Southern Sushi

South End goes global with a sleek new dining destination.

If you want to feel the pulse of the Queen City at this moment, head over to South End and spend some time at Atherton Mill and Market. The property, once occupied by a handful of retail shops, restaurants, and a small, but growing community hub, now teems with activity. And its latest addition, O-ku Sushi Charlotte, embodies this vibrant new energy in spades.

O-ku Sushi Charlotte is the third location of its kind for the Charleston-based Indigo Road Hospitality Group, which boasts locations in its South Carolina hometown and Atlanta. As the city grows, established concepts like O-ku have found the Queen City an attractive new market to set up shop. On a Saturday night, with the restaurant buzzing at capacity, it’s evident that the upscale sushi concept is right at home with Charlotte diners.

O-ku took over the space formerly occupied by Ferguson Bath & Lighting, and has transformed the brick-walled industrial space into a warm and fashionable lair where creative cocktails are delivered to you by a chic staff, and impeccably fresh sushi is the main attraction. Like Atherton Mill itself, the restaurant offers multiple options for an evening out. The cocktail bar is a good place to start. The Tea-quila is a prime example of O-ku’s vision—“Japanese cuisine with a Southern approach”—mixing silver tequila with mint-infused green tea, lime, and Cointreau in a glass rimmed with smoked salt. For the non-drinker, there are two creative mocktails on the menu. O-ku also offers a wide selection of local beers, and of course, an extensive sake list.

Whether you’re having a few bites with cocktails or preparing for the full experience in the sultry dining room decorated with large paper-like lanterns and signature manzanita branches, the chef’s specialties are the highlight. O-ku Charlotte’s kitchen is led by Executive Chef Michael Chanthavong, a Laos-American who brings eight years of sushi expertise to the beautiful dishes coming out of the kitchen. Delicate whitefish crudo arrives on a slender plate brightened with lime zest and lemon juice, with a spunky hit of holy basil pesto. For a splurge, try the lobster temaki, hand-rolls filled with butter-poached lobster, asparagus, chives and a dollop of cilantro aioli. For another experience, and perhaps the most thrilling, sit at one of the 10 seats at O-ku’s sushi bar and watch the action. Guests can choose from nigiri, like the silken yellowtail, or chirashi, fresh fish served over perfectly cooked sushi rice. O-ku offers an omakase tasting or sashimi plates adorned by the chef’s whim. Guests can easily linger well into the night with the metropolitan set at O-ku. The arrival of this new hotspot, like its bustling location in South End, signals the arrival of so much more.

Photos by Michael C. Hernandez.