8433 Oak St
New Orleans, LA 70118
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
Ninja has been around since the early 1990s, when it first opened in a small cottage-sized restaurant space a few blocks away. It moved into its current, much larger home in 2001 and over the years it has cultivated a fiercely loyal fan base. Dine here and there's a pretty good chance you'll join their ranks. A highly-varied menu, reliably pristine products and a laidback vibe all contribute to a great Japanese restaurant package.
Ninja occupies one of the more unusual restaurant properties in town, a rather awkward, upstairs/downstairs space with a bar/holding area on the ground floor and a dining room accessed by a window-lined staircase that lacks any air conditioning. But once you get past this bumpy reception, you're on to better things.
Servers here know their stuff, which is good because the regular menu is long, the specials are intricate and they both cover some unfamiliar turf. My one complaint in this department again starts downstairs at the bar/holding area. You're greeted by staff using headsets, as if they're running a fast food drive-thru or the velvet rope at a swanky nightclub. This is probably very useful is running the upstairs/downstairs floor plan, especially on busy nights, but it's jarring at what otherwise feels like a homespun, regulars-oriented sushi restaurant.
The Ninja menu starts with the familiar sushi bar appetizers, standards like gyoza and shumai. But from there it offers more interesting and unique fare, like okra and asparagus tempura, BBQ squid and even a Japanese pickle plate. I like the hiziki, or black seaweed salad, and the jalapeno fish salad, a spicy mix of chunks of sushi bar fish.
There are many cooked and full-scale entrees at Ninja, along with a wide variety of noodle dishes. The ramen noodle soup, loaded with various seafood, pork and vegetables, is refreshing, deeply satisfying and a far cry from the microwave noodle packets many people associate with the ramen name. Still, the reason most people come to Ninja is for sushi, and that is where this restaurant really excels.
Ninja is home to some of the most fiercely spicy sushi rolls I've ever encountered. One is the devil roll, with tuna and avocado slathered heavily with intense mustard. Then there's the teardrop roll, which is simply rice and pickled horseradish and is even hotter still. These are the fireworks though. Ninja does a great job with the usual array of rolls and sashimi, and the yellowtail and albacore are always meltingly tender.
Ninja has a strong specialty in vegetarian rolls, with a whole side menu devoted to them. It's also worth noting that Ninja serves a children's menu, with tempura, teriyaki and udon options at family-friendly prices.
Dessert at a Japanese restaurant usually means ice cream, and that's the go-to here, with red bean, ginger and green tea flavors. There's mochi, a Japanese confection of pounded sticky rice filled with ice cream, and tempura-fried ice cream, that reliable showstopper for the kids.
Ninja has a full bar with bottled Japanese beers, a good assortment of sake (hot or cold) and a few plum wines too.
A night out for sushi can be very expensive or a relative bargain, all depending on how you chart your course through the menu. That's no different at Ninja. In general though, if you go with a few people, order moderately and plan to share your rolls and appetizers, you should expect to spend about $30 per person.
Consistent, diverse and delicious, Ninja gets high marks where it matters for a sushi spot and is highly recommended as a destination restaurant. Provided you can look past the unorthodox setting and focus on the food, you should have a memorable meal here.