RICE ‘N’ ROLL 214 Madison, 262-0381 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but you can make a meal just lingering round the sample tray at Rice ‘n’ Roll—the sushi equivalent of a downtown deli, if delis had counters clean enough to eat from and stocked edamame in the soda case. Snack on free samples of the spicy tuna roll, egg roll, or fried-eel roll (are you sensing a theme yet?) as deft, lightning-quick hands, yes, roll and slice to order one of 18 sushi rolls (five of them vegetarian!). And what would you expect to pay for fresh, better-than-adequate sushi made to order in less than five minutes? Amazingly, all of Rice ‘n’ Roll’s options are under $7 (the massive “Rainbow roll,” an eight-piece sampler with loads of shrimp and avocado, is the best and priciest at $6.95), with several hovering close to pocket-change territory, at five bucks or less. (The surprisingly tasty, not-at-all-bland Vegi Delight roll is $4.50; the California roll, just $4.25). Edamame, salads, and soup run $1.65 to $3.75, although an even minimally acceptable quantity of wasabi and ginger will, sadly, set you back another 50 cents. But that’s a small complaint for a place that’s made sushi a weekly lunchtime addiction rather than an occasional indulgence for downtown workers who lack a corporate credit card. Tucked in a storefront beside a parking garage, the place is tiny and packed weekdays at lunchtime from around 11:45. It’s awkward and a drag to wait (should I hover inconveniently in the path to the soda case or perch on one of the four highly coveted stools?) but popularity makes otherwise hidden Rice ‘n’ Roll easy to find: Just look for the line snaking down the hill.