NYC’s 12 best sushi restaurants: Top spots for Japanese food

TONY trekked all over town checking out the top toro-touting dens in the city, both old-school joints and big-ticket temples. Here are the city's best sushi restaurants.

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Photograph: Filip Wolak
Ushiwakamaru
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Photograph: Courtesy Masa
Masa
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Photograph: Courtesy Masa

Seki aji at Masa

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Sushi Sasabune

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Salmon roe at Sushi Sasabune

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Butterfish at Sushi Sasabune

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Photograph: Filip Wolak
Sushi Sasabune
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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Spanish mackerel tataki at Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Kanpachi at Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Salmon at Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Spanish mackerel at Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Toro at Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Neta

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Neta

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Kumamoto oyster at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

King salmon at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Baby squid at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

King salmon at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Toro at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Yellowtail at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Seared tofu at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Fluke tempura at Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Sushi Seki

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Kuruma Zushi

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Squid at Kuruma Zushi

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Spanish mackerel at Kuruma Zushi

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Photograph: Filip Wolak
Uni at Kuruma Zushi
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Photograph: Filip Wolak
Kuruma Zushi
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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Wasabi at Brushstroke

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Brushstroke

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison
Brushstroke
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Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Chawan-mushi at Brushstroke

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Photograph: Virginia Rollison
Brushstroke
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Photograph: Virginia Rollison
Brushstroke
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Filip Wolak

Sushi Yasuda

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Filip Wolak

Baby squid at Sushi Yasuda

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Filip Wolak

Mackerel at Sushi Yasuda

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Filip Wolak

Eel at Sushi Yasuda

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Red snapper at Sushi of Gari

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Yellowtail at Sushi of Gari

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Fluke at Sushi of Gari

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Tuna at Sushi Of Gari

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Sushi of Gari

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Sushi of Gari

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Tamago at Kanoyama

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Jack fish at Kanoyama

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Fluke at Kanoyama

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Kanoyama
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Kanoyama
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Photograph: Filip Wolak
Salmon at 15 East
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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Shako shrimp at 15 East

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Hokkaido uni at 15 East

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Baby red snapper at 15 East

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Jewel Bako

 

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Unagi at Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Chutoro at Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

King salmon at Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Namerou at Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Otoro at Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Shima aji at Jewel Bako

 

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Photograph: Beth Levendis

Uni cup at Jewel Bako

 

As Sakura Matsuri blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, we’ve got Japan on the mind, namely its most delicious export: sushi. Weeding out the less-than-best competition, these are Gotham’s best sushi restaurants, from no-nonsense sashimi spots nestled in nondescript office buildings to shiny toro-touting palaces helmed by Michelin-starred toques. Sushi fanatics, you’re welcome.

RECOMMENDED: Best Japanese food in NYC

Ushiwakamaru

Within Gotham’s sushi-restaurant titans, a state of hushed reverence often pervades. Not so at Hideo Kuribara’s ramshackle subterranean restaurant, where patrons stumble in from Houston Street late in the evening (night-owl ramen is available when the sushi counter shuts down). The affable Kuribara stands over the modest wood counter, a twinkle in his eye, pressing vinegared rice grains so that they barely hold together. Those warm, loose lobes are crowned with superlative seafood specimens: a tumble of velvety glass shrimp, almost obscenely lush slips of fatty red snapper and meaty, soy-lacquered eel, served on a glinting black plate. Regulars send Kuribara titanic mugs of beer, which he hoists in between shaping sushi and earnestly inquiring if patrons enjoyed their last bite. After a visit to this convivial raw-fish rathskeller, you might buy Kuribara a round yourself. Average sushi piece: $5; omakase: $70–$100.

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Greenwich Village

Masa

A transcendent bite of top-grade toro is priceless. But at Masa, that melt-in-your-mouth morsel comes at a cost—a whole meal is a cool $450 before tax, tip and sake, to be exact. Masa Takayama’s extravagant raw-fish emporium has been a once-in-a-lifetime destination for sushi devotees since it opened on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center in 2004. Parked next to the equally ritzy Per Se, Masa represents all-out indulgence: At the bar—made of a $60,000 piece of rare Japanese hinoki wood—Takayama and his acolytes lavishly press shaved truffles into lightly warmed rice beds, before topping them with kingly sea bream; sumptuously enrich risotto with uni and truffle butter; and fill their shabu-shabu pots with slabs of foie gras and fresh lobster. It’s a luxury that few but deep-pocketed whales can afford, but Takayama’s three-Michelin-starred gem is cross-off-your-bucket-list dining at its finest. Omakase: $450.

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Upper West Side

Sasabune NY

“Trust me” isn’t exactly what you want to hear when you’re about to nose-dive into the oft-sketchy world of raw fish (the tainted-tuna tour of 2012 hit a whopping 26 states), but it’s the well-earned M.O. of this UES sushi nook, opened in 2006. And trust you should—owner-chef Kenji Takahashi rolls out a no-nonsense, at-whim menu of top-tier seafood to rival more highfalutin Japanese dens, without the sucker-punch price. Walk through an unassuming storefront—marked with nay-saying signs warning NO CALIFORNIA ROLL, NO SPICY TUNA—and score seats at the tight-squeeze bamboo counter. There, Takahashi speedily transforms daily market finds into raw marvels: a mosaic of lardy albacore slicked with tart ponzu sake sauce; creamy Scottish salmon hooded with satiny kelp and a nutty pinch of sesame seeds on top of still-warm rice; and a bright ikura (salmon roe) roll, briny pearls popping loudly inside a crisp nori wrap. The spartan decor is definitely wanting, and servers bellowing “No soy sauce!” is the closest you’ll get to mood music, but for dreamy slips of pristine nigiri, in Takahashi we trust. Omakase: $80.

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Upper East Side

Neta

In March 2012, longtime Masa disciples Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau conjured up a downtown-cool cousin to Masa Takayama’s high-rolling sushi palace. Sure, their Greenwich Village haunt employs enough rosy tuna tartare and caviar to please a Russian millionaire, but its haute-hip trappings—beanie-topped chefs spooning out gelatinous marrow from a tuna hull; Is This It–era Strokes blaring overhead—give it just the youthful edge to draw in the Brooklyn set. Rather than using Masa’s go-to Tsukiji market in Tokyo, Kim and Lau are more locavore in their sourcing: hirame from Long Island; scallops—stunning in a lush dish of velvety sea urchin, smoky matsutake mushrooms and garlic butter—hailing from Boston. Sushi purists may snub the nontraditional omakase (the meal features Americanized novelties like spicy salmon, and is punctuated with ultracreamy peanut-butter ice cream), but Kim and Lau’s reverential focus on top-notch provisions (neta means “the fresh ingredients of sushi”) rivals even that of the staunchest of sushi classicists. Average piece of sushi: $6; omakase: $95, $135.

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West Village

Sushi Seki

Where do big-league toques like Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud go to sate their late-night fish cravings? Chef Seki’s cultish sushi gem has served as a sake-fueled second-dinner spot for after-hours chefs and clued-in locals since opening in 2002, plying nonpurist flavor combos until 3am. For five years, Seki trained under Sushi of Gari’s whimsical head, Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio, and the influence is reflected in the inventive menu: Creamsicle-hued salmon topped with scallion sauce and a crispy fried kelp shard; bluefin tuna dotted with oniony tofu crème fraîche; and young yellowtail crowned with slivered jalapeño, a Gari signature. The late hours lend a boozy, jovial atmosphere—maître d’ Koji Ohneda bustles between the sushi counter in front and the rowdier dining room in back, pouring sake into quickly emptied cups, but don’t drink too much—you’ll want to remember Seki’s artful, picture-perfect offerings with more than just Instagram’s help. Average sushi piece: $5; omakase: $80–$100.

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Upper East Side

Kuruma Zushi

If there’s a jollier sushi chef in New York, we don’t know who it is—Toshihiro Uezu’s friendly mug has been welcoming raw-fish cognoscenti and rookies alike at this venerable toro temple since 1977, a gaiety that belies the seriousness of his skill. Perched on the second floor of a dingy midtown building, Uezu’s 12-person sushi bar turns out jaw-dropping nigiri in its purest, most traditional form, delivered from his hands to yours: glistening slabs of kanpachi belly, shiny silver skin still intact; buttery otoro melting moments after hitting the tongue; and fluke so fresh you can see through it. This is no-bells-and-whistles sushi—the most adornment Uezu employs is a dash of ponzu or scallion curls, instead focusing attention on the überhigh quality of the seafood, the masterfully tempered rice and the fresh wasabi (more delicate and subtle than the sinus-searing powdered junk, typically just food-colored horseradish). Uezu may just prove your stubborn grandfather right—maybe old-school is the right way. Average sushi piece: $5–$20; omakase: $250.

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Midtown East

Ichimura at Brushstroke

Fine-dining impresario David Bouley opened this special-occasion Japanese sanctum in 2012, a collaborative effort between the toque and Yoshiki Tsuji of Osaka’s prestigious Tsuji Cooking Academy. Bouley handed the sushi reins over to Eiji Ichimura, who composes clean, elegant plates befitting the sleek, intimate bar, set off from Brushstroke’s main dining room—all blond wood and amber lighting. Lacquered Japanese ceramic ware comes topped with luscious lobes of uni; jewellike morsels of Spanish mackerel, marbleized toro and fluke fin; and shiso-and-salt-seasoned tai (red snapper) over assertive, well-vinegared rice. Throughout the meal, Ichimura gives you the option of ordering from Brushstroke’s main menu—the knockout is the restorative chawan-mushi, a steamed egg custard decadently topped with black truffle sauce and fall-apart hunks of Dungeness crab. Between the first-rate fare, classic Bouley service and dapper Shinto-shrine decor, this Michelin-starred sanctuary earns every dollar of the weekly paycheck you’ll have to fork over. Omakase: $160.

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Tribeca

Sushi Yasuda

In 2011, Naomichi Yasuda shocked devotees of his lauded midtown stalwart—open since 1999—when he announced that he would be returning to Japan. Fans breathed a sigh of relief when he turned the simple maple counter over to longtime kitchen lieutenants Tatsuya Sekiguchi and Mitsuru Tamura. Reserve a seat at the bar of this bamboo-clad space to watch Tatsu and Mitsu—as they’re affectionately called by regulars—dispatch purist renditions of nigiri onto wooden trays in elegant, efficient movements. Like the old master, the pair eschew over-the-top combos, letting the primo seafood and their superior knife skills shine. They top rounds of lightly vinegar-moistened rice with beautiful seafood, like a meltingly soft slab of fatty tuna; a milky disk of sweet sea scallop; or baby purple squid brightened with shiso and wasabi. That top-shelf sourcing doesn’t come cheap, and reservations are booked out far in advance, but even without its namesake toque, this storied sushi den is still worth the price of admission: Yasuda would be proud. Average piece of sushi: $6; omakase: $85-$150.

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Midtown East

Sushi of Gari

Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio made waves when he debuted this minichain in 1997, becoming a New York pioneer in avant-garde pairings, such as jalapeño-topped yellowtail and Japanese red snapper with wilted greens, pine nuts and crispy lotus root. Sugio’s fanciful creations continue to draw thrill-seeking Japanophiles to his tony Upper East Side flagship, where they shell out a hefty sum for a pay-per-piece spot at the L-shaped bar. Tiny beds of slightly tart rice come out in quick succession: pepper-oil–slicked tuna tempered by a creamy dollop of tofu sauce; silky truffle-oil-dotted fluke boosted by a quivering poached quail egg; and rich Spanish mackerel offset by earthy enoki and shiitake mushrooms. The decor may be simple—dark red banquettes, black lacquer tables—but at Gari, all eyes are on the plate. Average piece of sushi: $8; omakase: $85–$90.

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Upper East Side

Kanoyama

Don’t let the throngs of college coeds and easy-on-the-wallet prices fool you: This ain’t no sketchy all-you-can-eat sushi joint. The corner East Village eatery, run by laid-back kitchen vets Nobuyuki Shikanai and Daigo Yamaguchi, turns out top-notch nigiri that stands toe-to-toe with some of its pricier counterparts. As a testament to the fine sourcing of the raw materials, the toques sometimes show patrons photos of the day’s catch on their iPhones: The fish, brought in mostly from south Japan and served on plates, includes items like glistening skin-on jack fish and fluke with tart pickled scallions. Mounds of lightly seasoned rice also cut the richness of spongy egg-custard tamago and bring out the crisp sweetness of nearly translucent tako (octopus). You may not be shelling out a small fortune for these pristine pieces, but do yourself a favor and avoid the undergrads in front: Get a seat at the well-lit walnut bar in the quieter back room so that you can bliss out on your meal in peace. Average piece of sushi: $8; omakase: $37, $45, $85.

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East Village

Comments

8 comments
Jeff P
Jeff P

Any list of superior sushi places in the big apple that doesn't include Hakubai is a joke.  And not a funny one.

Norbu gurung
Norbu gurung

Lobster place at the chelsea market has the best sushi in nyc. No doubt

ela
ela

u better be kidding ... sushi soto is one of the best clearly whom ever wrote it has never been to japan and his knowledge is lucking

maria bianchi
maria bianchi

for me ..... i love 15 east, .... the best !!

AFineLyne
AFineLyne

You missed a really good one. Fairly new, so you may not be aware. Jado Sushi on 8th Ave between 114th St & 115th St. Don't forget to try desert. 2 recommendations from me - Peanut Butter Pie and Mango Cheesecake.

Jeff P
Jeff P

@AFineLyne Right.  Those sound like really japanese desserts.  not.