Maybe it was the atmosphere, or the food, or the fact that it didn’t break the bank, but I think I fell in love with a Japanese restaurant. I ate authentic sushi in an authentic Japanese environment, and I can never eat Russell House sushi again.
Located less than 20 minutes off campus, I found a sushi place that filled all the boxes on my checklist. Inakaya Japanese Restaurant is located at 224 Oneil Court in Columbia. It’s open noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and Saturday and is closed on Sunday.
Pulling up to the restaurant, the location looks like a strip mall turned into a melting pot of everything from a karaoke bar to an office of some sort. I went in with five other people on a Saturday night with no reservation, and we were seated within a half hour. We requested traditional Japanese seating, and it may have been the best decision we ever made.
If you’ve never eaten sitting on the floor in an authentic Japanese restaurant, you do not know what you are missing. Not only is it a fun experience, you can learn about the culture, and it becomes almost like a challenge to eat the meal in an authentic way. Our waitress was nice enough to entertain us in our attempts to do so.
The atmosphere inside the restaurant is wonderful. The staff is helpful and when we requested to sit in the traditional section, they obliged. We took off our shoes and sat with our legs crossed at a low-resting table in the corner of the restaurant. The menu was a little confusing because some of it wasn’t in English, but it made the whole experience a little bit more authentic — which made it better, too. In addition, we were handed chopsticks, not forks, so the authentic vibe continued even more so. They do offer kiddie chopsticks for those not as coordinated.
I ordered two different types of sushi rolls: the Pink Lady and the Red Dragon. There were so many options that I just picked two names that were cute, and I was definitely not disappointed. Both orders were only around $15, and the quality was unbelievably fresh and tasty. Abby Sauls, a first-year international studies and global studies student, was sitting with me and ordered the Caterpillar Roll, and to her delight, the roll came out looking like an actual caterpillar. There are other options besides sushi; the teriyaki chicken plate was phenomenal, and they also offer chef specials each night.
Our group of six people ordered full entrees, and we received our food in less than 30 minutes. It was cheaper than a lot of the sushi places closer to campus, and it was definitely an all-around great experience. It’s intimate and fancy enough for a date, but you can also sit with your friends at the sushi bar or go the traditional route like I did. I will definitely be going back, and I have no complaints about this famously hot and hidden sushi restaurant.