This New Calgary Restaurant is Dedicated to Japanese Hand Rolls

Hand rolls are best eaten immediately while the nori is still crispy, and Raw Japanese Hand Roll Bar offers a space to try them at their best.

Assorted dishes from Raw Japanese Hand Roll Bar. Photo by Chris Landry.

There’s a new dining destination in Calgary’s East Village neighbourhood completely dedicated to Japanese hand rolls.

Hand rolls are a type of sushi where rice, fish and other ingredients are loosely wrapped in nori, then eaten immediately while the rice is still warm and the seaweed is still crispy.

Raw Japanese Hand Roll Bar is run by Cindy Tran and Sharon Huynh, who decided to fill the hand roll-shaped hole in Calgary’s dining landscape. The pair met while working as nurses, and quickly developed a friendship based around travelling and eating.

“The first time we stumbled on the concept [of a hand roll bar was] in L.A. at a place called KazuNori,” says Tran. “We fell in love with the concept, and started seeing it pop up in other places.”

“We’ll travel all over for [hand rolls],” says Huynh. “Eventually we were like, ‘Why don’t we just bring it here?’”

Photo by Chris Landry.

Raw’s atmosphere is minimalist, warm and inviting. The only seats in the house are at the bar surrounding the central kitchen, where rolls are made to order and placed in front of you. Since the hand rolls are best eaten immediately, the interaction between diners and chef is a big part of the experience.

Hand rolls can be ordered individually or in sets of three, four or five rolls with miso soup as an appetizer. The fillings are meant to be fresh, flavourful and approachable — yuzu-marinated salmon, creamy scallop, truffle lobster and beef tartare are among the favourites. There are also vegetarian options like the tofu banh mi and mushroom kimchi rolls.

Guests can complement their meal with a few appetizers — think smashed cucumber salad, salmon crudo or assorted tempura — and drinks from the small beverage menu featuring a handful of beers (including the locally brewed Okami Kasu from Ol’ Beautiful), sake and handcrafted cocktails. For dessert, the restaurant stocks a few ice creams from Calgary’s Milk Ice Cream Club.

Assorted dishes from Raw Japanese Hand Roll Bar. Photo by Chris Landry.

Ultimately, Huynh and Tran want Raw to be a restaurant that fosters connection through its intimate dining experience.

“We really just wanted to bring the social aspect of it to Calgary — we want to bring people together over food and conversation,” says Tran. “And what else does Calgary do best, but eat?”

150, 615 6 Ave. S.E., 825-747-5354,, @rawhandrollbar

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