Matsuri (Japanese for festival) is a Japanese restaurant in Baltimore, and, more specifically, is often considered the best Japanese restaurant in Baltimore. Now, when you get down to it, it's hard for a Japanese place in America to differentiate itself too much - I mean pretty much anyplace can do a good job with some yellowtail or unagi, or bento. Certainly, there is atmosphere to take into account, and while having a nice place to eat your food and drink your Sapporo (or tea or whatever) can be pleasant, it doesn't make the food taste that much better.

Fortunately, Matsuri has some menu items that are really stellar, of which I will mention two: the udon, and the sumo roll. Matsuri's udon comes in gigantically large bowls (about the size of a large mixing bowl) filled with all that good stuff that makes udon, well, udon. It really warms you up nicely on those cold, crappy nights in the middle of winter. While the udon is, based on the writeups in the node of that name, reasonably standard in ingredients and presentation, the sumo roll is probably something a Japanese native would look rather askance at. It's basically a giant maki roll, made with eel, salmon, yellowtail, and, I believe, another of our fishy friends (I haven't been there since last winter, so my memory is a bit hazy). In any case, it is large in all dimensions - 10 pieces, each of which is about half again as big as a normal piece of maki. It's expensive, but it's fun to split with a friend or two as an appetizer.

Matsuri is crammed into a very small former-rowhouse, with about half of the first floor being taken up by the kitchen. Unless you want to sit at the bar and watch them make the sushi (which I do enjoy from time to time), see if they will let you sit upstairs. Most nights, it's nice and quiet up there, with just the gentle sounds of some J-Pop coming from the speakers (OK, well, if you hate J-Pop, don't let the staff seat you upstairs). There are some nice decorations (masks and kites and such) on the walls upstairs, too.

My fondest memory from Matsuri is actually from the very first time I went there - I was feeling adventurous and got a piece of sushi with uni (sea urchin) and quail egg. It was quite good (and rather pricey), though raw quail egg is a little on the rich side. Anyway, that is probably one of the most exotic things I've ever eaten, and it gives me warm fuzzy feelings to remember it.

Matsuri is located at 1105 South Charles St in Baltimore, right next door to the Cross Street Market. It's a hard building to miss - it has a gigantic red kanji (the symbol for 'festival', I would presume) painted on the building. Prices are quite good, and unless you start boozing it up, you can easily make it out for under $20 (you can check prices and hours at

lj informs me that 祭 is the correct symbol for 'Matsuri' - or at least, this is what is painted on the building. This should help in identification, in case you run into any other buildings with giant red symbols painted on them. (If all you see is a ?, read mojibake).

Short quotes from a few other reviewers:

The City Paper: "Matsuri might be the only place left in Baltimore that can still make Japanese food seem challenging and exotic."

Baltimore Magazine: "Matsuri is more classic in its preparations, more true to its origins than any of its competitors."

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