Sky Full of Bacon

#9: Umaiya-t like it!

I haven’t had a favorite cheap sushi place for a while. I guess I always have Tampopo, but looking for some place that’s a little closer and, sushi being sushi, hipper, I had enjoyed T-Spot Sushi on Lincoln near Irving on a couple of visits, but then experienced one of my most expensively disastrous meals of last year:

G Wiv, Stevez and I had the Pluto Nash of lunches at T-Spot. Not the most expensive disaster any of us had faced— since all three of us were at the infamous Devon Seafood Grill dinner, to name one, it couldn’t be— but in terms of sheer money burned, $79 before tip, for absolute nothingness returned, this really could be the all-time, Matthew Modine as a whimsical pirate, Matthew McConnaughy as an Indiana Jones type, Eddie Murphy in space champ.

Read each of our takes at the link above; very different ways of saying it, but an unmistakable common message of suckage. This was so disastrous, in fact, that it pretty much put me off modest-priced sushi (I really don’t believe in cheap sushi) for a while.

Cafe Umaiya is a spartan but cozy little place in the block that includes hot new Mixteco Grill, hot semi-new Angel Food Bakery, a place where I took a Betamax player to get it repaired, a place where Tom Hanks sends his antique typewriters to be repaired, and the usual assortment of Mexican groceries and Pilates or Curves spots. It’s run by Thais, but covers the usual pan-Asian repertoire from pad Thai to salmon skin rolls. My guess was that the Thai-type dishes would be better than tarted-up sushi rolls with too much sweetness and mayo to them. I wasn’t exactly right, but I wasn’t far wrong, either— the sushi rolls did tend to be tarted up that way, but on the whole, purely Japanese things scored quite a bit better than Thai-leaning dishes.

Tako-Su, octopus seaweed salad, was delightfully fresh and simple.

Singapore noodles, alas, were a rather wan rendition, with the taste of canned curry powder and overcooked vegetables. The late Hi Ricky did better.

The Winter roll, white tuna and herbs topped with tomiko, was fresh and clean-tasting, one of the better rolls I’ve had.

The Thailand roll would probably please a lot of people who like gloppy mayo-y rolls with a sweet flavor (it’s rolled in toasted coconut). One bite was probably enough for me, but at least on its own terms, it seems reasonably well thought out and not overdone as more “creative” rolls so often are.

Service was very friendly, as it nearly always is in Thai places, and the price of about $40 with tip for all of the above was extremely reasonable. Cafe Umaiya isn’t a sushi mecca but I’d say it’s a pretty good and reasonable neighborhood spot— or alternative to Mixteco on a night when the line’s going out the door.

Cafe Umaiya
1605 W. Montrose Ave.
Chicago, IL 60613

(What’s the number in the title? This is #9 in my quest to visit 50 restaurants that haven’t been talked about on LTHForum and are generally little known in the Chicago food community/press. To find more, click on “Restaurant Reviews” in the right-hand bar.)

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