When I walked into Locals Bar a few weeks ago, it was just like I remembered from three years ago. The bar was full, high-tops were all spoken for, and only a few seats remained unclaimed in the back. A few familiar faces were still around, including the DJ, a Redskins fan who makes the best out of a heart-breaking season, and the owner, who knows 90 percent of the people in the place. When Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth aren't thwarting conversation, there's some music playing that'll do the same.
The name Locals suits the place just fine. It's reminiscent of a bar you'd find in any suburban strip mall in any state. It's a tavern designed for locals, by locals. It's the kind of place where just about everyone knows each other — a place where you'd be just as likely to see a four-leaf clover as a tourist.
Hidden behind a Publix in the Queensborough Shopping Center, Locals is just a stone's throw away from Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mt. Pleasant, and therefore in the middle of many neighborhoods. A flood of loyal customers come in for the sports, cheap beer, and regular pours of Rumple and Fireball. But that's not all. They come for the sushi.
Don't expect an extravagant bowl of chirasi, uni nigiri, saba, or toro sashimi here. Instead, Locals features dozens of big, creative rolls.
We're talking fat rolls with countless ingredients — think cream cheese, mango, asparagus, avocado, and the popular mayo-based spicy sauce. These are the rolls many Americans consider sushi, and almost all sushi joints have succumbed to at least some of the big roll trends.
At Locals, the Tamarindo roll features 13 different ingredients: snow crab, fried onions, mango, cilantro, shrimp, jalapeños, tuna, tamarind sauce, black caviar, "chef sauce," kimchi wasabi sauce, nori, and rice. It's clear people love this roll, as it won a competition in 2012, but for me, the sheer number of ingredients drubbed my palate into confusion. The Lovers Roll ($13) — tempura lobster, avocado, crab meat, and cream cheese topped with filet mignon, green onion, and sesame seeds — would have been pretty darned good if the kitchen had shown some restraint with the wasabi sauce, spicy mayo, and Sriracha.
When we asked for a sushi combination, we were directed to a tataki sampler ($14), comprised of four varieties of seared fish on a bed of lettuce with ginger, a slice of orange, and ponzu sauce on the side. The quality and freshness of the pieces varied by fish, but it's a decent dish, nonetheless. From the a la carte menu, the yellowtail sashimi ($5/3 pieces) fares well, and the smoked salmon ($4/2 pieces) is a simple treat.
The boring presentation of the tempura shrimp ($7) shouldn't put you off, as the large shrimp are quite tasty. And the peppery beef tataki ($7.95) packs enough flavor to act as an entrée during a football game. But do yourself a favor and plan on being there a while. On one occasion, we asked a bartender for the bill five times before we were finally able to close out. During multiple visits, there were no refills on water. And if you're going to eat, I wouldn't recommend sitting on the comfortable couches around the corner from the bar, as your server may come by 20 minutes after you finish your meal and apologize for forgetting about you. At least we were near a TV.
While the food service needs a little work, I'm willing to overlook it because of what Locals stands for. Every region, every town, and every borough has their own local hang out, and Locals checks all the boxes of what makes up a genuine local bar/tavern. Big, extravagant sushi rolls may not be for everyone, but they're a nice addition to standard bar fare that includes wings and fried calamari. And did I mention they serve sake? Sake and football, oh my.