As a hungry grad student on a tight budget, I’m always on the lookout for cheap but delicious eats. Most of the time that means burgers, beefs and hot dogs - and while there isn’t anything wrong with them - every now and then a girl just needs a meal that actually requires utensils. In this case, I found it at Nori. Chopsticks, anyone?
While I usually don’t associate sushi with budget-friendly, this small but cozy Lincoln Park BYOB did not disappoint. Located directly next to the Diversey stop on the Brown Line and two doors down from a liquor store in case you forget your sake, Nori is perhaps best known among the young and hungry crowd for its daily half-off maki special offered before 6 p.m. (all-day Monday). I expected a limited variety of rolls included in that sounds-too-good-to-be-true deal; so imagine my delight when I saw more than 20 kinds of maki to choose from on the menu. Among the usual California and Philly rolls, were also inventive maki featuring unagi (eel), scallop and escolar (super white tuna).
With an extensive variety of hot and cold appetizers to choose from, my friend, and fellow sushi-loving classmate Laura and I chose to keep it simple and start off with the basics: edamame ($3.50) and miso soup ($2). A healthy portion of green edamame beans were served warm and seasoned with just enough sea-salt was followed by a steaming small bowl of miso - not too salty with generous amounts of tofu and seaweed - so far so good. On to the stars of the show.
Although there are plenty of hot items, including teriyaki and tempura options as well as a half-dozen bento boxes, keeping our goal in sight and budget in mind, we ordered four rolls off of the half-price special menu: sake maki (fresh salmon and avocado, $3), escolar jalapeno maki (super white tuna with jalapeno, $3), spicy octopus (octopus, scallion, masago mayo, chili sauce, $3.50), and the crunchy spicy tuna (chopped tuna, masago mayo, chili sauce, avocado and green onions with tempura crumbs, $4.50). At six to eight pieces per order, we knew it would be more than enough sushi to sate our appetites, but since we were saving so much, we decided to splurge a little and order one of Nori’s full-price signature maki - the fire dragon (tempura shrimp, avocado wrapped with tuna topped with spicy shrimp scallion and sweet sauce, $14).
Ok, we like it spicy, but even for the heat-adverse, these rolls provided just enough kick without swearing off wasabi forever. The fresh slice of jalapeno in the escolar roll provides just enough bite to balance the mellow flavor of the super white tuna. The tempura shrimp has a nice, light, crisp exterior, while the salmon had a clean, fresh taste. The octopus was served thinly-sliced and not at all chewy (which happens all too often); it’s perfectly accented with the mild scallion flavor, and was our hands-down favorite. At a total cost of $12.75 per person (not including the signature maki which we really didn’t need), we were pretty full, and thankfully, so were our wallets.