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Nagomi Japanese Restaurant ups the game with inventive dishes and traditional hard-to-find favorites

Grilled mackerel is one menu choice at Nagomi Japanese Restaurant on Juan Tabo NE. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Grilled mackerel is one menu choice at Nagomi Japanese Restaurant on Juan Tabo NE. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

I’ll admit it: I loved Nagomi Japanese Restaurant’s former incarnation, called Mr. Sushi, for many years.

When the time came to shutter the former and make way for some new folks in the kitchen and behind the front desk, some of the local sushi fans, including yours truly, had their fears. They were for naught.

Nagomi’s chef and owner Masahito Sano was executive chef at another favorite local spot, Japanese Kitchen, and also worked at everyone’s-favorite-closed-sushi-joint, Noda’s. Together he and his co-owner wife Kelly have upped the game with inventive dishes and traditional Japanese favorites hard to find around town.

Nagomi serves everyday dishes like Aji Fry ($5), fried mackerel all salty and rich just like a good cold-water fish. It’s listed as an appetizer, but starting with something milder is a good way to begin a Japanese meal. A bright and zesty Seaweed and Cucumber Salad ($4.50), perhaps, or a cup of Miso Soup ($1.50) will rouse your taste buds without dampening your appetite.

Even the Assorted Tempura ($6.50) is so lightly battered, you can see and taste the vegetables within. This meal is off to a fantastic start.

From there, you can go in myriad directions – sushi, noodles, box sets or ramen, to name a few. Hungry enough for the best soup of your year? Order the Tonkatsu Ramen ($9) for a steaming bowl of rich pork-bone broth studded with slices of pork belly and a generous handful of chewy noodles at the bottom. The salty, umami-rich, silky broth is like sipping on little bits of porky heaven. Just don’t expect to have room for anything else on the menu after that divine dish.

Nagomi’s traditional meals include the popular Teishoku ($9.50-$15), set meals not unlike bento but served in lovely little dishes rather than a bento compartmented box, centered around a main attraction from New York steak to sashimi.

Daily side dishes accompany the Teishoku, completing the meal. Those will wait until my next visit – sushi was on the order this time.

First, the delicate Umeshiso Roll ($3.50) for sweet and tart together; then a Salmon Skin roll ($5) for a little richness and crunch. Move along, if you dare, to the Rising Sun ($9.50) for spicy tuna, avocado, and more tuna. It’s my favorite of the rolls.

Want everything all at once, laid out like the crown jewels? Chirashi Donburi ($16) sparkles with color from many kinds of sashimi arranged over tender sushi rice all in one glorious bowl. It’s what to order when you’d like to try a lot of things without committing to big cut rolls.

At Nagomi, the chirashi is nearly perfect, with fresh and succulent fish and nicely briny rice. Like the whole meal before it, Sano’s experience shines through.