New York has no shortage of great Japanese food options, from some of the countrys best ramen to gorgeous kaiseki spreads to, of course, the best sushi in NYC. We've whittled down our picked of New Yorks top sushi experiences, from no-nonsense sashimi spots and to toro-stocked fine dining restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred toques. This is the best sushi NYC has to offer.
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Best sushi in NYC
At this 20-seat sushi counter from rock-star chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim—formerly of Neta—a cool $135 prompts an omakase chef's 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. The cocksure shuffling, though initially jarring, is a kick hiccup to your usual omakase beat, a winking reminder that, even with the price hike, Lau and Kim haven’t completely shed their subtle sushi-dogma subversions.
At this glossy downtown spot—opened in 2007 by Marco Moreira (Tocqueville) and his wife, Jo-Ann Makovitzky—Jewel Bako vet Masato Shimizu presides over a nine-seat dark wood bar overlooking an airy high-ceilinged dining room. Shimizu employs first-rate seafood flown in from Japan, deftly molding lightly torched golden-eye snapper or luscious soy-lacquered cherry salmon on beds of loose toothsome grains. Creamy sweet Hokkaido uni, seasoned with a slick of soy sauce, is encased by a crisp nori strip, while fall-apart anago (sea eel) gets a light dip in sweet soy. Whipping out fish anatomy charts and well-worn books to show where the exceptional cuts of smooth, deep-red tuna come from, Shimizu schools novices and aficionados alike. Superlative nigiri with a side of education? We’ll happily sign up for instruction.
Last we saw Daisuke Nakazawa, he was toiling over egg custard as the modest apprentice in the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, humbled by the rigors of an 11-year stint under the world’s most distinguished sushi chef, Jiro Ono. Now, the pupil has emerged as the teacher at this sleek West Village sushi bar. Whereas his master was stoic, Nakazawa is a jokester who places a live squirming shrimp on your plate just for a laugh. But his pranks don’t undercut the seriousness of his nigiri, like pike mackerel, featuring a gentle brininess that gives way to unctuous maritime fat as you chew, and wild yellowtail from Hokkaido, with fatty tails that tantalizingly overhang rice so tenderly packed, it would fall to pieces if you looked at it funny. At times, delicately flavored creatures like scallops or fluke are outstripped by pungent wasabi or yuzu. But the meal is like a wave, its gentle lulls rendering the crests all the more thrilling.
The restaurant, a collaboration with Osaka’s Tsuji Cooking Academy, brings kaiseki cuisine—the intricate, formal multicourse meals at the pinnacle of haute Japanese cooking—into a surprisingly relaxed and accessible setting. The dishes, gorgeously plated on handmade Japanese stoneware, flow like parts of a symphony, from muted petals of raw kombu-wrapped sea bass one night to a rich and restorative black truffle custard, with crab underneath and sweet mirin on top. A feast here builds toward a subtle climax, asparagus tips with pristine lobes of uni leading to silky black cod with watercress sauce and crumbled pistachios. Beautiful pink slivered duck breast with smoky charred eggplant yields to earthy stewed pork cheeks (an inspired swap for ubiquitous belly) with cider reduction and green apple puree.
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.
When you arrive at Sushi Azabu’s address, you’ll initially curse Apple Maps for steering you astray. Alas, you’re at the right place—hidden in a Tribeca basement lies this Michelin-starred sushi speakeasy, which opened in 2008. The subterranean lair rightfully prides itself on its adherence to Japanese sushi standards—more than 70 percent of the fish is imported directly from Japan, four times a week; soy sauce is house-made, infused overnight with mirin, kelp and dried bonito; and even chopsticks are diligently sourced from Hokkaido. Japanese businessmen snag coveted seats at the nine-seat chef’s counter for edomae-style sushi, an old-school technique in which fish is salted and cured to keep from spoiling. As tradition-minded as Kuruma, this hideaway lets the food speak for itself: A slice of salmon is seared to heavenly heights, with a flaky crust and slight glaze courtesy of a quick blowtorching, fatty meat still raw underneath.
“Trust me” isn’t exactly what you want to hear when you’re about to nosedive 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 naysaying 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.
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.
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.
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.
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In Astoria, just off the bustling shopping district of Steinway Street, lies a hidden treasure. Gaijin, meaning “outside person” in Japanese, is an apt moniker for Chef Mark Garcia’s modern take on Japanese food. Garcia and co-owner Jay Zheng met working in Chicago restaurants and planned for five years to open their own place. They brought their ideas—and nearly their entire staff—to the Big Apple for a soft opening last October. The staff look chic in crisp white button-downs and leather suspenders, with jaunty newsboy caps for the cooks. Jazzy pop provides unobtrusive background music for diners. The appetizers are divided into cold and hot plates and should not be ignored. The steak tartare ($21) topped with herbs and a diminutive quail egg is a religious experience. Sesame and paper-thin scallions give the raw meat an almost charred taste. Once a special, the bone marrow ($14), a cross-cut bone sprinkled with charred scallion, Chinese onion and parsley, is now a mainstay. Scoop out clouds of gelatinous joy to spread on griddled baguette with a tiny wooden spoon. A tuna flight ($24) offers three levels of fattiness—akami, chutoro and otoro—all superb. And in one of the most innovative presentations ever, three toothsome gyoza ($8) arrive attached, as part of a single pancake. The sleek, modern eatery seats 30, including eight chairs at the long, white sushi bar where Garcia holds court, turning out exquisite, jewel-like pieces of sashimi and nigiri with delightful topp
Venue says: “Gaijin is a modern Japanese inspired restaurant serving fresh fish from the Tsukiji market, Japan and robata delicacies with binchotan.”