Best Japanese restaurants in Chicago
The Boka group's (Boka, GT Fish & Oyster and others) foray into Japanese fare is a reminder that the cuisine goes far beyond sushi. The sushi is excellent, though cooked dishes from Mark Hellyar consistently amaze—the namesake momotaro tartare melds dehydrated tomato, a spicy hit of Dijon and onion puree into a slightly sweet, savory spread, while roasted crab legs come to the table dripping in butter. A simple cedar-roasted sea bream, spritzed with lemon and drizzled with shiso dressing, is a testament to how clean and fresh Hellyar's flavors are.
Brothers Melvin and Carlo Vizconde are masters of maki, and this 22-seat Humboldt Park gem is their domain. From simple fried tofu makimono through elaborate sushi twists like a scallop wrapped in salmon, these are the rolls you wish every neighborhood sushi spot were making. Omakase tasting menus (starting at $50) are our favorite way to cruise the menu, but whatever route you choose, just don’t show up on a weekend without a reservation. With just 22 seats, the only dilemma is not getting in.
Celebrated chef Iliana Regan's latest project, a quaint Japanese restaurant in North Center, is one of the more intriguing restaurant openings we've seen in recent memory. The seasonal menu features a collection of gorgeous dishes that taste just as good as they look. Start with the oysters with rice wine mignonette and flowers before moving into the soothing wild rice and koji porridge bread with cultured butter. Heartier main dishes include silky seared scallops with soy hollandaise, miso-honey chicken with summer veggies and sashimi with Carolina gold rice and house miso broth. If you haven't figured it out, you can't go wrong with anything on this menu.
Whether you’re a sushi veteran or just starting to explore dishes beyond tuna rolls, Naoki Sushi offers familiar items and interesting, original plates. Before diving into the sushi, appetizers are a must, ranging from traditional to fun—like addictive tuna tacos made with crisp wonton shells and truffle chawanmushi, an egg custard with a dashi broth. Listen closely to your server’s recommendations for the rotating sashimi and nigiri specials.
The West Town Japanese restaurant impresses with food from chefs Fred Despres and Nelson Vinansaca. The pair turn out pristine sushi and sashimi, along with noodle bowls like the accomplished, pork belly-laden Arami ramen and other well-composed dishes. While we usually go for beer with sushi, a smart cocktail list includes seaweed-infused Japanese whiskey with yuzu-pineapple bitters, a thoughtful way to start the evening.
Some of the best sushi in Chicago is at Juno, where BK Park serves masterful sushi and sashimi. The chef’s choice sashimi, perfectly sliced, spread over ice and adorned with shells and orchids, is $38 for 18 pieces of fish. This is a steal, and while it's enough for a solo diner, there are more great things to eat, like the smoked hamachi, which arrives under a glass dome with two spoons cradling lightly smoked pieces of fish. The King Juno consists of two single bites of tuna wrapped around rice and topped with spicy crab—they're delicious. Even the spicy tuna roll is elevated, with a thick piece of tuna and scallions, and a trace of sriracha and chili oil.
The captain of this hipster-Japanese ship is Sushi Wabi alum Yut Vong, whose strength doesn’t lie in cream cheese and spicy mayo. Instead, it’s found on the grill, which adds just enough char to meats such as Korean-style beef short rib and pork shoulder bathed in sake, honey, garlic and cilantro. Juicy chicken thighs carry a good dose of miso and scallion, and the fish tofu is, in a word, awesome.
This sexy Japanese hideaway is tucked beneath sushiDOKKU, and you have to enter through a secret door in the back alleyway. Inside, you'll find unique Japanese snacks, sake, craft cocktails, beers by the bottle and more. Make sure that you try the bacon okonomiyaki, a round of Kirin Light and mochi.
Takashi Yagihashi’s foray into River North is the chef’s attempt to capture the taste of his noodle-slurping childhood in Japan. Based on the highlights of the menu—hamachi tartare in delicate little taro-root tacos, tan tan men ramen weighted with herb-packed pork meatballs, fried ramen noodles you toss with a dollop of spicy mustard for a dish called Chiyan Pon, and joyful desserts like softball-sized cream puffs—Yagihashi may have had the best childhood ever.