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Shanghai's best hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant

By Jake DeLois, Special to CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sheng Sushi's Elwood and Jake don't give customers the blues
  • Instead they offer high quality and affordable sushi
  • Partners wear bejeweled black fedoras, say they haven't seen "Blues Brothers"

(CNN) -- "I don't even know who the 'Blues Brothers' are," confesses Sheng Sushi manager Elwood Zhang. "A lot of Americans come in and ask if we like that movie. I've never seen it."

It's really no wonder people ask. Zhang and his partner, James, who often goes by Jake, share the names of the movie's two main characters, played by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. The sushi partners also wear bejeweled black fedoras, which seems like an updated, bedazzled Shanghai nod to the 1980s cult film and "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

Affordable sushi

Whether their names and uniforms are intentional, Shanghai's very own Elwood and Jake have amassed their own cult-like following among the city's sushiphiles.

The two versatile chefs, both hitting 30 this year, have been running Sheng Sushi on Yongkang Lu for nearly a year. While the seven-seater hole-in-the-wall is tiny, their love of bringing many customers high quality and affordable sushi is anything but miniature.

"Of course we want to make a profit," admits James, who is head of sales and coordinates delivery with his Western clientele. "But we'd rather make money by giving a lot of people something for cheap than selling something really expensive to a select few.

"With prices so low, we've met so many different kinds of people throughout the year: students, tourists, local businessmen and the like. I really like that."

Prices are indeed wallet-friendly at Sheng Sushi. Creative rolls start at the equivalent of about $3 U.S. (for the requisite California Roll) and top out at $5.70 for the Golden Dragon.

The best deal: Helena Roll

Miggie Qin, a former staff member and current university freshman, is still a regular at the joint.

"I help translate on the weekends with the Western orders," the 19-year-old tells us while slurping on a $3 bowl of springy udon noodles with a delicately poached egg.

"But since it's summer, I've been here more often, helping beginners navigate the menu."

She recommends the Jackson ($3.75) and Helena Roll ($4.20). The Jackson is a fairly standard, though delicious, spicy tuna roll, pollock-splattered with a smoky spiced sauce.

The Helena, Miggie's favorite, "is the most economical," she tells us. "It has tuna, salmon and flame-grilled eel. Three fish in one roll for only ($4.20)."

You have to admire her way of thinking.

Other highlights

Other highlights on the menu include the Western Empire Roll ($5.25), which James describes as "fruity and girlie." Believing his sincerity when he tells us how much he likes his foreign friends and patrons, one just hopes that the roll's name is not an intentional slap in the face.

Nigiri starts at $1.80 for three pieces of salmon or tuna, and soups begin at $3. Even when grabbing a couple of $2.70 Asahis or a few glasses of $3.75 Ozeki draft sake, diners will still walk out paying no more than $12 a head -- and incredibly full.

If you're not lucky enough to grab one of their coveted seven seats inside or two outdoors, they deliver and provide takeaway.

With plans to eventually open another location, nobody expects that these sushi brothers will be singing the blues anytime soon.