All-you-can-eat sushi for $20. Sounds too good to be true? I won't lie: Aoi serves up a mean buffet, along with some complicated bills.

he restaurant looks humble enough on the outside. In Japanese, "aoi" means hollyhock, a tall plant with vibrant multi-colored blossoms. It also means unripe or inexperienced. And true to its name, Aoi favors the hardy customers who have survived that first monetarily harrowing meal.

Aoi's dishes are reasonably priced: vegetarian entr‚es go for $10-$11, while a sushi platter for two costs $34. Things get tough, though, when someone wants to order from the all-you-can-eat menu. The sushi comes in "rounds" of 15 pieces. The brave customer can order as much or as little as he wants in each round, not exceeding 15. The first round includes soup and salad. Rounds are limitless -- you can eat to your heart's content for hours. Now here's the trick: you pay extra for anything you don't eat. Each untouched sushi will cost you $1, each wrap and roll $3.

The all-you-can-eater is forbidden from sharing. His tablemates must each order at least $10 worth of food. Drinks don't count. Buffeters are encouraged to sit together, so expect some musical chairs in a large group. And make sure you double-count your money before you leave; somehow my group of nine came up short $30, and this after several minutes of calculations.

Don't let this discourage you. While the sushi buff may complain, it's a leap above Houston Hall fare. There are plenty of fish and vegetarian sushi options. The sake is good both warm and chilled.

If you're used to five-star sushi but your friends drag you here anyway, you can at least enjoy the atmosphere. Upon entering, you walk straight through a sumo wrestler's belly. He hangs on a cotton print from the ceiling, the cloth cut to split him right down the middle. Painted collages of Japanese prints and icons adorn the walls on the upper level. Meanwhile, the front of a VW lurches out near the ceiling opposite the bar. The eclectic d‚cor is enhanced by the equally rag-tag background music, which ranges from typical muzak to selections from The Sound of Music.

With so much to see, eat and compute, how can you resist?


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