Chirashi is what I ate the first time I ever went to a Japanese restaurant, which, like most memories that old, may not even be true. But three decades later, the artful compositions of fresh sashimi arrayed on top of sushi rice are still what my dad and I order when we go to a sushi restaurant together, and these days, ordering takeout chirashi has cemented everything I love about it. There’s the simple beauty of it, the clarity, the comfort, but also the thrill — never knowing exactly what you’ll get. Life is not like a box of chocolates for me, it’s a bowl of chirashi. If there’s a piece I don’t like, it will be gone in a few bites; if there’s a piece I do like, that joy, too, will eventually fade. Nothing lasts, and this pandemic, too, shall pass.
It’s also very practical: I am not going to assemble a variety of fish in my home kitchen, and it travels marvelously well unlike some other takeout options. Just one note: chirashi is at its best within an hour of assembly, when the fish is still cool and fresh and the rice at just about room temperature. All is fleeting, remember?
Here are some of my favorite spots for takeout chirashi:
The artful chirashi
At $35 for a regular chirashi and $55 for omakase, Hihimanu is on the higher end of takeout chirashi. But the careful precision shows, from the scored akagai (surf clam) to the lightly marinated lean maguro to the hirame dabbed with grated daikon to even the clipped shrimp tail. When Hihimanu’s dining room was closed, its chefs continued to beautifully arrange their fish in the chilled glass seafood boxes along the sushi counter, even if there was no one to see it except themselves (and the occasional nosy takeout customer — hi!).
The budget chirashi
The arrangement is simple: tuna, hamachi, salmon, tako and tamago, always impeccably fresh, and all for $12.27 for a regular order, $17.27 for deluxe. Of course, you can always add extras, and it’s hard not to, like poke — Maguro Brothers uses some of the freshest tuna around for its poke — and ask about any special fish of the day to supplement your slices
Multiple locations in Chinatown and Waikīkī • @magurobrothershawaii
The maximalist chirashi
Sushi Sho’s bara chirashi (instead of slices, seafood is diced and scattered over sushi rice) usually requires an advance day’s notice — it is perhaps the most labor intensive chirashi on this list, and at $30 it’s very popular. After all, prior to the pandemic, the only way to taste Sushi Sho was to shell out for its $300 omakase (one of the most thrilling anywhere in the country) or grab a maki bento from the downstairs Dean & DeLuca. Sushi Sho manages to capture some of the excitement of dining at its sushi bar with its chirashi, which shows off a variety of cooking techniques, from marinated mackerel to seared maguro to fried salmon skin, alongside varying textures supplied by creamy uni, bouncy and crunchy herring roe and hamachi poke threaded with limu. And there’s so much more, each bite a delightful surprise.
Izakaya Torae Torae
The adventurous chirashi
You could order as I did for my first takeout from Izakaya Torae Torae and get a very basic (and good) chirashi for $19.95, but that’s not why you come here (my bad). Expand your chirashi horizons with the kaisen don ($25), which throws on some fried shrimp heads and ankimo, the foie of the sea, while the Gluttony Bowl ($28) adds on otoro and uni, topped with yamaimo and a slow-cooked egg. I’m not cool enough to join the natto camp, but I love that Torae Torae one-ups a maguro natto don ($13.95) with the “bring it” Stamina Don ($14.95) — maguro alongside slippery squid, grated gooey mountain potato, a raw quail egg, plus a slime-fest of natto and okra.
1111 McCully St. • McCully • 949-5959 @hideyoshi808
The super-sized chirashi
I enjoy Sushi ii’s chirashi for dine-in, but it took me a while to order it for takeout, given its $42 price tag. And I can’t say I was impressed when I was handed two large, hefty Styrofoam containers — especially when I opened them and saw the rather bizarre plating, essentially a sashimi platter shoehorned into a plate lunch box. While chirashi’s artfulness is diminished, Sushi ii’s generous slabs of fish, plus succulent amaebi, crunchy sweet baby abalone and more make for the first chirashi I couldn’t finish in one sitting. Thanks to the separation of rice and fish, Sushi ii is the only chirashi that holds up well past an hour.
655 Keeaumoku St. #109 • Ala Moana • 942-5350 • @sushi.ii.hawaii
The steadfast chirashi
The Mitch’s takeout experience is somehow pretty close to the Mitch’s dine-in experience. We rolled up after surf, sans slippers even, were greeted warmly, and handed a chirashi ($28) of equal parts comfort (with the maguro, salmon and hamachi trifecta) and surprise in the form of snapper with its skin barely kissed with a flame and a buttery slice of otoro. Also, as the only restaurant on this list that’s open every day and with the most extensive hours, from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mitch’s is a no-brainer when chirashi cravings strike.