visit to Iwa. The walk from Ginza to Nihonbashi, where Yoshino is located, took just over 20 minutes. It was the perfect amount of time to burn some calories before ingesting more delicious sushi.
Yoshino Sushi Honten is located in an older building (I'm guessing late 1960s?) in a nondescript part of Nihonbashi. The vibe inside the restaurant is distinctively middle class - it is not a fancy Ginza sushiya but rather a neighborhood sort of joint. I was the only non-Japanese customer, and everyone inside seemed to be grabbing a quick lunch before heading back to work. At lunch, this is not a place where you linger - a visit won't last more than 20 minutes or so.
Since I was already pretty full, I opted for the smallest (and cheapest) nigiri set: 8 pieces of nigiri + one hosomaki for a very affordable ¥2,200. The nigiri arrived pretty quickly, served on a wooden geta. Now, I typically don't like being served all nigiri pieces at once, but here I was fully expecting it, having ordered the cheapest nigiri set instead of omakase. The rice was served at body temperature, and was still at a good temperature by the end of the meal. And the sushi was delicious. The pieces were very large (definitely bigger than usual, and typical of the more "old school" Edo places) and the rice was well seasoned with akazu, a little sour, and with good balance.
The eight pieces consisted of karei, toro, akami, hirame, ikura, kuruma ebi, tamago, and anago. I found the quality of the neta to be surprisingly high, considering the very low price. My favorites were the karei, toro, the juicy kuruma ebi, and the anago, which was brushed with a delicious tsume.
A three piece hosomaki arrived a few minutes later. It was quite nice as well.
I was extremely surprised by the high level of quality Yoshino is able to deliver at such low prices. The food is so much better than most other sushi options at that price point, including chains like Sushi Zanmai, Umegaoka Sushi No Midori, and the like.
Pricing goes up quite a bit for dinner (when the pace becomes more leisurely, and the prices go up to the ¥8,000 to ¥10,000 per person range), but anyone looking for cheap, great tasting sushi should put lunch at Yoshino Sushi Honten high on their list. Add the historical significance of this shop, and there's no reason for sushi fans not to visit.
Note that very little, if any English is spoken. I found the chefs and staff, however, to be very friendly and accommodating - if you know how to behave in a sushiya you'll do fine here, even without speaking Japanese. Reservations are recommended for dinner, but walk-ins are fine at lunch.
Yoshino Sushi Honten 3-8-11 Nihonbashi Chuo Tokyo Tel: 03-3274-3001 http://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1302/A130202/13000511/