photo by Robert Menzer

If you like your meal at Ushiwakamaru, buy sushi master Hideo Kuribara a pint — he’ll toast you from his post behind the bar. This wood-paneled spot a few steps down from the scream of street-level traffic on Houston Street opened in 2003, when the vibrant neighborhood’s need for elevated but accessible Japanese fare coaxed Kuribara to this downtown address from his Cliffside Park location in New Jersey. More than 10 years later, the restaurant fills with daters and regulars, who huddle up for top-notch fish at below-market prices. At the sushi counter, 12 diners hold front-row seats for the night’s omakase show, where five chefs, including Kuribara, prepare a raft of sashimi and sushi offerings: Lush pats of salmon and baby yellowtail give way to silver strips of needlefish and aromatically charged kelp-cured fluke. If you have the wherewithal to look beyond the raw bar, a lobster claw peeking out of a soul-warming bowl of miso soup will demand immediate action; same goes for a scallop shell that houses a dashi-broth-bathed arrangement of scallops and enoki mushrooms. There’s no hushed pretense here, just a neighborhood-friendly, doors-open policy.