Best Japanese restaurants in NYC
World-renowned sushi chef Masa Takayama may offer the most expensive dining experience in the city (upwards of $500 per person, not including tax, booze, or the mandatory gratuity) but he doesn’t overcharge for his meals; he overspends. The mystique of it all—his exquisite materials, rare ingredients, and labor-intensive techniques—is like eating in a temple. And the sushi virtually melts in your mouth. To serious food lovers, it's a priceless experience.
Bessou’s clever take on Japanese comfort food has us craving dishes beyond standard sushi. Owner Maiko Kyogoku, who worked for contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, opened a stylish space in Noho for chef Emily Yuen’s innovative plates, many of which draw from Kyogoku’s family recipes. Yuen adds a modern twist on classics with her bento bowl teeming with soy beef brisket and the chicken karaage dusted with Moroccan spices—trust us, you won’t be able to resist dipping each forkful into the spicy mayo. We quickly learned that Bessou lives up to its name, which loosely translates from Japanese as ‘second home.'
You're confronted with two mouthwatering options upon stepping into Japan Village: Do you go to the popular Sunrise Mart, which has a trio of much smaller locations in Manhattan, filled with adorably packaged snacks and hard-to-find ingredients? Or do you hit up one of the 10 vendors that make up this food court within the sprawling Industry City warehouses along the Brooklyn waterfront? Eat first. If you go with a group, start at Shokusaido and order a spread of snacks, including the kakiage, a Japanese-style fritter that comes out as a tangle of julienned vegetables studded with shrimp.
You know the ramen is special when it garners a Michelin star in the city that specializes in bowls of toothsome noodles. Takatoshi Nagara, the head chef behind the lauded Bigiya Ramen in Tokyo, and his friend Takayuki Watanabe brought their acclaimed Japanese noodle soup to the Lower East Side with the opening of Mr. Taka in 2015. You can still see lines stretching out the door today, and with good reason. Now this Dumbo incarnation at Time Out Market is where we’ll be happily slurping up the miso ramen or the equally flavorful Taka vegan bowl.
A sit-down spot from chef Yuji Haraguchi is this chestnut-walled restaurant specializes in ichi ju san sai—a traditional Japanese meal of one soup and three side dishes—for breakfast and lunch, with options like broccoli rabe shiraae (tofu-and-sesame-dressed salad), roasted Spanish mackerel and miso soup with ramp stalks. For dinner, snag a seat at the four-stool counter overlooking the open kitchen, where Haraguchi turns out a reservations-only, daily-changing ramen tasting.
Ginza’s seasonal omakase is not just freshly flown in from Tokyo’s prestigious Tsukiji market, nor is it dependent on exotic varieties. Instead Ginza presents a transportive mastery, delivering fish the way a diamond delivers carbon: with spectacular flawlessness lush with luxury. This is fish that traps us. And that's why it's the only Michelin two-star Japanese restaurant in New York.
At this 20-seat counter, expect an expert omakase selection of exceptionally made edomaezushi served in its purest form, each lightly lacquered with soy and nestled atop a slip of warm, loosely packed rice. Luscious, marbled toro, a usually late-in-the-game cut affectionately known as the kobe beef of the sea, boldly arrives first, even before sweet Spanish mackerel with barely there shreds of young ginger or sea bream dabbed with plummy ume shiso.
Chefs Yoshihito Kida and Mika Ohie were both born in Japan (Tokyo and Hokkaido, respectively), but met in the kitchens of Yakitori Totto and Soba Totto, before deciding to strike out on their own. This soba shop's name translates to "heartwarming," but it could also be dubbed heart-healthy for its fiber-rich, low-fat fare. Kida, who owned a soba restaurant back in Japan, makes the buckwheat noodles in house, while Ohie focuses on sides and appetizers, like a cold house-made tofu with scallions, ginger and bonito.
This ramen insta-hit is a warmly lit, brick-walled room with a scant 22 seats. Built on a broth of oxtail and bone marrow, their flagship bowl full of delicate, springy noodles gets some extra-meaty oomph from melting cubes of brisket. Then there’s the tebasaki gyoza, a deboned chicken wing crammed dumpling-style with creamy foie gras, soft brioche and quince compote. It’s a salty-sweet, creamy-crispy food anomaly that alone is worth the trip.
The bad news: This covert Japanese-influenced restaurant, which sits beyond a butcher shop on Great Jones Street, has no published phone number. The good news: Getting into the super-exclusive space, which was once home to Jean-Michel Basquiat, will give you bragging rights for months. For being so VIP, Bohemian’s decor is quite simple—minimalist, with a Zen garden, lounge chairs and plenty of wall art—and its menu is down-to-earth (but delish!), with wagyu beef sliders and mac and cheese.
In the world of three-figure omakase thrills, sushi reigns. But tempura never recieved the same fine-dining fawning—that is, until Masao Matsui, a Tokyo import who's been commanding fryers for 50 years, created well-paced parades of the marquee dish.
Seeing the sushi master practice in this bamboo-embellished space is the culinary equivalent of observing Buddhist monks at prayer. Counter seating, where you can witness—and chat up—the chefs, is the only way to go. Prime your palate with a miso soup and segue into the raw stuff. This is a sushi purist's paradise, and no two meals are ever the same.
One of the first questions you’re asked upon entering Takashi—which focuses on yakiniku, Japan’s interpretation of Korean barbecue—is whether you eat beef. Carnivores can get their table grills sizzling and go to town on marvelous, uncooked cuts of buttery skirt steak and well-marbled tongue, each seasoned with your choice of salt, garlic, sesame oil, or marinated in a secret sauce. Adventurous diners will be excited to discover a selection of organs, ranging from milky sweetbreads to beefy heart.
Taking its name from a fashion term popular during the Japanese jazz age, this 11-seat coffeehouse specializes in East-meets-West fare. During the day, the East Village spot serves siphon brews made with Porto Rico and Counter Culture blends, along with dishes such as omurice (a rice-stuffed omelette) and katsu pork sandwiches. When the sun sets, sidle up to the wooden counter for Far East beers (Yona Yona, Echigo Koshihikari) and sake cocktails.
Like a traditional Japanese ramen-ya, this narrow, below-street-level noodle joint is designed for quick meals. The specialty here is paitan ramen, a creamy, chicken-based variation of Japan’s famous tonkotsu (pork) broth. Totto's rendition is a flavorful, opaque soup bobbing with thin, straight noodles and slow-cooked pork ridged with satiny fat.
Maison Yaki, Greg Baxtrom's new spot located across from his Prospect Heights mega-hit Olmsted, offers a French spin on yakitori, where all dishes are $9 or under, such as beef tongue sandos and frog legs tempura.
This artful vegetarian restaurant is the city’s most accomplished in shojin cuisine, a type of hyperseasonal vegan cooking at the foundation of the Japanese kaiseki tradition. Choose from three ever-changing menus—four or eight courses, or a counter-only omakase—each paired with sake.