Hi Dense Joyous Modern readers! I am the new MALS and IDS graduate assistant, Josh Cook. When I moved from Los Angeles to Chicago for graduate school I didn’t look back. LA drove me crazy with the traffic, horrible hours at a corporate gig I couldn’t stand and everything being more expensive than the Midwest I grew up in. I mean eight bucks for a PBR? C’mon. There were just two things I missed about LA (not counting the weather). The first were my friends, obviously but the second was the sushi. Everything seemed so fresh there and living near Little Tokyo what had been a meal I enjoyed became a staple of my diet. I was hopeful I could find something similar in Chicago. It took a while, but I finally did.
Bear with me for a quick disclaimer; I’m not saying the other sushi places I went to here weren’t good but LA had turned me into a sushi snob. I often went with Hiroshi, a co-worker who was Japanese. His uncle was a sushi chef…in Japan. To quote many a failed relationships, it was me, not Chicago sushi…until recently.
Juno Sushi has a sleek, glass store front flanked by a realtor and chiropractor on the ground floor of an apartment building. The whole structure is next to fun bar, Racine Plumbing. In general the 2600 block of N. Lincoln Ave isn’t screaming out foodie nirvana, yet there you find Juno.
The front of Juno has a nice bar area, a good place to wait if your friend is running late. The beer menu is both limited and expensive. The Tokyo Black and the Wednesday Cat are two really good beers I have not seen elsewhere but at around $8, this can make your meal more expensive than it has to be.
A wall divides the bar and the dining area and once back to the seating area it is filled with light. There are sky lights and the walls are painted white. What could quickly turn into the decor of an operating room is made into a sleek, modern restaurant by utilizing accents of black. Once seated, the outstanding wait staff takes care of you. The first time I ate at Juno, the manager told us about their menu and explained what they were trying to do at Juno. I think she does this for anyone’s first visit.
Okay, enough of the fluff portion and let’s get down to the nitty gritty – how good is the food? Well, amazing doesn’t really do it justice. I call my mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing amazing. I would say Juno is Los Angeles-esque. It could be in the heart of Little Tokyo and still make a killing. My favorite piece anywhere is the Unagi (eel). This is one of the few sushi items served warm and has its own sauce. I know somewhere in So Cal Hiroshi is steaming right now because he told me eel isn’t very popular in Japan. Whatever. The Unagi at Juno melts in your mouth. It is also barely warm, which is a good thing. Sometimes I have had Unagi be so warm and rubbery that I’m convinced it has been quickly nuked.
Another highlight for me is Tako (Octopus). I have a love-hate relationship with Tako because it can quickly turn into a chewy fight. Even at my favorite LA places once in a while I would get some Octopus that just wasn’t that good. Thankfully Juno is two for two at bringing out the dish so it has the right mix of taste and texture without turning into the feeling of chomping some juicy fruit.
Being a sushi snob I have drifted away from rolls but I try to not be a complete jerk to friends so when less refined palates (i.e. my small-town Iowa dad) want some rolls, I’ll go with the flow. Juno breaks down their maki (rolls) into signatures and traditional. While technically not a roll, the Juno King and Juno Queen are similar to maki in their presentation. The King comes with spicy crab and tuna. I like getting it as an appetizer because it seems very modern and helps set the tone.
Last but certainly not least are the special smoked. The Hamachi is a fish and it comes with shiitake and sweet corn. It is brought out in on a plate with a glass dome filled with smoke, yet it is stone cold. The mix is unusual as you get the smokey taste with something very fresh but very cold. We asked the waiter the process and he said they keep everything a little above freezing and then when someone orders a smoked item they quickly smoke it in just a couple of minutes. Whatever mad scientist came up with it, the dish is unlike anything I have ever had.
Despite the food being so good and presented in an upscale way, the prices aren’t horrible. Last time I dined there it was $75 before tip for just two of us; however, we had about $25 worth of beer. We also failed to order any maki which comes with more pieces, instead we mixed and matched with their nigiri, the King Juno and the smoked items. I’m sure without alcohol and less experimental ordering, a meal at Juno can easily be under 50 bucks, which isn’t bad for a date night.
Juno Sushi, 2638 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
Walkable from both Diversey and Fullerton stations. Residential neighborhood on surrounding blocks so street parking possible (in theory). Takes reservations, takes all major credit cards.