In the pretty seaside village of Sausalito just across the Golden Gate Bridge, Sushi Ran has been turning out what many consider to be the Bay Area's best sushi for nearly 30 years. The sushi menu is executed by 2013 World Sushi Cup–winning chef Taka Toshi and Michelin-starred chef Seiji Wakabayashi, who together deliver impeccably fresh, maki, nigiri and sashimi dishes that are miniature works of art. The equally delightful non-sushi side of the menu is worth a look, with specialties such as kaffir lime–roasted sea bass, scallop-chive dumplings and wagyu beef carpaccio with arugula and micro red cabbage.
Tonkatsu—broth made from pork bones cooked for 20 hours—and house-made ramen noodles topped with chashu (thin-sliced pork), bamboo shoots, marinated eggs, pork belly strips and other delicacies, are the hallmark of this immensely popular LA transplant, set on the second floor of the Japantown Center complex. The menu looks deceptively simple, but the complexity of flavors in their soups is anything but. Try the level 1-2-3 spicy or the Yamadaya. There's also an extensive sushi menu and bento box meals with karaage chicken and katsu curry.
When Raymond Ho and Kin Lui opened their tiny 26-seat eatery in Pacific Heights in 2009, it was the first entirely sustainable sushi bar in the U.S., serving only fish available and caught using environmentally friendly methods. Others have since joined the movement, but Tataki is a standard-bearer—not just for its green credentials, but for its fresh, flavorful and inventive fare. Light, delicate arctic char often substitutes for salmon in signature “tataki” dishes such as seared and marinated char with capers in yuzu reduction, and in hand-rolls such as the 49er—masago (smelt roe) and avocado topped with char and lemon. Other fish on the extensive sushi and sashimi menus might include Atlantic mackerel, wild Thai snapper, skipjack, pole-caught albacore, and sablefish. The duo has since expanded their menu and locations with two additional restaurants that feature grilled yakitori and kushiyaki skewers and housemade ramen, in addition to sushi.
Isobune may not garner top honors among critics, but it's undoubtedly the most entertaining sushi spot in the city. The original sushi boat restaurant opened in 1982, delivering high quality, affordable sushi to diners via dishes set on small wooden boats that circulate on a canal around the bar. The tradition continues in the Japan Center mall, where you'll find boisterous crowds plucking plates of colorful sushi creations out of the water and toasting the chefs with shots of sake. Each plate pattern has a different price and the plates are tallied at the end of your meal. This is a great place to introduce kids and novices to the splendors of sushi.
This Inner Sunset stalwart has been going strong for more than 30 years—a locals favorite for creative sushi and festive atmosphere. The inevitable wait for a table passes quickly with a drink from the bar. Then settle in for signature elaborate specialty rolls such as the Caterpillar (eel, cucumber, avocado), Behind the Green Door (skipjack, shrimp tempura, Maui onions, tobiko), and whatever the chef is concocting as a nightly special. Those who don't want sushi won't be disappointed; there's a good selection of cooked items from teriyaki and tempura to sukiyaki.