a visual guide to o-ku’s top 10 must-try dishes

written by the Offline team | photos by @raleighfoodpics

O-Ku 101

Alright Raleigh, it’s time to calmly step back and forgo the BOGO—one bite of O-Ku’s superior sushi and you’ll be forever ruined for that run-of-the-mill stuff. Sophisticated dishes, unexpected cocktails, stunning interior, and five-star service make this the ideal spot for any occasion—be it special nights out, a quick after-work nosh, or to hit up their stellar sushi happy hour (shoutout to their half-price sushi Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5-7p!).  

With a world-class chef at the helm, O-Ku serves up expertly-crafted Japanese dishes with just a light touch of homespun Raleigh flair. Their menu showcases ultra-fresh seafood with the majority of their ingredients coming directly from Tokyo and Hawaii’s finest fish markets. (Skip down to Pro Tips for the 411 on their monthly “mystery box” shipped straight from Japan). 

Their modern interior features bare branches, warm wood, and oversize lampshade chandeliers. There’s plenty of seating but we’ve always got our eye on one special section. Score a seat at the sushi bar to watch the chefs work their magic, artfully revealing rolls and grilling juicy meats over the traditional coal-fueled Robata grill (translation: fire-side cooking). If you’re looking for dinner and a show, it’s the best seat in the house, hands-down. 

O-Ku got its start in Charleston but don’t for a second start thinking of this place as a chain—our Raleigh spot’s got its own menu and entirely unique offerings that make all the other O-kus jealous. You’ll find some staples, so-popular-they-couldn’t-NOT-offer-them items on the menu (like the Sugar and Spice cocktail and Black Widow roll, which are must-haves), but the majority of the menu is as distinct as our city, making frequent use of local produce and seafood when possible. 

And now, without further adieu, let’s take a peek at what you’ll be eating…

What to order

The Most Popular Item on the Menu: Usuzukuri

A light and refreshing starter of freshly-sliced raw salmon dressed with sake, black volcanic salt, wasabi, and truffle ponzu.

The One Roll to Order if You’re a Sushi Newbie (Or Just Not Into Raw Fish): Potato Roll

One of O-Ku’s Signature Maki, this fully-cooked roll is filled with shrimp tempura, jicama, and mango. It’s rolled in shoestring potatoes, fried crisp and topped with a lightly-sweet soy glaze. 

What to Order If You’re Feeling Adventurous: Kurage (Jellyfish) Nigiri

Reminiscent of a chewier seaweed salad, Kurage (jellyfish) takes on the flavor of whatever it’s seasoned with (just like tofu). Briny and bright, this plate gives anyone who has had enough jellyfish stings a delicious chance to bite back!

The Best Thing to Order If Sushi Just Ain’t Your Thang: Rock Shrimp Dillon-Style

A chef-specialty, this dangerously addictive dish is a piping-hot bowl of freshly-fried, tempura-battered shrimp tossed in a sweet chili sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. Sushi, who? 

The Best Cocktail to Pair with Your Sushi: Path to Enlightenment

Made with gin, lemongrass, serrano peppers, citrus, blueberries, and cucumber—this refreshing drink’s got just enough kick to awaken your palate and stand up to your sushi. 

When You Want A Taste of Everything: O-Ku Nigiri

If you’ve just got to have it all, treat their nigiri menu like an itinerary and order ’em all for a colorful plate (or oar?) of O-ku’s finest raw fish offerings.

When You Want the Hottest Surf ‘n Turn in Town: Hamachi Kama and Hanger Steak from the Robata

Pair juicy Wagyu beef and hard-to-find Hamachi Kama (yellowtail collar) for a truly indulgent, smoky meal that’ll satisfy all your senses.

The Most Slurpable Dish on the Menu: Uni Udon

Picture perfectly chewy udon noodles, drenched in a rich, uni-infused umami sauce featuring lobster, scallops, asparagus, and shiitake mushrooms. Drooling yet? No shame, so are we.

When Your Want to Try a New Shape of Sushi: Black Magic 

Order the Black Magic off the Hakozushi (box sushi) menu for something a little different. Not only is it a different sushi-making method that essentially presses the ingredients together, but this roll is also jet-black thanks to its squid ink rice. Press some lobster, shrimp and other goodies on top and you’ve got a delectably dark and different bite.

The Best Way to End Your Meal on a Sweet Note: Sata Andaki

Hope you saved room for these fluffy Okinawan-style donut holes served with ginger sauce and miso caramel!

Pro Tips

  • Score half-price signature sushi every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5-7p.  
  • Each week, O-Ku gets sent an ultra ultra fresh “mystery box” of seafood from Japan, meaning their chef regularly gets to play Iron Chef, flexing his creative muscles to serve up innovative, one-day-only dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. 
  • Up to 85% of the menu is gluten-free, including the sauces and fry batter.
  • Feeling fancy? Opt for the Omakase, which literally translates to “I’ll leave it up to you.” It’s essentially a Japanese take on a chef’s tasting menu and (especially at a place like O-Ku) is worth the splurge. Typically, you’ll be served six dishes, starting with a raw app, followed by a sashimi course, something from the Robata, a hot dish, a nigiri item, and—of course—dessert. They also offer wine or sake pairings for each course. 
  • Want to sound like a Robata aficionado? Share these fun facts to impress your dinner companions: similar to American pit smoking, Robata is a traditional cooking style that originated in the Northern part of the island Hokkaido so that folks could eat on their boats while fishing. Fisherman would gather around the Robata for warmth and good eats (e.g. lots of grilled meats). The traditional fuel is Binchotan, petrified white oak charcoal that imparts a light, woody flavor. When it smokes proteins, the fat drips onto the charcoal and burns back into the food for added richness and flavor.