Hillsborough Street in Raleigh is one of the busier streets in the area but given its proximity to a college, it’s food offerings are usually somewhat mixed. You get the usual burgers, pizza, subs and Chinese food here but it’s usually a case of quantity over quality. But over the years, it’s had its fair share of decent restaurants. Good dining options include H Street Kitchen, Gonza Tacos y Tequila and now the new Mama Jee. Billed as a Thai and Sushi Bar, Mama Jee sits on the intersection of Hillsborough and Dixie Trail Road in an area rife with construction. But I decided to drop in for lunch and see what this new restaurant was bringing to the neighborhood!
Built in a brand new building, Mama Jee is pretty unassuming on the outside. I had poked my head into their windows during construction but didn’t get a good feel for the space. But as soon as you step in, wow! Super modern, clean and impressive design all around their interior, where do you start? From the lovely polished wood bar complete with leather high-top chairs to the curved, granite-faced sushi bar to the dark wood floor, everything just feels right to the eyes here. And definitely better than most restaurants on Hillsborough Street, Mama Jee just feels a little bit fancy.
I’m seated at the sushi bar by the restaurant manager, Jung. He’s a friendly young guy and fills me in on the Mama Jee story. Brought to you by the people behind Thai House in N. Raleigh (and yes, Mama is real), Mama Jee is their 2nd restaurant and an attempt to bring a high-service feel to the NC State dining crowd. The tough part of dining at these Japanese-Thai combo restaurants that are so popular in the Triangle is which way to go? The spicy flavors of Thai cuisine or the more subtle and simple flavor profile of Japanese? Well, my decision gets made when the manager sends over a comped plate of salmon carpaccio.
And given it’s my first visit to Mama Jee, color me impressed! It’s a fantastic looking plate full of texture and color. The base of the carpaccio is flash-fried salmon skin with a light bubbly coating. On top there is chopped salmon, mango salsa, ponzu sauce and red/black tobio (fish roe). Pop one of these bad-boys into your mouth and you get an explosion of flavor and mouth-feel. From the slightly crunchy skin to the soft fish on top and sweet from the fruit, it’s a great bite and starter.
For my main I’ve gone with a couple of manager recommendations. While Mama Jee doesn’t do BOGO rolls, the prices is totally reasonable for lunch: 2 rolls for $16. I’ve ordered up the Dragon Fire roll along with the cooked Tornado roll. The plate of rolls comes out and it looks gorgeous with tons of color. The Dragon Fire pulls together spicy crab, shrimp tempura, jalapeno with a bit of sriracha and sweet glaze on top. Love it, there’s a bit of sweet and spicy on this roll and it’s just good. And while the Tornado roll isn’t “traditional”, I can’t resist this roll given it’s flash-fried with potato strings and is plated in a twisted heap! Shrimp tempura, avocado and spicy mayo completes this roll and it’s a lot of food, Imma ready to tap out…
Service at Mama Jee’s is very good, they’ve got young staff but are definitely ready to keep you happy. But because the manager knew I did a food blog, I came back for a second visit to try the Thai side of the menu, incognito. The spicy Thai wing appetizer is fantastic! Bubbly, crusty battered chicken with some sweet and sour sauce, I highly recommend this dish. And the pad kee mao (drunken noodles) was solid but not my favorite dish out of what I’ve tried at Mama Jee’s.
All in all, l I was really impressed with what they are doing here. While I’m usually not a fan of pan-Asian restaurants (feel they should stick to one cuisine), Mama Jee’s is doing a great job on both the Japanese/sushi and Thai side of their offerings. Service is solid, prices are decent and the decor is excellent. Especially for their prices. Based upon that performance, I’m adding them to my best restaurants around NC State list. So welcome to Hillsborough Street Mama Jee! Love your food and look forward to meeting you some day…
105 Friendly Drive, Suite 101
Raleigh, NC 27607
Sample Mama Jee menus