Best Japanese food in Washington, DC
The metal exterior of this Japanese spot behind the Gallery Place movie theater is carved with designs that resemble the symbol for wi-fi signals. If that doesn't clue you in that the place you're about to walk into is not your usual bar, one look at the menu of the upstairs izakaya should do the trick. Drinks are inventive and surprising—especially the take on a sake bomb, with spherified sake floating in a glass of Sapporo—and the small plates include ingredients not often found on Japanese menus, such as burrata salad and Old Bay seasoning. More traditional dishes make an appearance, too, including pork-filled onigiri and sashimi, but chef Daisuke Utagawa's training with José Andrés means even the familiar has unexpected elements. Reservations are available online, and they're a good idea; the sultry lighting and cool decor (red-backed bar shelves, manga wallpaper) encourage lingering at a table over another glass of sake or sochu.Hours and prices are for upstairs izakaya only; ramen bar hours are different.
A brisk walk from the main drag of restaurants and bars near U and 14th streets, NW, Izakaya Seki is tucked into an unassuming and narrow, two-floor row house. Choose to eat upstairs in the dining room or downstairs at the chef’s bar. Either choice is equally no-frill; coat hooks are just about the only décor. Once seated, you’ll be hard-pressed not to salivate, either over plates arriving at neighboring tables or by what the robata cooks behind the bar are turning over a low flame. When it comes time to choose what to drink, brace yourself for page after page of sake selections. Your server is your best ally here. Another great ally: the list of specials handwritten on a piece of scrap paper, usually accompanied by a quirky doodle or two. The chef’s rotating sashimi selection is explosively rich (note: the wasabi here is fresh), and the seasonal miso soup (recently served with assorted roasted mushrooms) is not to be missed. From the main menu, order the slow-grilled octopus. The salmon roe hand roll—with its barely warm rice and fresh roe—will put you in a state of nirvana. In short: Izakaya Seki deserves a deep bow of respect.
Hip twentysomethings squeeze into this tiny spot to slurp big bowls of ramen in rich, house-made broth. The dumplings are great, too—we especially like the grilled pork ones—and there are more than 20 kinds of saké available. The space is decorated with graffiti, skateboards and comic books, and for dessert, you can dunk warm chocolate-chip cookies in a glass of milk. What’s not to like? Just one thing: the wait for seats can take a couple of hours. There are no reservations, but you can hang out at the bar downstairs until the staff text you.
Sushi Taro underwent a major renovation in 2009 and has been reborn as an upmarket Kaiseki-style traditional Japanese restaurant, under owner Nobu Yamazaki. In a kaiseki-style meal, diners don’t order off a menu. Instead the chef presents a succession of complementary dishes. The Suppon Kaiseki Tasting focuses on the very traditional soft-shell snapping turtle. There is also an excellent saké selection.
Stand smack in the middle of Adams Morgan Party Central, the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW (the traffic is so gridlocked on weekend nights that you can often do so without any significant risk to either life or limb), and you’ll see the illuminated rooftop of Perry’s, hangout of beautiful people and their attendant wannabes. The largely twentysomething crowd is attracted not just to the lights—and the lively scene under them—but to the array of well-executed sushi prepared downstairs, where a classic wood-paneled dining room offers a more sedate setting for unwinding. Along with sushi, the menu features a short list of New American starters and entrées, with such favorites as seasonal heirloom tomato salad, grilled swordfish steak with lemon chutney and the chef’s veg platter. Perry’s drag queen brunch is offered every Sunday. The fixed price includes all you can eat and dancers to entertain you. Arrive early for the show.
Sushi king Kazuhiro Okochi made his mark at Sushi-Ko, successfully melding Asian and Western ingredients, before bringing the winning formula here. The sushi itself is top-notch, featuring fish that is gorgeous and glistening, while the rice has a touch of sweetness unlike any you’ll find elsewhere. But should your tastes not include raw fish, there’s also a bounty of wonderfully cooked items on offer, including grilled baby octopus, coriander-crusted calamari and Asian-style short ribs.