Isao Bangkok Sushi

By Brian Spencer

Sizing us up with a friendly smile, the head chef leaned over Isao’s sushi counter and politely insinuated that we disgusted her.

“Excuse me, but you still have the smoky salmon roll and crunchy roll on your order,” she said. “Do you still want them? Because you already have had so much sushi!”

There was nothing contemptuous about it, of course; I’m fabricating her disgust. (I hope.) No, it was the chef’s innate Thai sweetness and her concern for our increasingly bulbous potbellies that spoke to us, at which point we were a bottle of sake, four beers, and six fatty fusion maki rolls into a feast at what many are calling one of Bangkok’s best sushi joints. It was kind of her to note that we’d already stuffed ourselves silly when she could have just quietly finished off the job, so we relented and declined the last two rolls.

Okay, we only canceled one of them, and to be completely honest, we’d also shared an appetizer. Sigh–my wife didn’t eat any of it. That was all me. Yes, it was willful, remorseless gluttony, but it was worth it, and the damage could have been worse, after all, if not for the caring chef.

Sake Bucket at Isao Bangkok

Bucket o’ sake at Isao

Located down a busy soi just off Sukhumvit, a short walk from the Phrom Phong BTS Skytrain station, Isao is housed within an unassuming bi-level shophouse with a handful of contemporary art pieces hung on walls largely covered in bamboo. There’s really nothing remarkable about its clean, minimalist design, which appropriately allows the focus to remain on the food.

Related: 5 Bangkok Sushi Restaurants for 5 Occasions

You’ll find a standard assortment of sushi, sashimi, and maki on Isao’s menu, but we zeroed in on the signature fusion rolls, ones which based on ingredients and somewhat fanciful names alone bore more than a passing resemblance to those served at In the Mood for Love, long my go-to choice for a sushi splurge.  We weren’t disappointed.

Sushi Sandwich at Isao Bangkok

Isao’s sushi sandwich

The pleasurable sushi sandwich, made with a mixture of rice, light mayo, spring onions, and minced salmon and tuna stuffed between delicate hunks of lightly fried tempura, provided a wonderful contrast of tastes, textures, and temperatures.  Isao’s California, rolled in sesame seeds and packed with creamy avocado and generous amount of fresh snow crab meat, was another standout, as was the spicy salmon. Of the seven rolls my wife and I shared, the smoked salmon was our least favorite; liked the smoky flavor, but not so much the chunky cuts of fish. That”s a minor complaint, however, about an otherwise special meal with attentive service to boot.

Bonus: Isao is reasonably affordable, too, with our bill for a bottle of sake, four beers, and seven big rolls totaling about US$80 with tax. Feast at will–just don’t be surprised when the chef intervenes if your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

Isao is located at 5 Sukhumvit Soi 31, 02-258-0645. Open daily from 11am – 2:30pm and 5:30pm – 10pm.

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Brian Spencer

Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance writer. He has written for BBC Travel, CNN Travel, DestinAsian, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet, and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among other publications.