By Bao Ong | Travel+Leisure
The days of the California roll are numbered. Do you really want to eat a run-of-the-mill maki roll stuffed with flimsy strands of tasteless cucumber, dried-out imitation crab, and mushy avocado? Ordering one at any respectable sushi restaurant is like asking for buttered pasta at a four-star Italian restaurant.
Today, the American palate is more sophisticated than ever, and as a result, sushi’s popularity continues to soar. Ingredients once considered too hard to find are now commonplace at sushi restaurants from Manhattan to Minneapolis. Just one peek at the recent documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which follows one of the most respected sushi masters, and it’s clear why diners love eating everything from raw clams to rice topped with precious caviar.
Our list of the best sushi restaurants includes a range of options. While the price tag can be steep, as much as $500 for dinner, it’s is aimed at all budgets, with each experience worth the trip.
Soto, New York City
(Photo: Courtesy of Soto)
Soto remains under the radar among notable sushi restaurants in New York but is consistently ranked among the best by guidebooks like Zagat and Michelin. One reason is chef Sotohiro Kosugi. The menu features several varieties of sea urchin—all worth ordering. In the small, serene dining room the best views of Kosugi working his magic are best had from the bar. There’s also a menu of fine sakes—great for pairing with your kampachi tartare, diced bits of yellowtail fish, or thinly sliced Long Island fluke dusted with sea salt and a touch of yuzu zest.
Makoto, Washington, D.C.
(Photo: Natural Foodie / Flickr)
Makoto means “harmony” in Japanese, and that may be the best description of the food at this well-known D.C. favorite. Ordering omakase in this quaint restaurant is the way to go here, as a procession of pageantry unfolds before you. A variety of fish, whether raw or flash grilled, is accompanied by courses ranging from silky layers of tofu topped with grated ginger to delicate vegetables lightly fried in a tempura batter. The dishes roll out at a steady pace, and while you can order à la carte, it’s best to let the chefs make the decisions.
Urasawa, Los Angeles
(Photo: Navin Rajagopalan / Flickr)
An average bill for two people at Urasawa can easily top $1,000 with tip and tax, so it’s only natural that everyone asks, “Is it worth it?” Yes. The cooking at this tiny restaurant—which seats 10 people at a time—is personal and theatrical. Chef and owner Hiroyuki Urasawa flies in the freshest fish each day, so you can never predict which delicacies will roll out in front of you. A sliver of fatty toro, a rich cut of tuna, may arrive on a custom-carved ice pedestal, or a personal hot stone grill may appear before you as the catch of the day is quickly seared on both sides. Just be ready for the check.
Sushi Ota, San Diego
Tucked into a corner of a strip mall, Sushi Ota is a longtime favorite among locals. This bento box–size space is simply designed with clean lines. It’s a perfect backdrop to the menu, which features top-notch sashimi cut by a small brigade of chefs behind the counter. The variety of seafood, from monkfish liver to abalone, is also surprising for a small spot.
O Ya, Boston
(Photo: Jan Mark Holzer)
Japanese tradition is a hallmark of top sushi restaurants, but where O Ya differs is in its creativity. The dishes are intricate without being gimmicky. There are no dragon rolls tricked out with a dozen ingredients. Instead, popular choices include a sea bass sashimi topped with spicy cucumber vinaigrette and a fried Kumamoto oyster nigiri with yuzu kosho (a chili paste with peppery and salty flavors) aioli and squid ink bubbles. Even the dining room strays from the clichéd sushi-bar look with dark, warm colors in a former firehouse that welcomes you back each time.
Uchi, Austin, Texas
(Photo: Paul Bardagjy)
Austin has a reputation for being a bit of a wild card, but who knew it was home to one of the most innovative sushi restaurants? Chef Tyson Cole quickly made a name for himself after opening Uchi, where he combines local ingredients with fish flown in daily from Tokyo. A prime example is the machi cure, which is a play of baby yellowtail, yucca chips, Asian pears, Marcona almonds, and garlic brittle. For a rustic counterpoint to contemporary Uchi, try Cole’s other Austin sushi spot, Uchiko.
Sushi Ran, San Francisco
(Photo: Lisa Keenan)
While some sushi restaurants find it a challenge to procure fresh fish, that’s never been an issue for Sushi Ran, a mainstay in Sausalito for the past 25 years, known for its relaxed dining room and bar. In fact, sometimes the selection is so varied that choosing what to eat is the biggest challenge: all fish are locally caught or handpicked from a Japanese fish market. Owner Yoshi Tome lets his chefs blend the traditional and creative. And it shows in dishes like a smoked hamachi tataki, a seared yellowfish with avocado, ruby grapefruit, and yuzu–black pepper sauce.
Masu Sushi and Robata, Minneapolis
(Photo: Courtesy of Masu Sushi and Robata)
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there has to be at least one outstanding sushi restaurant. Enter Masu Sushi and Robata. Chef Katsuyuki Yamamoto turns out Instagram-ready rolls and sashimi in this fun restaurant with a quirky décor. You won’t go wrong ordering the red sea bream nigiri or the Dynamite roll with two kinds of tuna topped with avocado and chili sauce. And don’t pass on the robata (grilling done in the Japanese tradition) selection, which might include jumbo shrimp on skewers or discs of Japanese eggplant glazed with sweet miso.
Brushstroke, New York City
(Photo: Jan Mark Holzer)
TriBeCa’s resurgence has attracted a number of well-known restaurant openings to the downtown neighborhood, but none rival the nearly 10 years of planning that went into Brushstroke, where chef David Bouley tapped masters from the famed Tsuji cooking school in Osaka. At this warm, minimally designed restaurant, the sushi is first rate: lobster may be studded with bits of salmon roe, but most of the items focus on very pure, traditional nigiri. For instance, the fatty tuna or mackerel atop a bed of rice shows off the taste of the fresh fish. The rice is cooked to the perfect temperature, and the slices of fish are meant to be consumed in a single bite.
(Photo: Courtesy of Tomo)
If there’s one sushi chef to train under, Tomohiro “Tom” Naito chose the right person when he worked for Nobu Matsuhisa, one of the first Japanese chefs to popularize sushi, in Las Vegas. Since 2005, Naito has been serving Japanese food with unique flavors that employ French and Italian styles of cooking in this sleek restaurant with dark wood floors and plush seats. With fish flown in twice a week from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, you know the paper-thin slices of fluke dotted with hot sauce and brightened with the flavors of ponzu jelly are as fresh as they come. There’s also a dish named after a customer called the Lobster a La Musso, which combines live lobster with uni and white truffle oil.