Growing up at Akai Hana, the restaurant her dad managed, Kay Huneycutt only ate tuna rolls. She’s come a long way since her picky eating days as a kid and waiting tables as a teenager.
Today, her family owns the Carrboro location and another outpost in Morehead City, and she can’t pick a favorite dish on the menu. (With items ranging from soft-shell crab and sea urchin to hamachi kama and tempura soba, her indecision is understandable.) As front-of-house manager, she shows regulars – like original owner Lee Smith, who opened the restaurant in 1997 – to their tables and steers beginners like me to something they’ll enjoy. Unlike Kay, I never grew out of my trepidation of sushi. She pointed me to the Lobster Lover, a lobster-crab mix with tempura crunchies; the flavors emboldened me to try a second dish, the Monkfish Liver Salad, served as a pâté. The presentation was artful, and the crunch and chill of the cucumber balanced the soft pâté. Joining the league of readers who voted for the eatery in our Best of Chapel Hill poll, I could now appreciate the attention to detail of the spot deemed a Best Sushi winner. Lobster Lover, $14.95; Monkfish Liver Salad, $8.95