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Photograph: Melissa Ostrow Uni

The best Japanese restaurants in Boston

Try both traditional and modern takes on sushi, yakitori, udon, and more at the best Japanese restaurants in Boston

By Time Out Boston Staff and Eric Grossman

While aficionados of Japanese fare can visit the best ramen restaurants in Boston and best sushi restaurants in Boston, there are several options for diving a little deeper into Japanese cuisine. Explore sleek, modern, interpretations of Japanese small plates at a pricey, trendy restaurant, or hit up a casual izakaya for a taste of more traditional fare. Once you’ve explored the best Japanese restaurants in Boston, explore other regional Asian cuisine at the best Thai restaurants in Boston or the best Chinese restaurants in Boston.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Boston

Best Japanese restaurants in Boston

O Ya
Photograph: Gentl and Hyers

1. o ya

Restaurants Japanese Leather District

Clear out your bank account and then clear your weekend, because o ya’s singular dining experience is one to be savored. Owners Tim and Nancy Cushman set a new bar for special-event dining with o ya’s opening in 2007; even today the restaurant regularly wins accolades as one of the best restaurants in all of New England. The sushi and omakase menu is a marvel of both flavor and presentation, with every morsel—from the foie gras nigiri to the bluefin tuna and smoked salmon sashimi—a delectable work of art. 

Photograph: Courtesy Uni

2. Uni

Restaurants Japanese Back Bay

Uni built its reputation on incredible sashimi offerings, and the menu still shines with creative sushi rolls like the lobster BLT roll and whitefish taco roll. Traditional sashimi and nigiri also feature innovative twists, e.g. sea bream with watermelon aguachile soda, pickled rind, and coconut furikake. Other Japanese specialties include ember-roasted duck breast, king crab yakitori, and wagyu beef dumplings. Check out the late-night weekend ramen menu, which changes up regularly and often includes inventive versions like XO squid ramen. The sake list is impressive as well, with numerous unfiltered and unpasteurized options.

Photograph: Courtesy Oishii

3. Oishii

Restaurants Japanese South End

This swank South End sushi spot is high-concept and high-priced, but worth it for the luxe interpretations of Japanese specialties. Creative sushi rolls feature ingredients such as truffle, caviar, microgreens, and delicate sauces. The entrée side of the menu includes teriyaki ribeye, seafood risotto, and  Chilean sea bass. Choose from more than 50 sakes and cocktails, including the smoking Yuzu Spirit,” made with ginza suzume soju and liquid nitrogen.

Cafe Sushi
Photograph: Courtesy Cafe Sushi

4. Cafe Sushi

Restaurants Japanese Harvard Sq

Cafe Sushi attracts many of the area’s best chefs and cooks as they look to kick back over reasonably priced plates of perfectly prepared maki and nigiri. All the standards are here, from salmon skin rolls to hamachi sashimi, but the signature makimono is where things get interesting: ceviche maki,  spicy salmon citrus roll, and oshiiyushi (pressed sushi), complemented by side orders of salmon roe and seared avocado. Then there’s the kama (broiled fish collar) menu, a rarity around these parts and a revelation to anyone usually dismissive of lesser-known seafood cuts.

Yume Wo Katare
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Brian Del Vecchio

5. Yume Wo Katare

Restaurants Japanese Porter Sq

You’ll feel like you’re in Japan at this tiny Cambridge ramen spot; you’ll be greeted with cheerful shouts of “Irashaimase!” as you enter. Yume Wo Katare serves authentic Jiro-style ramen: tonkatsu shoyu broth with lots of veggies, pork, and garlic. Huge bowls feature thick, house-made noodles, and your only choice is whether you want two pieces of pork or five. You’ll receive a hearty Japanese congratulations if you manage to finish your bowl. Communal tables encourage chatting with strangers. The restaurant’s name means “talk about your dreams,” and you may even be asked to share yours out loud with everyone.

Yume Ga Arukara
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Madam J.

6. Yume Ga Arukara

Restaurants Japanese Porter Sq

Located in the Shops at Porter, Yume Ga Arukara thrills devotees who stand in line for one of the few seats, all for the chance to enjoy niku (beef) udon. Like its sister establishment, the wildly popular ramen restaurant Yume Wo Katare (located a short stroll away on the other side of Porter Square), Yume Ga Arukara exudes a dedication to craft—the beef udon is the only dish served on a regular basis. Diners have the choice to add extra beef, extra noodles, double-extra noodles, or to omit the beef.

Pabu Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Pabu Boston

7. Pabu

Restaurants Japanese Downtown

Michael Mina’s elegant izakaya is a date night or special occasion dining spot. Smooth and aromatic cocktails lead the way for exotic sashimi options like horse mackerel, cuttlefish, bigeye tuna, and wagyu beef. Sushi rolls and small plates are impressive in their artistry. Standouts include lobster and pork belly okonomiyaki, maitake mushroom tempura and the Japanese wagyu steak skewers. For a real celebration, go for the whole Maine lobster ryoshi-nabe (hot pot) and the Australian tomahawk steak for two.

Photograph: Gerrish Lopez

8. Tsurumen

Restaurants Japanese Somerville

The small, spare setting at this Davis Square ramen joint allows for all focus to be on the steaming bowls of delicate, Osaka-style ramen. Fresh ramen, tender pork, and flavorful broth anchor each bowl. Tsurumen will only operate for 1000 days, and Chef Masuo Onishi will present a new signature bowl representing a different life stage every 200 days. His dedication to his craft and his timeline make a visit here thoroughly rewarding.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Natthakorn P.

9. Ittoku

Restaurants Japanese Porter Sq

This unassuming spot in Allston feels like a true Japanese izakaya—warm, friendly, and inexpensive. The small plates are delicious and shareable, making Ittoku a good choice for intimate groups. Yakitori skewers range from chicken to bacon-wrapped quail eggs. Hot plates run from the familiar (gyoza dumplings) to more exotic (grated Japanese yam, pond smelt fritter). You can even try beef stomach and intestines in a miso broth. The sushi and sashimi menu is fresh and straightforward. Complete the izakaya experience with a choice from the wide selection of sakes.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Shiki

10. Shiki

Restaurants Japanese

This tiny, underground gem in Coolidge Corner is the perfect setting for traditional Japanese fare. The menu—written in both Japanese and English—isn’t simplified for the American palate. While sushi is an option, stick to more traditional small plates like tsukemono pickles, agedashi tofu, or squid stuffed with mushrooms and sticky rice. Hamachi kama (collar) and grilled saba (mackerel) are other standouts.

Photograph: Courtesy Pagu

11. Pagu

Restaurants Japanese Central Sq

Chef Tracy Chang’s skills shine at Pagu. Her famed Guchi’s Midnight Ramen (featuring flavorful broth, pork belly, umami oil, nori, and a six-minute egg) is on the menu alongside modern Japanese small plates. Start with a Japanese-inspired cocktail or sake, then try ikura avocado toast, pork belly bao, sea scallop sashimi, or comfort fare like Childhood Fried Rice.” Set lunches—with a starter, entree, and dessert—offer a sampling of Chef Chang’s specialties.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Bruce K.

12. FuGaKyu Japanese Cuisine

Restaurants Japanese

This Brookline standby is always packed, and for good reason. Sit in a booth, a table, the tatami room, or the sushi bar and choose from an extensive menu of standard and creative sushi offerings. Go traditional (rich salmon sashimi), daring (foie gras nigiri with spicy daikon radish, scallion, sesame, and ponzu sauce), or cute (ladybug maki contains spicy seafood salad and sweet potato tempura inside, cherry tomato and black tobiko outside). Everything is well-prepared, and a menu of cooked appetizers and entrees is available for sushi-averse dining companions.

Photograph: Courtesy Douzo

13. Douzo

Restaurants Japanese South End

Elegant nooks, sleek lighting, and a loungey vibe set the stage for standout sushi and cocktails. The extensive maki list includes classic rolls such as rainbow and spider, as well as unique rolls like the Back Bay (asparagus, cucumber, and avocado wrapped with seared tuna) and the Duozo Special (shrimp tempura, seafood salad, tobiko, eel sauce, sriracha, and avocado, wrapped with tuna and soy paper). Skewers, udon, ramen and a selection of rice dishes are also available. Lunch brings an additional variety of bento specials and donburi.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Debra L.

14. Ruka

Restaurants Peruvian Downtown

Modern Peruvian cuisine has been influenced by Japanese tradition, and Ruka presents this combination to great success via dishes such as sweet and spicy scallop ceviche, and Sichuan king mushroom oysters with Peruvian la brasa sauce. Other menu highlights include smoked cobia with curly udon, miso-dashi butter, basil and spinach, and the whole crispy Japanese butterfish, served with a sweet chili panca sauce. Enhancing the experience are cocktails made with both Japanese whiskeys and Peruvian piscos.


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