Courtesy YELP

Miami’s Charming “Dive Bar of Sushi” is Worth The Wait

Katana is a serious sushi lover’s guilty pleasure, even if it may mean waiting in line.

If you’re reading this as part of the “Underground Miami” section and have already visited Katana, then you know that for locals, Katana is too well-known to be considered underground. Instead, it’s underground in the way Wynwood’s Wood Tavern and Coyo Taco once were several years ago before tourists heard about Wynwood- all the locals have been there, but most visitors haven’t gotten a whiff of the place.

However, Katana still retains all the elements of a good underground eatery: it’s located in a nondescript strip mall on oft-forgotten Normandy Isle (an island near Bal Harbor and Miami Beach), its seating space is small, there’s always a long wait to be seated, and there is no absolutely no room for expansion; literally every area that cannot be occupied by a seat or table is usually occupied by a standing-room-only guest. In addition, there are no signs or marks outside to let passersby know that the place exists; just some ragged-looking sunbleached Japanese lanterns hanging in the window.

A Kitschy Experience Worth Waiting For. Photo Courtesy Yelp.

As for the food, the sushi inside is more or less what one would expect from any sushi bar in the USA. Here you won’t find a menu dominated by the glitzy Americanized “specialty” rolls that you might find at other popular local places such as RA Sushi and Sushi Sake, but a wide range of more standard no-frills creations, all prepared fresh and at a decent price, considering the restaurant’s proximity to Miami Beach.

To boot, you won’t find any lunch menu or delivery options here because this place is only open for dinner, and reservations are never, ever accepted.

So all this begs the natural question: why do people go through all the effort to eat here, often waiting an hour or more? Quite simply, Katana is the dive bar of sushi bars, and it’s a really cool place to eat.

Miami’s Best Kaiten Sushi Experience

Katana’s appeal is that it’s a mobile sushi bar (known sometimes as a “sushi train” or “sushi-go-round”). Traditionally speaking, most mobile sushi bars share the same concept- plates of sushi pass in front of the customer on a conveyor belt, and customers pick the plate they want. This concept is called kaiten-sushi in Japan, which translates literally to “sushi rotation”
(and hence the name “Katana”). My personal experience from other mobile sushi bars is that the conveyor belt idea is an efficient way of getting food to people, but if you wish to enjoy it as a serious or relaxing dining experience, it can leave you feeling like you’re simply shoving food into your mouth that’s just rolled off a machine. Indeed, many mobile sushi bars are designed for people who need to eat and run, instead of waiting for a chef to prepare a meal.

Sushi Fresh off the Boat

Katana takes the Kaiten concept a few steps further, and creates a substantially more pleasant dining experience than eating food that’s just exited an industrial appliance. Instead of a conveyor belt, customers sit at a long wooden bar that features a slow-moving river where wooden boats float by peacefully. Each boat contains a color-coded plate with some type of sushi on it, and the price for each plate is listed on a sign on the wall. If you see a dish you like, you take it off its boat, then pay according to the amount of plates on your table. If you don’t see something you like in rotation, you can also order sushi, sake, soups, and other dishes à la carte from the restaurant’s menu, and the chefs are usually quite expedient in preparing it for you.

Pro tip: If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?) eat a couple of cheap plates (i.e. California Rolls) or order some soup first before trying the more expensive plates.

-basically me and everyone else with student loans, via Yelp

Because of the success of Katana, other Japanese restaurants in South Florida have appeared that also offer the kaizen/boat sushi experience. However, there’s something about the dive bar-style charm of Katana that keeps people coming back. Some might say it’s the pleasant staff, or the fact that the sushi is always fresh. Students of Japanese philosophy might say that there is a certain significance to food arriving on a peaceful river. But in my opinion, when the dining experience is memorable, there’s something about waiting in line for an hour that makes you appreciate the experience even more; a bit of culinary Stockholm syndrome, perhaps.

For Serious Sushi Lovers Only:

If you’re a serious sushi lover- like you have a poster of Jiro Ono on your wall-type serious- I’ll have a word with you about this place. If you want a more serious, world-class, omokase (chef’s selection) sushi experience while you’re in Miami, go check out the sushi sitting at Naoe in Brickell Key (~$250/ plate), where it’s reservation-only, and for some reason, the fish is flown in daily from Japan. But, if you want a place where real people enjoy quality sushi in a way that’s different than your run-of-the-mill sushi bar, this is a great guilty pleasure.

The Facts: Katana is open for dinner at 6 PM every night. There are no reservations, so arrive around 5:30-5:45 PM if you wish to ensure a shorter wait. Two people can easily eat and drink their fill here for $50 or less, and it makes for a great casual date night spot. As for dress code, most people who eat here are dressed casually.

Paid public parking is available on the street outside or in the parking lot behind the restaurant.

Katana is located at 920 71 st, Miami Beach, FL 33141. Remember, don’t expect any type of sign to let you know it’s there; it’s located in a storefront with some faded Japanese-style lanterns in the window.

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