Sushi is so common it’s easy for it to become an afterthought — a literal last-minute lunch fix from the Publix around the corner. Of course, the ever-increasing availability of sushi that at least qualifies as edible can only be seen as a good thing. But if you’re really looking to transport your taste buds to Tokyo, you might want to settle in for a night of non-stop, Edomae-style nigiri fueled by junmai daiginjo sake at one of these extraordinary shrines to the art of Japanese seafood: the seven best sushi restaurants in America.
New York, New York
Chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim sharpened their skills under Masa Takayama, the owner of Masa, a three-Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in Manhattan, New York. Then they ran their own start-up sushi operation on West 8th Street called Neta. A decade later, they opened Shuko — one of the Big Apple’s hottest and most loved sushi destinations. Unlike the cramped bar at their first restaurant, the C-shaped dining counter here, carved from a solid Tamo Ash that was butterflied, seats 20 people comfortably. The chefs are flanked by a fleet of diligent assistants, including a bewhiskered bartender who mixes exotic cocktails with ten-year-old Armagnac and Japanese tea, then spritzes them with plum-flavored eau-de-vie.
There’s no menu. Shuko elevates fish to an art form. The toro tartare on milk bread and the spicy tuna roll covered with Thai chiles, chopped to bits and ready to set your taste buds on fire, will leave you fondly recalling them for months after they’ve ended.
Morio’s Sushi Bistro
With less than two dozen seats in the entire establishment,Morio’s Sushi Bistro basically caters to those with a four-months-ahead reservation. “The front of the shop looks rather run down,” says Kristine Tan from Honolulu, Hawaii. “However, all the magic is inside of its brick and mortar.” Morio’s Sushi Bistro is a sort of BYOB sushi party. Everyone wears t-shirts and rubbah slippahs. Chef Morio cracks crass one-liners and takes swigs of sake with his guests. A renowned fishmonger who gets first dibs at some of the finest seafood out of Japan, he also crafts sake steamed clams, lobster soup, and shrimp tempura that’s fried in the lightest of batters. It’ll give you food dreams for weeks.
San Diego, California
Parked next door to a 7-Eleven and a Planned Parenthood, Sushi Ota looks like it could be a shady dentist’s office. But this hole-in-the-wall is actually one of the best sushi spots in the Bay area. An army of master chefs, clad in black robes and crown-fitting white hats, serve petite slices of translucent spot prawn along with its deep-fried head. Sushi Ota’s uni is also plucked daily from local waters and is the stuff of legend. “It makes you want to sell all of your possessions to just keep getting another hit of that thick, rich, creamy, and sweet sea urchin,” says Freiler Thompson from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Between the crisp, nubbly octopus fritters and specialty rolls like the Pizza, a California roll topped with eel sauce, that are sold at strip-mall prices, you’ll be so in love with your food that you’ll want to fork it.
Toni’s Sushi Bar
Sushi has become as prevalent in Miami as flip-flop weddings and golden-thonged bicyclists, with rolls popping up in bodegas and high-end hotels alike. But before all that, Toni’s was churning out high-quality, no-flash sushi in Oriental-style digs (complete with sunken seating and bamboo dividers). South Beach’s first Japanese restaurant, it’s still on the cutting edge — literally. It serves up steaming bowls of soba noodles topped with beef, shrimp, or veggies, plus Tony’s Choice, a single serving of fresh sushi and sashimi artfully arranged atop a bamboo boat. The Washington Avenue restaurant is as notable for what it is — one of the best sushi spots in the Sunshine State — as for what it isn’t: expensive and overblown.
The Iron Chef who gave this ultra-modern, color kinetic, Tokyo-in-the-US restaurant its name seldom wields his knives behind Philly’s best sushi joint. “I spend more time cooking at events,” says Masaharu Morimoto. “It’s good to do something different, like creating new menu items. I’ve gotten some ideas from Italian food: for Uni Carbonara, instead of pasta, I use Japanese Inaniwa Udon, thin noodles.” From his infamous fugu (blowfish), prepared three ways in season, to his toro that melts in your mouth like butter, Morimoto’s flagship packs in more species of fish than Finding Nemo. Located a block from Independence Hall on Chestnut Street, the two-story space is a mix between a swanky nightclub and a zen modern art gallery. Unlike most super-fancy joints with a world-famous owner, though, the omakase won’t put a massive crater in your wallet. Pair it with a “Sakura” — a cosmo made with Sake — or a Rogue Hazelnut beer.
Identical twins Carlo and Melvin Vizconde honed their seafood skills at various sushi gigs before striking out on their own and establishing Kai Zan in a somewhat sleepy Humboldt Park location that wasn’t considered a likely destination for serious raw fish connoisseurs. And yet, seven years in, this serene 22-seater has established itself as a favorite among sushi snobs for its BYOB policy (limit 2 bottles) and omakase that includes more food than you can eat — oyster and uni shooters served in ponzu sauce and topped with caviar and quail eggs, seared salmon wrapped around orange-kissed scallops, bite-size rice balls topped with seared tuna, spicy mayo, chili oil, and a creamy wasabi sauce. Then there’s Japanese dezāto like coffee gelatin topped with sweet red beans and whipped cream or green tea ice cream smothered with Anko that’s guaranteed to hit your sweet spot.
Chef Ryan Roadhouse and his business partner and wife, Elena Roadhouse, specialize in “hardcore” 13, 19, and 25-course omakase that are built around subtle references to artists, fast food chains, or TV shows — including a “Twin Peaks” meal they once cooked at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles for the director David Lynch. At Nodoguro’s ever-changing kappo-style feasts, you might be served a salmon roe “Russian-style” sandwich, a risotto-like uni rice topped with popping roe, or gently crisped Japanese eggplant poached in young miso with a sliver of duck.
It’s hard to say since Roadhouse designs his menu 48 hours before each meal. And he sources some of the rarest ingredients from Japan, found nowhere else in the United States. What’s certain in this “adventurous eaters only” approach to culinary improv? “It encompasses every sense and has the ability to take a person out of place and time,” says one Yelper. “I am still floating on a high from having one of the most exquisite meals of my life.” The Belmont Street restaurant’s reservation books open only once a month, so jump on tickets immediately. Which is to say, check its website for cancellations on the regular if you want to score a seat.