The 50 Best Sushi Bars in America for 2016
The 50 Best Sushi Bars in America
It wasn’t so long ago that sushi was still considered an exotic delicacy by many, one too strange and outside the box to pay much attention to. The seemingly simple pairing of raw fish and rice was the domain of the adventurous and the very rich. Today, however, there are sushi restaurants across America of just about every stripe, from holes in the wall turning out decent California rolls and tuna nigiri to sprawling emporiums run by internationally renowned chefs, and from cozy neighborhood favorites to upscale counters that might as well be temples to fish and rice. There are some amazing sushi restaurants in America, and this is our third annual ranking of the nation's best.
#50 Honshu, Jersey City, N.J.
Photo by Honshu via Yelp
An early trailblazer in the restaurant boom that’s been taking over the increasingly upscale area of Jersey City near the Exchange Place PATH station, Honshu has been charming the locals for more than 10 years. They recently moved to a new location, and it’s spacious, trendy, and great for both date night and a local takeout. The sushi is fresh and prepared with skill, and though the rolls will knock your socks off (especially the Fashion roll with yellowtail, salmon, jalapeño, fresh scallop, and green tobiko), it’s the rotating selection of nigiri and sashimi that really puts this place over the top. Opt for the golden eye snapper, baby yellowtail, white salmon, or live orange clam when they’re available, or (even better) trust them and order the omakase.
#49 Hide Sushi, Los Angeles
Simple, casual, and straightforward, Hide Sushi has been serving high-quality sushi to hungry Angelenos since 1979. You won’t find any rainbow rolls or tempura rolls at this no-reservations, cash-only spot; only fresh, high-quality fish is available, along with some harder-to-find delicacies like sweet raw shrimp (amaebi), jellyfish (kurage), and sea eel (anago).
#48 Maneki, Seattle
Photo by Christina L. via Yelp
One of America’s oldest Japanese restaurants, Maneki has been in business since 1904, and has been just about impossible to get into for its entire lifespan. Extremely affordable and a party every night of the week, Maneki isn’t just a sushi bar, it’s an experience. (Sadly, the sushi bar itself only has a few seats and becomes a service counter during the dinner rush.) A wide variety of nigiri sushi is available (served in huge slices), including freshwater eel, tuna, yellowtail, flounder, and scallop, supplemented by a list of seasonal specials posted around the restaurant; if abalone or monkfish liver is available, order it.
#47 Sansei, Multiple Locations, Hawaii
The first location of Sansei opened in 1996 at Kapalua Resort on Maui, with locations in Kihei, Waikiki Beach, and the Waikoloa Beach Resort following shortly thereafter. Opening multiple locations of a stellar seafood restaurant is no easy feat, especially in a market as renowned for its seafood as Hawaii, but founder D.K. Kodama makes it look easy. Specialty rolls including the panko-crusted ahi roll and the Kapalaua Butterfly Roll (salmon, crab, white fish, and fresh vegetables) are popular menu items at these casual restaurants, and à la carte sushi options like anago (sea eel), amaebi (sweet shrimp), yaki hotegai (baked sweet scallops) are the real deal. There’s an option to top any nigiri sushi or sashimi with quail egg for $1.75; take them up on the offer.
#46 Mirakutei, Portland, Ore.
Photo by Sindhu A. via Yelp
Mirakutei may be best known as the purveyor of some of Portland’s finest ramen (as well as a stellar glazed black cod), but sushi is also among the best you’ll find in Portland thanks to the prowess of chef Hiro Ikegaya. So belly up to the five-seat sushi bar and let the journey begin (one-day advance notice is required for the omakase, as ingredients need to be sourced). You’re never quite sure what Hiro will put in front of you, but it’ll be spectacular, and you’ll be the envy of your fellow diners.
#45 Japanese Market, North Bay Village, Fla.
An unassuming storefront located on a tiny island in Miami’s Biscayne Bay called North Bay Village may be the last place you’d expect to find life-altering sushi, but tucked away in a corner of a Japanese market called — what else? — Japanese Market is a small counter serving just that. A certifiable hidden gem, the counter (unofficially called Sushi Deli) is run by a husband and wife duo who are preparing sushi (as well as Japanese dishes like curry and teriyaki) that would be right at home at any of the city’s high-end (and far more expensive) sushi spots. Order the omakase and you’ll be treated to any number of insanely fresh fruits of the sea, including conch, toro, uni, raw scallop, raw shrimp, and salmon tartare with raw quail egg. Also order a tempura-fried sweet shrimp head if you’re feeling adventurous. Just make sure you get there during the day, because it’s only open until 4 p.m. most days. Seriously, this place is a find.
#44 Katsuei, Brooklyn
Photo by Ben L. via Yelp
The quiet and charming bedroom community of Park Slope has no shortage of decent restaurants, but its sushi game was decidedly weak until Katsuei opened there a few years ago serving jaw-dropping good sushi at equally jaw-dropping low prices (omakase starts at just $47, easily half of what you’d pay in Manhattan). One piece is served at a time; expect courses to include dishes like marinated tuna, kanpachi with spicy yuzu, king salmon with kombu, and uni, but also expect to be surprised. Every omakase ends with a toro hand roll; a perfect way to end the meal.
#43 Koiso, Maui, Hawaii
Photo by Natasha S. via Yelp
A Maui legend that’s nearly impossible to get into with only 15 seats, Koiso is the best spot on the island for straight-ahead, simple sushi and sashimi made with the highest-quality fish from the best possible sources, prepared with the skill of a master craftsman. About a quarter of all fish comes from Japan; the rest is sourced from local waters. Big-eye tuna and horse mackerel, both sourced locally, are standouts, and if you’ve never tried monkfish liver, this is the place to do it.
#42 Arami, Chicago
Arami / Facebook
This stylish and contemporary Ukrainian Village spot showcases the culinary stylings of South Korean-born chef Frederick Despres, who previously worked under renowned chef Takashi Yagihashi (whose now-closed Tribute in suburban Detroit was considered one of America's best restaurants). His dishes range from the traditional to completely outside the box and everywhere in-between, always with an emphasis on what’s fresh and in season. One appetizer showcases five Japanese mushrooms, while another combines minced toro with Asian pear, chive, caviar, and house special soy sauce. There’s also a robata selection, as well as noodles and donburi. We suggest opting for the chef’s choice sashimi, but the chef’s skills are also evident in such special maki as zuke sake madai (marinated salmon, sea bream, takuan, ginger tare [soy basting sauce], and radish), and spicy tako ebi (spicy octopus, green pepper, shrimp, wasabi mayo, and tobiko).
#41 Daigo, San Francisco
Photo by David C. via Yelp
A small, no-frills restaurant with seven tables and a sushi counter that seats six, this Richmond gem is a casual and relaxed place to enjoy some super fresh and expertly prepared sushi. Spot prawn, yellowtail belly, mackerel, Hokkaido scallop, and specials including halibut are all served by attentive and friendly servers (and sushi chefs, if you sit at the counters), and it’s affordable enough to become your local spot, if you’re lucky enough to live in the area.
#40 Sushi Paradise, Kihei, Hawaii
Yelp / Linda L
This cozy and charming dinner-only sushi spot, tucked away inside a strip mall, is one of those locals-only gems. You’ll definitely have to wait for a table or a spot at the sushi bar, but you’ll be amply rewarded for your patience. It’s a three-person operation; chef Watanabe is behind the sushi counter, his charming wife waits the tables, and one other employee is in the kitchen, and chef Watanabe’s creations are masterful. His sushi is generously sliced and served in huge portions for a great value, and even the spicy tuna gets more attention than most sushi spots bestow on their most prized specimens.
#39 Kisaku, Seattle
Photo by John W. via Yelp
This quintessential neighborhood spot is run by talented chef Riyuchi Nakano, who’s made it his mission to source the freshest fish possible and only serve the highest grade. Start your meal with flame-broiled black cod marinated in sale lees or fresh local oysters with ponzu, and follow it up with nigiri of sweet shrimp, Japanese mackerel, flounder, a rotating selection of Japanese wild white fish, and yellowtail (if California red abalone is available, don’t miss that either). The Green Lake Roll with salmon, flying fish row, asparagus, avocado, and marinated seafood is also a must-order.
#38 Sakedokoro Makoto, Washington, D.C.
In the quiet of the Palisades just two miles up MacArthur Boulevard from Georgetown University, Sakedokoro Makoto has the power to transport you away from the nation’s capital and halfway around the world to Japan. The change in culture is immediate as soon as you step in and down off the street and into this D.C. stalwart that has been delighting sushi-lovers since 1992. You’re forced (in a good way), by the business casual dress code and the request not to use a cellphone or wear strong perfumes and colognes, to consciously engage in a calmer mindset. Take off your shoes and settle into your wooden bench in an intimate, traditional setting that fits just two dozen people. You’ll be quickly taken into the care of graceful and efficient servers whose service possesses a touch light enough to make you feel as if you’re being looked after in a traditional Kyoto ryokan. It’s important to note that though you’ll find expertly crafted sushi on the à la carte lunch menu and as part of the evening omakase, Makoto isn’t a sushi bar per se, but rather a place to enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine. Soft-shell crabs, small nests of noodles, grilled fish — these will all round out your sushi experience while jazz softly lilts in the background.
#37 Bamboo Sushi, Portland, Ore.
Bambook Sushi / Facebook
Bamboo Sushi is the first sushi restaurant in America — there are five locations in Portland and a new one in Denver — to be Certified Green by the Green Restaurant Association. To keep its coveted “sustainable” title, the restaurant brings in the freshest seafood available, paying close attention to marine stewardship, sustainability, and the environment. To that end, it partners with the Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Blue Ocean Institute, Salmon Nation, KidSafe Seafood, and the GRA.
The end result is seriously delicious, super fresh seafood. Order the omakase and you’ll be treated to dishes like the House on Fire Mackerel (grilled mackerel drizzled in red chile oil, topped with pickled mustard caviar, and seasoned with lemon charcoal and alder wood smoke), or opt for the à la carte nigiri or sashimi menu and enjoy house-smoked wild ivory salmon, pole-caught Korean anago (sea eel), or Filipino and Hawaiian tuna with a clear conscience.
#36 Zuma, Miami
Zuma Miami – Official / Facebook
Hip and modern in design, Zuma is chef and restaurateur Rainer Becker’s izakaya-style restaurant chain. Inspired by the six years he spent learning about Japanese food and cuisine in Tokyo, the first restaurant opened in 2002 in London and was followed by additional locations in Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Dubai before opening its first American location in Miami in the Epic Hotel. With its huge space and flashy décor, Zuma looks expensive and has a bit of a reputation for being a “scene,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll be disappointed by the food. Additional American locations have also opened in New York and Las Vegas.
#35 PABU, San Francisco and Boston
Photo by Kay Y. via Yelp
These San Francisco and Boston sister izakayas are the brainchildren of chefs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga (who runs the San Francisco cult favorite Hana). There are plenty of hot prepared dishes here (and just about all of them are spectacular), but the sushi here is second to none and as creative as it is delicious. Nearly 30 varieties of nigiri and sashimi are available, including four varieties of tuna, sea bream, striped jack, ocean trout, cuttlefish, and even foie gras and A5 Japanese Wagyu. And as far as rolls go, Michael’s Negitoro (O Toro, scallion, uni, and salmon roe) is one of the most delicious bites of food you’ll find anywhere.
#34 Tomo, Atlanta
Tomo Japanese Restaurant / Facebook
Tomo is the brainchild of Tokyo-born Tomo Naito — who honed his eye for quality while working as a seafood buyer and his sushi skills at the omakase station at Las Vegas’ Nobu — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for sushi in Atlanta. The room is sleek, as befits its location in ritzy Buckhead, and the skills of Naito are on full display, not only in the quality of the fish but in the creative ingenuity behind his dishes like usuzukuri, thinly sliced fluke dotted with hot sauce and ponzu jelly.
#33 Miyake, Portland, Maine
Photo by Rachel L. via Yelp
Portland, Maine may be about as far away from Japan is you can get, but in this city of restaurants (with more per capita than anywhere else in America), we’re not surprised to find a sushi spot that can compete with any of America’s best. Open since 2011, Miyake is the playplace of chef/owner Masa Miyake, who sources the highest-possible ingredients from around the world and even runs his own farm in town. Omakase starts at just $38 (10-piece nigiri) and tops out at $70, a steal for what you receive: Don’t be surprised if you’re handed a whole sea urchin with the uni still attached, lightly grilled Freymont oyster with mirin, grilled cod, and generously portioned nigiri with high-quality fish.
#32 Arigato, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Yelp / Eric T
The most popular sushi restaurant in Santa Barbara is also the most innovative. Appetizers include oyster or sea urchin with quail egg “shots,” sake-steamed asari clam with garlic butter and shiso, a baked half avocado stuffed with freshwater eel and crab, and shiso-wrapped uni tempura, but the real magic is happening on the vast sushi and sashimi menu. À la carte nigiri options include rare finds like Hokki clam, jellyfish, monkfish liver, tiny octopus, sea bream, and sweet kelp; and nigiri specialties include seared beef with truffle soy marinade and horseradish sauce, bluefin tuna with grated ginger and yuzu garlic oil, and smoked salmon with red onion, caper, dill, and gorgonzola sauce. There’s some serious creativity going on here.
#31 Sushi Sasabune, Honolulu
A no-frills restaurant that some might even call “divey” also happens to serve the best sushi in Hawaii. Take a seat at the counter and let chef Seiji Kumagawa be your guide through your choice of two omakase menus, one “Japanese” and one “Western.” Opt for the Western menu and you’ll be treated to items like bluefin tuna in ponzu or salmon with kelp and sesame; the Japanese menu will bring you a more exotic assortment like snapper with fermented squid and clam that’s been slapped to “wake up” the muscle. Either way, you’re in for a 13-course treat.
#30 Shuko, New York City
Shuko NYC / Facebook
Two former protégés of sushi master Masa Takayama opened Shuko near Union Square in November 2014 after moving on from their first solo project, Neta, and by now Shuko has been firmly established as the best Japanese restaurant to open in the city in the past couple years. What started as a Hamptons summer pop-up quickly earned four stars from New York Magazine and three stars from The New York Times, in which Pete Wells said owners Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau “have taken all the preciousness out of omakase and kaiseki dining and replaced it with a relaxed, sophisticated cool.”
At the 20-seat sushi counter, guests are treated to either a $135 sushi tasting or a $175 kaiseki (made up of both sushi and prepared dishes), and the possibilities of what you might be served are almost infinite, ranging from baby uni with shrimp and caviar to a truffle-wrapped sushi roll, grilled toro sinew wrapped in toasted seaweed, cod sperm with white truffle, or squab cartilage with sancho pepper, with a slice of apple pie for dessert (seriously). We suggest you throw caution to the wind and let Kim and Lau be your guides on one of the most exciting culinary journeys you’re likely to encounter for a while.
#29 Kyo Ya, New York City
Photo by Valery C. via Yelp
Hiding in plain sight in the East Village, seven-year-old Kyo Ya has no sign or website, and, as The New York Times’ Pete Wells noted in his glowing 2012 review, any menu you find online will be out of date. But if you show up, throw caution to the wind and let chef Chikara Sono be your guide, and you’ll be in for a meal you’ll remember for a long time. You can order from the à la carte menu as well (kurobuta pork belly, pressed sushi, and miso-glazed black cod are standouts), but if you opt for the kaiseki menu, be prepared for an intricate multi-course feast that highlights the freshest seasonal ingredients.
#28 Kabuto Edomae Sushi, Las Vegas
Just a 10-minute drive from the Strip, the sushi you’ll find at Kabuto is just as good (if not better) than what you’ll find at its better-known brethren. Much of the fish served here is flown in daily from the Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, and even though chef Gen Mizoguchi left a couple years ago, the 22-seat marvel hasn’t skipped a beat under new sushi chef Ken Hosoki. As the name might imply (edomae, like nigiri, means sliced fish on hand-formed rice), fish takes center stage here, served as part of three omakases priced at $48, $80, or $120. The fish selection changes daily, but you can rest assured that you’ll be blown away by it.
#27 Kura, New York City
Photo by Jin J.. via Yelp
This beloved East Village hideaway only serves omakase and a handful of kitchen dishes, but everything you eat here is going to be essentially perfect. You can choose your omakase from 12 to more than 20 courses, so expect high-quality tuna, surf clam, Japanese roast duck, razor clam, snapper, and uni, or whatever else sushi master Norihiro Ishizuka feels is good. Even though the price has nearly doubled to more than $100 per person since it first opened a few years ago, it’s still worth every penny.
#26 Uchi, Austin
For years, we bought the myth that sushi was an inviolable tradition, understood only by the Japanese and impervious to modernization. Then Nobu Matsuhisa came along to disprove the latter — and American chefs like Tim Cushman at O Ya in Boston and Tyson Cole at Uchi and Uchiko in Austin tossed both notions out like empty sake bottles. There's no telling what classicists would make of Cole's bigeye tuna with goat cheese, Fuji apple, and pumpkin seed oil; tempura shrimp spring roll with Vietnamese fish sauce and grapes; or pork jowl with Brussels sprout kimchee, romaine, preserved lemon, and crème fraîche; but the hungry Austinites who crowd this rustic house-turned-restaurant obviously eat it all up.
#25 Roka Akor, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Photo by Roka Akor - Scottsdale via Yelp
Roka Akor may be a huge restaurant, specializing in sushi as well as steak (with three additional locations and a fourth in the works), but it’s legendary for a reason: It’s really, really good, and the quality of the sushi alone makes it one of America’s best restaurants for sushi, hands down. Fish is flown in fresh daily, and you can sample it à la carte, in a flight of blue fin tuna, in a chef’s selection of five or seven pieces, or as part of a $128 omakase. Should you opt for the omakase, expect to get your money’s worth: Chef Jason Alford only serves the rarest and highest-quality ingredients that come through his kitchen, so don’t be surprised if you’re served Wagyu steak, black cod, lobster tempura, uni, a lavish platter of at least 10 varieties of sashimi, tableside-shaved black truffles, and several varieties of dessert. You might want to skip lunch that day.
#24 Akiko’s, San Francisco
A sleek and stylish sushi bar run by two generations of the Lee family over the past 30 years, Akiko’s has been quietly serving some of the finest sushi anywhere, with fish shipments arriving daily from purveyors including Japan’s renowned Tsujiki fish market. Rare and sustainable fish is favored to overfished stock, so expect to be served fish including black sea bream from Cyprus, black tuna or wild halibut from Japan, monkfish liver from Boston, white tuna belly from Canada, or ocean trout from Australia. If you visit Akiko’s, put your meal in the chef’s hands and expect the unexpected.
#23 Sushi of Gari, New York City
Yelp / Farhana S
Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio became a sushi chef in Japan at age 19, and today he runs four Sushi of Gari restaurants in Manhattan. Though they could have easily gone the route of pricey-if-unexceptional chains like Haru, instead they’re all upscale, elegant, and focused squarely on serving the highest-quality sushi possible. Start with flawless interpretations of sushi bar classics like steamed monkfish liver in ponzu, kabocha tempura, or beef tataki, and from there move on to chef’s choice sushi ($29–$49), sashimi ($36–$55), or, of course, the omakase, which certainly won’t let you down.
#22 Ichimura at Brushstroke, New York City
Brushstroke Restaurant / Facebook
Chef David Bouley brought on sushi master Eiji Ichimura to open this tiny Tribeca gem back in 2011, and four years and four New York Times stars later, it’s still one of the finest omakase spots in New York. Ichimura’s sushi is a descendant of the Edo-mae style (where fish is stored in salt or vinegar, or cured in soy sauce), and the flavors are stronger here, the vinegar in the rice more assertive. Want to try dry-aged tuna belly? This is the place. Sure, the omakase menu starts at $195, but you won’t find a similar experience anywhere else in the city.
#21 Matsuhisa, Los Angeles
This modest bungalow on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills — once known as "Restaurant Row" — was international culinary celebrity Nobu Matsuhisa's first U.S. establishment and the birthplace of his Nobu empire. Originally offering little more than sushi, sashimi, and some tempura choices, the menu has been reverse-engineered over the years to include a large selection of the kinds of dishes diners have come to expect from Nobu (tuna tataki with cilantro dressing, buckwheat soba risotto, the inevitable black cod with miso), but the straightforward sushi selection remains impeccable, if pricey. Don't miss the sweet shrimp sushi or the softshell crab roll.
#20 15 East, New York City
15 East Restaurant / Facebook
Husband and wife restaurateurs Marco Moreira and Joann Makovitzky opened 15 East nine years ago a block away from New York City’s Union Square, and in the time since, it has become one of New York City’s most esteemed spots for sushi. There’s a clean, open dining room with windows that look out onto the street, but you’re going to want to sit at the counter where executive chef Masato Shimizu oversees the action. Shimizu apprenticed with sushi master Rikio Kugo at Tokyo’s renowned Sukeroku for seven years before moving to New York and getting snapped up by Moreira and Makovitzky. You can order à la carte at 15 East, from a menu that features six types of white fish, eight kinds of silver fish, and at least four kinds, cuts, and different presentations of clams, tuna, hamachi, and octopus — but if you’re a sushi purist, you’ll only go omakase, where the chefs will select the best fish of the day according to your preference: sushi, sashimi, or both.
#19 Asanebo, Los Angeles
Asanebo / Facebook
Since 1991, this cozy San Fernando Valley gem has been turning out some great sushi and home-style Japanese delicacies, good enough to earn it a Michelin star in 2008 and 2009 (Michelin suspended its LA guide in 2010). The kappo-style menu is full of unique dishes like miso-marinated seared U.S. Kobe beef with peach compote, sea urchin tempura, and steamed red snapper head, but the sushi is the true standout: The wide variety ranges from sweet shrimp (amaebi) to halibut fin (engawa), and house signature dishes include halibut sashimi with fresh truffle, seafood ceviche, and sea urchin that’s been salt-cured, steamed, and chilled.
#18 Makoto, Bal Harbour, Fla.
Since 2011, master sushi chef Makoto Okuwa has been serving some of the city’s best sushi at the Bal Harbour Shops in Miami Beach. The protégé of Masaharu Morimoto receives shipments from Japan three times per week, and though his sushi is flawless (don’t miss the wahoo, golden big eye snapper, or orange clam), it’s the signature dishes like the Kobe Air Bread (a seared slice of Kobe beef on a horseradish foam-filled cracker) and the Frosted Kobe Beef (frozen Kobe, onions, and sesame seeds, charred with a blowtorch) that really put it over the top.
#17 Kiriko, Los Angeles
Kiriko Sushi Sawtelle Los Angeles / Facebook
This small Westside sushi bar is the best of both worlds: a place to experience stellar omakase and nigiri, and also a great local spot. Sashimi changes on a near-daily basis according to what’s fresh and in season; don’t be surprised if you come across a special offering five different types of salmon alongside rarer finds like barracuda (kamasu), wild striped jack (shimaaji), and Hokkaido scallop (hotate).
#16 Nobu, New York City
When chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened his eponymous restaurant along with pal Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood in 1994, there was no way he could have imagined that 21 years later he’d be running 32 affiliated restaurants around the world; including nine Nobu-branded hotels. But there’s a reason Nobu has become a household name across the globe, and a visit to the Michelin-starred New York flagship (or one of the two in Las Vegas) tells you all you need to know. The design by architect David Rockwell evokes the Japanese countryside while conveying excitement and energy, and the cuisine fuses classical Japanese with that of Peru and Argentina, where Nobu trained. The standout dishes, including yellowtail with jalapeño, lobster with wasabi pepper sauce, and black cod with miso, are nothing short of legendary. Nobu will be moving out of its longtime Tribeca location at the end of this year and re-opening in the Financial District in early 2017, but we’re sure the end result will be spectacular as usual.
#15 Katsu, Chicago
This small, homey restaurant in an unassuming West Rogers Park building serves the best sushi in Chicago, and it’s so beloved by the locals that it bested Alinea to claim the No. 1 spot for “Best Food in Chicago” in 2013’s Zagat guide. Chef Katsu Imamura and his wife, Haruko, run the restaurant with friendly professionalism, and only the freshest fish available is served, sliced in slightly more generous portions than you’ll find elsewhere and accented with a shiso leaf here, a dab of caviar there. Katsu isn’t a place to see and be seen; it’s a place to experience the work of a sushi master.
#14 Mori, Los Angeles
Situated on a dark corner of Pico Boulevard amid undistinguished, low-rise businesses in West LA’s no-man’s land, Sushi Mori is an intimate oasis of blonde-wood minimalism where beautiful fish is served on ceramics handmade by founder Morihiro Onodera. Though Mori, who trained first in Tokyo and then in LA at Matsuhisa and in New York at Hatsuhana under Sushi Yasuda founder Naomichi Yasuda, sold the restaurant in 2011 to focus on making ceramics and growing artisanal sushi rice, it is now run by his protégé, Masanori Nagano, who has brilliantly maintained the founder’s blend of artistry (fresh figs with roe and radish), originality (smoked barracuda), and elegance. The omakase is not cheap, but it’s an experience you’ll savor and likely want to repeat.
#13 Tei-An, Dallas
Photo by Nazia H. via Yelp
Teiichi Sakurai is single-handedly elevating Dallas’ sushi game at his Tei-An, which was recently named one of America’s 38 Essential Restaurants by Eater’s Bill Addison. Teiichi is a master of soba noodles, which he makes by hand and serves both cold and hot, and it’s best enjoyed at the end of a seven-course omakase, which you need to call ahead to request. The fish he serves will undoubtedly be the freshest and highest quality possible, and don’t be surprised if you also get served a slice of A5 Wagyu.
#12 Naoe, Miami
For sushi-lovers, Naoe is a little slice of heaven in Miami. The sushi here would be right at home even at a high-end spot in Japan, and at this tiny, eight-seat temple to raw fish, you can let sushi master Kevin Cory, dubbed the "Omakase King," be your guide. The accolades for Naoe just keep piling up: Five stars from Forbes Travel Guide, named one of the country’s best sushi restaurants by Travel + Leisure, a nomination for best new chef from Food & Wine, and so on. (Chef Ferran Adrià even called it “one of the best Japanese restaurants that I have been to outside of Japan, in the world.”) If you can snag a reservation (only 16 guests are served each night), you’ll be presented with a selection of some of the freshest seafood imaginable from both Japanese and local waters. There’s horse mackerel topped with fresh wasabi, fresh-roasted and basted eel, urchin-topped egg tofu, cured squid, Scottish salmon belly… The selection goes on and on. By the time your meal is through, you may never look at sushi the same way again.
#11 Hatsuhana, New York City
Photo by Joanna N. via Yelp
This Manhattan institution has been serving top-quality sushi and sashimi — along with a broad menu of other Japanese specialties — for almost three decades. The fish and shellfish selection is large, including, besides the standards, such offerings as engawa (fluke fin), sayori (halfbeak, a forage fish), aoyagi (orange clam), and kohada (spotted sardine). Saba (mackerel) from both Boston and Japan is served (the Japanese version is $2 more per piece). There are also vegetable handrolls, including asparagus, avocado, cucumber, dried squash, and plum paste with shiso leaves. Various sushi and sashimi combination plates, priced from $28 to $52, are great deals.
#10 Sushi Ota, San Diego
Photo by Nancy N. via Yelp
Hiding in an unassuming strip mall is San Diego’s best sushi bar, beloved by locals and sought out by in-the-know tourists. Chef Yukio Ota has been sourcing the freshest and finest sushi available since he first opened the doors in 1990, and today, if you grab a seat at the sushi counter and ask for omakase, your meal might involve raw spot prawn with the head fried, sea urchin from local waters delivered daily, a variety of stunning sashimi, crispy octopus fritters, a variety of tempura, and possibly even shirako, politely referred to as “cod milt” (look it up for yourself). There’s always a line out the door, so get there early.
#9 Oishii, Boston
Yelp / Vivian T
Boston isn’t a city that’s generally known for its sushi, but the fish at this South End gem is right up there with the country’s best. Chef Ting Yan opened the restaurant in 1998, with the intention of drawing on influences from his multicultural background and experience as a sushi master in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Unexpected menu items include kaffir lime duck salad, handmade tofu, and foie gras-truffle sushi. Though there’s a wide menu of expertly prepared appetizers, entrées, soups, and salads, the sushi selection is exceptional. Six types of salmon, 12 types of tuna, 10 types of shellfish… The variety alone is enough to make your jaw drop, and Yan knows exactly the right way to slice, treat, and garnish each fish.
#8 Sushi Zo, Los Angeles
Yelp / Grace C
Once somewhat of a secret, chef Keizo Seki’s Sushi Zo, an unassuming gem located in a Westside Los Angeles strip mall, has branched out to a second and more contemporary high-profile downtown location. Seki is a no-nonsense sushi purist. Don’t expect California rolls or laughing banter between bites of the precisely seasoned nigiri — the interactive experience is more temple than tempura. What you’ll get is course after course of fresh, expertly cut, beautifully presented sushi delivered quickly and in quiet moments, time enough to savor high quality. It’s no understatement to say this is some of the best sushi in the country, and if you believe world-famous chef Ferran Adrià, it’s even better than what you can find in Japan.
#7 Nobu, Las Vegas
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Nobu Matsuhisa is nothing short of a rock star in the sushi world, and a visit to one of his two Las Vegas restaurants (we recommend the one located in the newish Nobu Hotel inside Caesar’s Palace, but the original inside the Hard Rock Hotel is also spectacular) will immediately tell you why. These David Rockwell-designed Nobus are chic and hip — sure, a place to see and be seen — but the ambiance never gets in the way of the food. You’ll find all the trademark Nobu dishes — black cod miso, rock shrimp tempura, yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño — but there’s also an astounding sushi selection. Even though Matsuhisa himself is more renowned for his hot dishes, he’s brought on some of the best sushi chefs in the world and his creative ingenuity is on full display here. Be it abalone, Japanese red snapper, shad (kohada), or striped jack (shima aji), when it’s served at Nobu, it’s going to be good.
#6 Juno, Chicago
Photo by Tiffany W. via Yelp
A high-end sushi experience if ever there was one, Juno is a temple to all things sushi. The à la carte menu is one of the finest you’ll encounter at any sushi restaurant: Appetizers include fluke, lardo, and scallion; an uni shooter with orange zest and cucumber; and mushroom ramen with homemade noodles. Signature nigiri include spicy king crab and tuna, smoked Hamachi with shiitake and sweet corn, and a trio of eel; and the selection of more than 20 raw fish also lists their sources (red snapper from Korea, fatty tuna from Australia, sweet red prawn from Argentina, uni from Santa Barbara, yellowtail from Japan). These all come together to create what’s easily the best omakase in Chicago, for an eye-opening (but worth it) $150 per guest.
#5 Sushi Nakazawa, New York City
Those obsessed with sushi watched the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi with fascination and even a little bit of envy for the lucky diners sitting at the small bar in the tiny, three-star Michelin restaurant tucked into a Tokyo subway station run by Jiro Ono, marveling at the many years his sons and apprentices took to master tasks like making rice and egg custard. A similar sense of marvel and fascination is now taking place in New York City at Sushi Nakazawa, the West Village restaurant opened by Jiro’s apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa in August of 2013 and promptly earned four stars from The New York Times. With its opening, America gained not only one of its best sushi restaurants but one of its best restaurants, period. Your two-hour meal at Sushi Nakazawa will feature about 21 pieces of sushi that Nakazawa prepares with dedication to tradition and ingredients.
#4 Urasawa, Los Angeles
This two-Michelin-star Japanese culinary shrine, with a sushi bar and just enough room for 10 diners nightly, located in a shopping center off of Rodeo Drive, might be called the West Coast version of New York City's Masa. That's not surprising: Not only did Urasawa chef-owner Hiroyuki Urasawa train under Masa Takayama before opening his eponymous restaurant here, but the spot previously housed Takayama’s Ginza Sushi-ko, where Masa made his reputation. Urasawa has a nearly 30-course omakase menu that changes daily, not to be missed if you can afford to pay $395 for the privilege. The restaurant’s fate currently seems up in the air as chef Hiroyuki appears to be taking a break, so cross your fingers that all is well.
#3 O-Ya, Boston and New York City
Chef Tim Cushman brings innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare to his menu with imagination and flair, serving these and other truly wonderful dishes; accompanied by a large choice of excellent sake and wine, in an understated dining room whose simplicity belies the complexity of flavors on the plate. Cushman won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast. You can expect to enjoy dishes like balsamic chocolate kabayaki, claudio corallo raisin cocoa pulp, sip of aged sake and warm eel with Thai basil, kabayaki, fresh kyoto sansho. And with the opening of a second location last year in New York, Cushman has elevated Manhattan’s sushi game to new heights.
#2 Sushi Yasuda, New York City
It’s a special kind of restaurant that you can walk into, sit down, and without looking at a menu just say to the people preparing your food, "Yes, please," — and know that every bite is going to send you searching for new superlatives. For sushi-lovers, that’s exactly what Yasuda and its minimalist dining room represents. To say the fish is fresh just doesn’t do the place justice — for many, experiencing the taste and texture of seafood at Yasuda will set the bar for what freshness means. The restaurant's namesake and founder, Naomichi Yasuda, decamped to return to Japan in 2010, but the standards he established here haven't faltered. His hand-picked successor, Mitsuru Tamura, keeps that Yasuda philosophy alive.
#1 Masa, New York City
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Masa Takayama is undeniably a sushi master — calm, precise, insistent on the very finest raw materials — and the sushi and other dishes you may sample at his flagship in Manhattan's Time Warner Center will be truly memorable. Does that justify the $595-per-person tariff (tip included) for his omakase menu — or, for that matter, the $200-per-person fee for cancellations less than 48 hours in advance? That's something each diner must decide for him- or herself. Suffice it to say that Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls inspire ecstatic reactions, his fugu sashimi (including liver, skin, and intestines) is well worth the frisson you'll get from consuming this fabled blowfish (toxic if not properly prepared), and his toro with a generous helping of caviar seems almost worth the price of admission. That said, à la carte selections are also available.