There are a few establishments you can expect to find near the base of any resort, like a rootsy old ski shop or neighborhood dive bar… and a world-class sushi restaurant? What's the deal with ski towns and sushi, anyway? Raw fish is everywhere. Many of these Japanese joints are hundreds of miles away from the sea, yet for some reason, it still feels so right to fill up on yellowfin tuna in the heart of a mountain town. Chalk up the trend to affluence or the high-altitude crazies, if you must. But count me in for rice wine and a dragon roll. The occasional sushi dinner nutritionally supplements a full-on ramen diet, at least. Here's a list of eight ski town sushi restaurants you can't miss.
1. Yamagoya: Fernie, BC (640 miles from the ocean's bounty)
Described as electric and fresh, the fare at Yamagoya is more fusion than traditional, though a simple sushi dinner is still a solid choice here. The restaurant's small space is always packed, but service is good—the owners created an atmosphere so welcoming that most servers have stuck around since day one. When finally you get your hands on a table, post up for a moment and enjoy some Sapporos or local beers. And stick around for the creative desserts, like the sticky pie with pecans and black bean ice cream.
2. Mamasake: Squaw Valley, CA (200 miles)
Shane McConkey once judged a sushi and exotic seafood eating contest on 4/20 at this spot in the Village at Squaw Valley. After the five-minute battle, which was attended by over 100 spectators, the champion took home a $75 Mamasake gift certificate, just in case he could ever stomach tentacles or spicy tuna hand rolls again. My guess is that he took a foxy ski bunny out on a date the next day, "my treat." My other guess is that he still didn't bother to shower. Raw at Squaw, baby.
3. 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar: Bend, OR (193 miles)
With the help of a recent population explosion, a fine Japanese dining option now thrives right next door to this old-school ski town's best pizza shop. Chef Joe Kim is a two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award, a recognition that "could be likened to getting an Oscar nomination," according to the Bend Bulletin. He serves up plates of sushi that look too pretty to eat and almost too dainty to satisfy after a day at Mount Bachelor Ski Resort, 30 minutes up the road. But reviewers obsess over how incredible the restaurant's fusion sushi is—and not just for a ski town.
4. Sushi Village: Whistler, BC (75 miles)
This restaurant was built by ski bums three decades ago, when, according to the restaurant's website, Whistler was "barely more than a random collection of chairlifts, cheap land, and a new concept pedestrian village built on an old garbage dump." The website continues, "But there was a vision." Yes, visions of mind-melting sake margaritas danced in the founders' heads. And so they went on to build a sushi empire right at the bottom of the Blackcomb Gondola.
5. Lil's Sushi Bar & Grill: Crested Butte, CO (920 miles)
Though Lil's is the only sushi restaurant in Crested Butte, it's billed as a fusion of East and West and has a lot to offer, like Colorado lamb chops with roasted baby beets. It's hard to go wrong here, but try the slow-grilled robatayaki skewers. Robatayaki is a traditional barbeque-like cooking method invented by northern Japanese fishermen who prepared their eats over coals in a stone box, which contained the intense heat that would easily overwhelm the tight quarters of the fishing boats. The practice has transferred almost seamlessly across the world to the former coal mining town.
6. Cho Sun: Bethel, ME (100 miles)
With locations in downtown Bethel, "Maine’s most beautiful mountain village," and at Sunday River Ski Resort, Cho Sun is the sushi spot in Ski-ville, Maine. South Korean cuisine, the restaurant's focus, is so healthy and low in calories that "some people even claim that you can eat as much [of it] as you like and not gain weight," the website reads. Perhaps your stomach will welcome dinner here as a break from those chili bread bowls you've been scarfing. Chosunday karaoke night starts at 9 p.m every Sunday. K-Pop not required, but extra points for getting down Gangnam style.
7. Tona: Ogden, UT (720 miles)
Owner and Executive Chef Tony Chen is an Ogden native who left for San Francisco to pursue a career in architecture, only to return after picking up a side gig at a Japanese restaurant and discovering his true passion. He and his wife, Tina, opened their restaurant—which is dubbed with a combination of their names—in March of 2004. Tony's background in architecture contributes to carefully constructed dishes with balanced layers, and his dedication to locally sourced food has given him a reputation both for creativity and sustainability. Tona is famous for its Bacon Bubble Gum appetizer, a chewy rich cake swaddled in bacon.
8. Wasabi Sushi Bar: Whitefish, MT (530 miles)
Located on Second Street in downtown Whitefish, Wasabi has been a local staple for just over 16 years. An almond-scented hand cloth delivered at the beginning of the meal is their special touch, and snap peas, found in many rolls, are a signature ingredient. Try the Black Widow or the Going-to-the-Sun Salmon, a roll named after the historic path through Glacier National Park, and is made with sockeye salmon, mango, and lemon dill aioli.