Sushi and More at Jo-To Thai Sushi in South Tampa

WARNING: The following review contains hardcore food pornography, and may only be suitable for viewing by persons ages 17 and older.

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jo-to japanese restaurant

When I was a kid, I went through a phase where all I would eat was tuna fish sandwiches. Tuna fish sandwiches, all day, all night. Just tuna. Mayo. and bread. Sammich. It was disgusting. But whatever, kids do weird things. Well, after I grew out of that, I grew out of fish entirely. And mayonnaise. For years following my childhood, I would not eat seafood, and I wouldn’t touch anything with mayo.

…mayo still kinda grosses me out.

But seafood. This is something I’ve been trying to wean myself onto. It’s a whole world of meat that I’ve been missing out on! So I’ve been slowly working on that. And one of the major hurdles was, as it understandably might be, sushi.

Having been conditioned to believe all sushi is just raw fish by television shows such as Doug, it was a pretty intimidating prospect. But then I tried it, and I didn’t vomit. And I tried it again, and I began to enjoy it. Now sushi has become a rare treat to me, and every time I have it, I always enjoy it.

Especially when it comes from Jo-To.

Jo-To Japanese Restaurant, located on South Dale Mabry, was introduced to me by my friend who also does not care for fish, but somehow found a love for sushi. Really, he just found a love for Jo-To. And that is totally understandable. Jo-To is like sex for anyone who likes sushi, and like a pretty awesome hand job for anyone else. If you are unsure about sushi, but intrigued, this is the place to go.

our little booth

Jo-To is dark and cozy on the inside, with different little corridors down which separate dining areas exist. There are little fountains, setting a very distinct mood, and there is a sushi bar in the back. It is potentially quite romantic, which I confirmed on my recent trip here accompanied by three dudes and a lady (the relationship is… complex. Incidentally, “Three Dudes, a Lady and a Sushi Place” is the name of my new Fox comedy pilot).

We had made reservations and were given a small room in one side of the restaurant to ourselves. The table was level with the padded seats, but positioned over a groove in the floor under which out legs could be tucked. NO SHOES ALLOWED. Originally there were supposed to be eight of us, but we lost three members on the drive over (traffic and road rage were intense that day). Our waitress seemed to be a little more than upset by this revelation, but I believe the sheer amount of food we ordered made up for it. The service was very pleasant, outside of a bit of confusion about the desired sake temperature and a kappa vs. caterpillar discrepancy.

we began with sake for all!

warm sake

The warm sake (supposed to be cold) was a very nice beginning to the meal. Delicate but with a gentle burn going down.

soup and salad

A light soup and a salad with standard ginger dressing to appetize us. Both delicious.

And next was the sushi. We each ordered a lot of sushi, and traded and shared amongst ourselves. It gave us each the opportunity to try a ton of different sushi that we might not ordinarily order. The thing about Jo-To’s sushi menu is they have a few different sections – sushi, which usually comes with a couple pieces per order and is simply rice and one topping, their makimono sushi rolls, where you’ll find all the typical sushi like a California or rainbow roll consisting of multiple ingredients, and then their “Special Sushi” section, which features a lot of different rolls with special ingredients or preparation unique to Jo-To. All of their sushi is well prepared and delicious, but their special sushi is what you go to Jo-To to get. The powerful and distinct flavors and combinations they come up with can’t be found anywhere else, and are instantly impressive.

california roll, lightning roll, volcano special roll

I ordered, from left to right as pictured, a standard California roll (avocado, crab, cucumber), their special Lightning roll (the exact contents of which completely escape me, but billed as a spicy roll), and the Volcano Special roll. Their California roll is the best I’ve ever had, and the Lightning roll was quite good, a bit spicy but fairly mild in taste. And the Volcano Special roll…

volcano special roll

This is the Volcano Special roll. This is the reason you go to Jo-To. The roll itself is crab, avocado, cucumber, and cream cheese. Pretty ordinary. But then it is topped with a magical baked crab salad. That is what puts this over the top. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and it’s incredible. The combination of the roll and the salad is a sweet and spicy amalgamation, something you would have to try to really understand.

Order the Volcano Special roll.

fly to hawaii roll, caterpillar roll, phil roll

Here we have, left to right, the Fly to Hawaii roll (fried shrimp, avocado, pineapple and coconut, and wasabi tobiko, which is a type of roe), the Caterpillar roll (eel, cucumber, cream cheese, and avocado with a teriyaki sauce… disappointingly, no actual caterpillar), and the comparatively simple Phil roll (cream cheese, smoked salmon, and scallions). The Caterpillar roll is delicious, with the eel working really well within a roll setting, and the teriyaki playing a big role there. The Fly to Hawaii roll was awesome. It was quite sweet and a bit crunchy, the perfect counterpoint to many of the rolls served by Jo-To.

mexican roll, sakura roll

On the left is the Mexican roll (fried shrimp, avocado, mayo, smelt roe), and then what I believe was the Sakura roll (shrimp tempura, crab, avocado, and red tobiko) on the right.

crab sushis, red dragon roll, green dragon roll, volcano special roll

And finally, the most beautiful (largest) plate, featuring three rolls and two simple crab sushi. The rolls here, from foreground to background, are the Red Dragon (crab, avocado, and cucumber topped with tuna), the Green Dragon (fried shrimp, cream cheese, and smelt, topped with avocado and a teriyaki sauce), and, once again, the incredible Volcano Special roll. The Red Dragon roll was disappointingly mild, not offering much flavor at all (but still well prepared with a wonderful texture). The Green Dragon was awesome, contrasting the crunchy fried shrimp with the soft avocado.

It was a huge dinner. And the bill was pretty large, too. Jo-To isn’t insanely expensive, but to be properly filled, you will end up spending a decent amount of money. Of course, adding sake and soup and salad to the meal will add a bit more to the bill. But the price is completely worth it. The flavors here are so strong, you won’t even consider using soy sauce and wasabi. It’s a symphony of tastes and textures, sure to delight any palate. And it needs not be said, but the presentation is beautiful. It’s a true experience to go to Jo-To, one which I cannot recommend enough. Go with a group, try everything you can, and delight in the possibilities of sushi.

And for the love of god, order the Volcano Special roll.


  1. Frank

    You really don’t know a thing about sushi. Rainbow roll? Seriously. That was created by sushi chefs for kids – hence the colorful appeal. Dude, fly to LA or NY for some real sushi. For a true test of a sushi chef, order their albacore tuna and nothing else. If it tastes frozen, pay and leave.

    • fuck… you’re right. i think i may have compromised my reputation as tampa’s number 1 sushi critic and connoisseur with this post! definitely gonna hit up new york & LA for some sushi education. might as well stop by japan too while i’m at it.

      i didn’t even order a rainbow roll. nobody here did. if you’d read the review, you might have realized that this is a casual food blog for normal people. not too into food snobbery here.

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