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The 20 best Japanese restaurants in America

Eat your way through flawless sushi, ramen and teppanyaki at the best Japanese restaurants in America

Written by
Time Out editors
,
Lauren Rothman
&
Jenny Miller
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Japanese food seems to be available everywhere these days, at strip-mall restaurants offering lunchtime bento fixes and at trendy ramen joints in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Austin. (For our picks, check out our list of the best ramen restaurants in America.) On this list, we celebrate the very best Japanese food we’ve ever tasted: restaurants that serve incredibly fresh sushi and sashimi (for more, check our picks for the best sushi restaurants in America), often with innovative twists. They offer expertly crafted traditional dishes, as well as modern takes that fuse American techniques and flavors with ancient practices. And we love them a little extra if they serve great sake and Japanese craft beer. Join us in raising a glass (kanpai!) to the best Japanese restaurants in America.

Time Out Market United States

Time Out’s expansive food-and-culture destinations are what happens when your go-to guide to the city’s best restaurants, bars and things to do becomes an actual place. These are the spots we’ve curated with the same fuss, care and curiosity we bring to our editorial—and there’s probably one near you right now.

Best Japanese restaurants in America

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese

A favorite of both local and visiting chefs, Raku is housed unceremoniously in a Chinatown strip mall, but it's one of the most compelling reasons to get off the Strip. No sushi is served in the James Beard Award-nominated restaurant's diminutive digs, just Japanese favorites like silky house-made tofu, exotic offerings like Kobe beef liver sashimi and plenty of comfort food—from udon noodle soups to donburi (egg-and-rice bowls). You'll also find a long lineup of items destined for the robata grill, which uses charcoal imported from Japan for just the right degree of crispness: everything from Iberico pork to apple-marinated lamb chop to enoki mushroom with bacon. If you crave something sweet after all that fine imported soy sauce, head to Raku Sweets, a desserts-only restaurant, just across the parking lot.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Village

In 2010, 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 counter over to longtime kitchen lieutenants Tatsuya Sekiguchi and Mitsuru Tamura, the latter of whom is still there. Reserve a seat at the bar to watch Mitsu—as he is affectionately called by regulars—dispatch purist renditions of nigiri onto wooden trays in elegant, efficient movements. Like the old master, Tamura eschews over-the-top combos, letting the prime seafood and his superior knife skills shine. He tops 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 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Sausalito

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 over 30 years. The sushi menu is executed by Michelin-starred chef Seiji Wakabayashi, who delivers 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 shrimp-scallop dumplings and wagyu beef carpaccio with watercress and green apple.

Kyo Ya in New York
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • East Village

Though Kyo Ya, the city’s most ambitious Japanese speakeasy, is marked only by an “open” sign, in-the-know eaters have long packed this subterranean haven. One perk they particularly enjoy? It’s not necessary to shell out for the omakase, a pricey commitment available only by booking ahead, to eat terribly well here. Instead, cobble together a small-plate feast from the voluminous menu, featuring dishes you’re not likely to find elsewhere in Manhattan. The food, presented on beautiful handmade plates, is almost too gorgeous to eat. Maitake mushrooms are fried in the lightest tempura batter and delivered like gold nuggets on a polished stone bed, and while the restaurant is about much more than sushi, raw fish has its place. A daily-changing selection is pressed with a hot iron onto sticky vinegared rice. The pre-seasoned fish—no soy sauce needed—is topped like a still life with its own microgreen forest.

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Imanas Tei in Honolulu, HI
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/bionicgrrrl

5. Imanas Tei in Honolulu, HI

This traditionally decorated local favorite near the University of Hawaii serves some of the freshest seafood you'll find anywhere, so recently plucked from the ocean that it quivers and glistens on the plate. But sushi isn't the only reason to head to Imanas Tei—there's also excellent shabu-shabu, that classic dish of boil-your-own vegetables and thinly sliced, marbled beef served with ponzu sauce, and nabe, or Japanese hot pot. There's a nice sake lineup to accompany all this as well. Reservations are an excellent idea here, or you may have to camp out quite a while on the benches out front as you await your table.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • SoMa
  • price 4 of 4

One of San Francisco’s priciest restaurants, SoMA’s three-year-old Omakase is also one of its smallest, making securing one of its in-demand 14 seats a tricky proposition. But if you manage to secure a sought-after reservation—and can afford to shell out the big bucks—you’re in for an unforgettable treat. True to the diminutive spot’s name, the only dining option here is omakase, a daily-changing menu that means “chef’s choice.” Choose the $100, $150 or $200 option, then settle in for a parade of precise cuts of pristine, Japanese-sourced fish, warm selections such as a dark, mysterious squid-ink cake and fat lobes of Mendocino-fished uni. Don’t forget to sip one of the restaurant’s impeccably chosen sakes.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Echo Park
  • price 2 of 4

This small, newly opened Echo Park izakaya has quickly become an L.A. favorite, drawing crowds of lovers of Japanese food since it opened in February. Chef Charles Namba turns out thoughtful, beautiful small plates that pair perfectly with the restaurant’s curated list of small-brewery Japanese beers and funky, unpasteurized sakes. Sink your chopsticks into cold dishes such as silky sake-marinated lobes of foie gras with pickled apples and aged soy and hot plates such as delicate chawanmushi (egg custard) with sweet dungeness crab.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Bouldin

Who would've suspected that one of the most recognized contemporary sushi restaurants in the country would be in Texas, with a white-guy chef-owner, no less? It's true: The toque in question, Tyson Cole, has won numerous awards since the original Uchi opened in Austin in 2003, including Food & Wine's best new chefs of 2005 list and a James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest award in 2011—and he's since gone on to open locations in Dallas and Houston, plus Uchiko, a sibling restaurant, in Austin. Fans flock to the original Uchi, located in a house on South Lamar Blvd, for top-notch fish, including some harder-to-find cuts, served as-is for purists or in creative renditions like the "hakujin" roll, with salmon, white asparagus, pear and fried apple puree. (There's excellent Wagyu beef, too, for the cowboy-boots crowd.) The daily "sake social" happy hour from 5 to 6:30pm offers drinks starting from $3 and rolls and snacks in the $4-$8 range.

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Uni in Boston
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Back Bay

With a name like this, Uni sets up the expectation for some memorable sea urchin dishes, and it certainly delivers—the Uni Spoon is the stuff cravings are made of, with yuzu, a generous lobe of the namesake delicacy, quail-egg yolk and rarified osetra caviar (that's three kinds of egg, for those who are paying attention). The rest of the menu is equally inventive, from a starter of raw langoustine with kaffir lime leaf to Thai-inspired duck carnitas served with scallion pancakes. Beloved local restaurateur Ken Oringer (Coppa, Toro) recently closed his celebrated Clio restaurant after two decades and expanded Uni, formerly relegated to the lounge, into the full restaurant space.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Canoga Park

You won't see a sign outside of Go's Mart, only the word "sushi" in large lettering—which proves to be an understatement. Yes, there is sushi inside this small Canoga Park strip mall spot, but it is sushi topped with 24k gold leaf flakes and a sprinkling of truffle oil. Two tables and a ten-seat sushi bar are where diners come for outstanding cuts of fish from chef Go, who opened this local favorite in 1997. After starting with a complimentary block of Chinese broccoli, you'd be wise to ask for toro. The plump tuna comes topped with the aforementioned gold flakes and just the right amount of wasabi is tucked into Go's exceptional rice. Japanese eel is slick with sweet unagi sauce and slivers of lemon rind on top, while a cut of meaty butterfish is an ethereal bite decorated with truffle oil and a hint of spice. It's a beautiful thing to watch Go and his crew in action, and even more so when you taste the complex fruits of their labor.

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  • Restaurants

Osaka-born chef Tomohiro Naito started his career as a seafood buyer for a Japanese company, where he honed his eye for the world's best fish. As a sushi chef, he eventually rose to the rank of omakase chef at Nobu in Las Vegas, where he wowed diners with his creative tasting menus. Later, he moved to Atlanta and opened Tomo in an elegant space, with a commitment to serving the best ingredients possible. You'll find a few obscure offerings, including live scallops, on the nigiri and sashimi menu. The rest of the lineup is full of delicacies such as yellowtail collar, a particularly prized cut, and monkfish liver, sometimes called the foie gras of the sea.

Momotaro in Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop

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 king crab legs come to the table dripping in kosho butter. A whole cedar-roasted sea bream, spritzed with lemon and drizzled with shiso dressing, is a testament to how clean and fresh Hellyar's flavors are.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Palisades

Remove your shoes and slide into a pair of slippers to enter Sakedokoro Makoto, a pint-size wood-paneled restaurant that's a favorite of Japanese embassy staffers. The emphasis here is on exquisite seafood, whether served as sushi, sashimi or creatively composed dishes. Lunch is a terrific bargain at $17-$18 for a bento box or sushi platter, while the omakase dinner runs $100-plus per person before drinks. And since "Sakedokoro" means "place of sake," you'll definitely want to order some to accompany your meal. Reservations required.

Tanuki in Portland, OR
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese

More bar than proper restaurant, dim, divey Tanuki nonetheless turns out a super affordable omakase menu of unexpected creations with nary a piece of sushi in sight—in fact, the motto, posted at the entrance, is "No Sushi. No Children." What you'll get instead is a choice of omakase (chef's choice dinner) ranging from $15 on up, a parade of dishes that might include trout melting into a seaweed butter sauce, kimchi mac-and-cheese, different seafoods including perhaps something pickled, possibly even duck hearts. It goes on and on, which is basically how a meal unfolds here, always with more food than seems possible for the price. Some people complain about the waits (long), the movies (Japanese porn) or the inflexibility of the set menu (sorry, no dietary restrictions), but if you can get beyond all of that, you're in for a terrific meal.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese

This sleek, dimly lit Center City gem has been a Philly favorite since it opened its doors as a freewheeling, BYOB spot in 2007. There’s now a full bar, but the sushi counter’s creative spirit remains evident in funky house rolls such as the Sea Breeze (tempura mussels with salmon, avocado and spicy mayo) and the Mr. French Kiss (shrimp, bacon and onion tempura with spicy crab stick). The pork katsu, a plate-sized cutlet pounded thin, breaded and deep-fried, is like the best Japanese wiener schnitzel you’ll ever stick a fork into.

Fort St George, Seattle, WA
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • International District

Don't expect to find sushi, ramen or any other familiar Japanese foods a this "Western-style Japanese pub." Fort St. George is dedicated to yoshoku, a Western-influenced style of Japanese food that originated in the late 19th century and gained particular popularity after World War II. There's spaghetti 10 ways, including with meat sauce and garlic mayonnaise or cod roe and kimchee; a meat sauce-topped hamburger steak; and a hearty beef curry with a choice of 14 toppings, including mozzarella and crispy fried cod. More distinctively Japanese is Doria, a rice casserole with tomato or white sauce and any number of fillings, including bacon-and-egg or eggplant-and-chicken. Since you'll definitely need a beverage or two for these savory salt bombs, wash them down with a speciality cocktail like the Bloody Samurai, a Bloody Mary perked up with wasabi.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • South River City

You know how you can get into some places without a reservation? Otoko is not that place. This much-lauded Austin spot is strict about your participation in their multi-course omakase experience, with tickets purchased ahead of time granting you access to a mix of creative and challenging dishes from head chef Yoshi Okai. The meal might include tiny flash-fried crabs, sweet raw spot prawns or robust slices of seared hamachi. At $150 per ticket, this is one of the most expensive options in Austin, but Okai’s whimsical, beautifully presented plates are well worth the price of admission.

Naoki Sushi in Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Lincoln Park

Walking back through Intro to Naoki Sushi feels like navigating a secret passageway. Unlike its sister restaurant, Naoki offers a more laid-back atmosphere that still feels high-end—but maybe not so posh—and complements that with candid, savvy servers. Whether you’re a sushi veteran or just starting to explore dishes beyond tuna rolls, the menu offers familiar items and interesting, original plates. Before diving into the sushi, the appetizers are a must, ranging from traditional to fun—like addictive tuna tacos made with crisp wonton shells and truffle chawanmushi, a truffled egg custard with a dashi broth. A melting salmon nigiri crowned with smoked soy and shallot is a great choice in the classic nigiri section.

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O-Ku in Charleston, SC
Photograph: Andrew Cebulka

19. O-Ku in Charleston, SC

In a classic Charleston space with exposed brick walls and high ceilings, O-Ku turns out exquisite sushi and other creative Asian fare. More than two dozen kinds of raw fish grace the nigiri and sashimi menu, while rolls and other dishes offer playful flavor combinations. The potato roll is stuffed with tempura shrimp, avocado and shoestring potatoes to delightfully crunchy effect, while the Green Eggs and Hamachi Hako dish features spicy tuna, asparagus and wasabi tobiko (the green eggs in question). We're not the only ones who love this place: Forbes included it on its 2016 list of the best restaurants in America, while others have called it one of the best sushi restaurants in the U.S. Don't miss the excellent menu of sake, cocktails and wine, either.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Downtown

Scoring a reservation at Zuma is a small victory worth working for. The London transplant’s acclaimed Japanese izakaya, an increasingly popular style of informal dining, is anything but casual (see: no shorts or beachwear allowed). The riverfront restaurant is filled—day and night—with stunning people who know they’re as much a part of the show as the orchestrated action in the spacious open kitchen. Expect a massive selection of modern Japanese bites, from sea bass sashimi with yuzu, salmon roe and truffle oil to tiger prawn tempura. Zuma also has one of the best brunches in town. It’s a baikingu (buffet) set-up, meaning you have access to a generous spread of the menu’s most talked about items. Short on time during the workday? Opt for the set lunch that aims to serve guests in less than one hour.

See the best Japanese restaurants in American cities

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