Any restaurant that approaches 50 years in Atlanta deserves the “legend” label. Nakato is anchored on Cheshire Bridge Road, which has had its mysteries. On the one side, easy access to I-85, gentrification, a stone’s throw from established Ansley Mall and new mid-rises, “moms and pops.” The north end is rippled with strip clubs akin to a red-light district.
For destination dining, family owned Nakato delights with a very complex, layered and satisfying menu upholding Japanese traditions of artful design and fresh seafood.
Founded in 1972 by Tetsuko Nakato, the restaurant is now run by granddaughter Sachi Nakato Takahara who continues the tradition of Omotenashi, “service from the bottom of the heart with honesty and no pretense.” In terms of the neighborhood and Nakato’s participation in local Jewish events, she said, “In the 1960s, Morningside and Briarcliff were highly populated with Jews. My roommate in Boston was Jewish and was a part of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and got us involved. We saw quite a bit of film festival attendees, especially when they were held at the Tara just down the street. Then we have regulars that come in from Dallas, Ga., Stone Mountain, Woodstock and even further.”
In terms of the pandemic, Nakato has implemented new safety protocols: taking guest’s temperatures, plexiglass dividers within each Hibachi table, separating tables in the Garden Dining Room, and adding a “grey zone” in between the dining room and kitchen to avoid any contact between the two. There were months that they were only open for to-go orders and did several out-of-the-box concepts such as Zoom Dinner Parties.
Currently they are back up to 80 percent of staff at 50 employees. The night we picked up on Sunday, there was a bustle of cars on the lower level getting orders as well as the interior guests.
Sachi said, “Our guests love knowing that we fly all of our fish in from Japan whole and our sushi chefs break them down in-house to create the freshest sushi!
They actually check our social media pages (@nakatorestaurant) for that. As for our rolls, our Illuminati and Kiss of Death rolls are incredibly popular as is our classic Spicy Tuna Roll. Our Gindera (miso marinated black cod), and Sizzling Hot Pots are long-time classic Japanese favorites. “
What we experienced:
The sushi at Nakato drives home that there is a notable difference in art and quality, packed in layers, colors and flavors.
Samurai ($20): Inside – yellow tail, chives, avocado, outside – salmon spicy tuna, micro greens tempura flakes. A celebration in itself.
Kiss of Death ($16): Inside is tuna, masago, caviar, sriracha, scallions, sesame oil., outside — spicy tempura flakes. Brings to mind the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the “The Thomas Crown Affair:” “like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel.”
Tuna Tar Tar ($20): cubed tuna “round” with chives, fried onions, avocado and sesame oil topped with mango.
Sake Harami: Salmon belly – as clean as it gets, melt in your mouth.
Nasu Dengaku ($8): Grilled eggplant rounds in sweet rich miso.
Japanese mushrooms ($11): Sautéed with spinach soy sauce and butter.
Agedashi Tofu ($8): two silken slices in very light batter, simple is best here.
Steam Grilled Sea Bass ($20): in kobu seaweed broth.
Gindara ($20): Miso marinated grilled black cod.
What to order next time:
Soba bowl: choice of buckwheat or green tea noodles with grated yam.
Kanpachi Carpaccio: thinly sliced amberjack with Japanese olive dressing.
Illuminati Roll: Inside – yellow tail and salmon, outside – spicy tuna, avocado, kaiware sprouts and sesame seeds.
Spinach Goma: boiled spinach chilled in sesame dressing.
Or consider sitting at the Hibachi Teppanyaki: An abundance of food for $18, amuse (accent over the e) soup, salad, grilled tofu and vegetables, rice (or choice of protein with price variation).
Desserts like Manhattan cheesecake might be good and gooey, but might as well go all the way with the experience and opt for Sasamochi, green tea rice cake with sweet red bean filling in a warmed bamboo leaf.
Nakato is tried and true, deserving of its popularity and authenticity over decades.