Hashiguchi Jr.: Beyond sushi 

Around Lenox spot offers speedy, regional Japanese

Westerners tend to equate Japanese food with sushi, but there is infinitely more to the ancient cuisine than raw fish alone. Hashiguchi Jr. Japanese Restaurant (3400 Around Lenox Road, Suite C520, 404-841-9229) offers a diverse menu of soulful regional specialties that might just divert your attention from the kitschy rolls, tempura and edamame. Located in a strip mall near Phipps Plaza, Hashiguchi is unassuming inside and out, but service is superfast and you're bound to see plenty of Japanese-American customers — always a positive sign — crowding around the well-worn wooden tables.

Hashiguchi's lunchtime combos – most of them served with miso soup, gingery green salad and rice – are a surprisingly filling and affordable way to start exploring. The grilled salt mackerel ($8) has a nicely charred skin that gives way to a moist and flaky interior. Crunchy strips of breaded and fried pork cutlet ($8.25), served with a mound of thinly shredded cabbage, are made even more sinful when plunged into the thick and sweet Worcestershirelike sauce doctored with a little (or a lot of) spicy mustard.

At night, the restaurant resembles an Izakaya, or Japanese pub, serving foods designed for nibbling when drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Deep-fried tubes of dense, green-flecked fish cake ($4), served with a dollop of creamy Japanese mayonnaise, never fail to convert the squeamish. An incredible, silky pork broth envelops ramen noodles in the tonkotsu ramen bowl ($10), along with pickled ginger and a boiled egg. Grilled yakitori items ($4) – such as chewy flats of skewered pork or blackened baby green peppers covered in fish flakes that flutter from the rising steam – add a smoky contrast to the mix of dishes. Rice balls (a convenience store staple in Japan) come in many styles, but the pleasantly sour bite of the pickled plum encased in rice and toasted seaweed ($2) is the ideal accompaniment to a cold glass of sake.

The menu may appear overwhelming, but this is a place where perseverance and an adventurous spirit will pay off. Whatever you order, the flavors are sure to inspire you to set aside the sushi menu the next time that Japanese food craving hits.

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