The Original 'Foodies': 10 Best Japanese Restaurants in San Francisco

By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

Do you love Japanese food? We do too, and that's why we dedicate ourselves to finding the best places to enjoy Japanese cuisine in San Francisco. We've diligently scouted out the top eateries, and we've listened to our readers and their reviews of San Francisco restaurants. We share the places that get great buzz, like Ebisu, and we showcase the ones that have proven themselves over time, like Grandeho's Kamekyo.

With so many wonderful restaurants in San Francisco, it's important to take some time to really think about where you want to spend your money. If your trip is just a few days, that's only three dinners in a city that could fill up a calendar year of distinct choices. We think the best approach to enjoying Japanese food is to follow the same standards that goes into preparing the food. Most of these dishes takes time, and the sauces and flavors are fairly delicate and deserve the same attention in eating that they had in preparation. In other words, if you want a grab and go meal, Japanese might not be the best pick.

We also point out good neighborhoods for Japanese restaurants in San Francisco - Japantown, for instance. When the craving hits, we'll make sure you get your fix!

10. Keiko a Nob Hill
Photo courtesy of Keiko Nob Hill

For those who want to experience what puts the Nob in Nob Hill, check your humility at the door and strut with all the swanky style you can muster right into Keiko's. When you mix the lofty expectations of French cuisine with the deep pockets of Nob Hill, you get Keiko a Nob Hill, a rich dining experience in every way. And for those who love Japanese food, Keiko brings a whole new perspective on that ancient tradition, as well. For example, you can start with the Ayu, a Baby Ayu Tempura. If you want that big, rich, signature meal that will make your vacation but break your wallet, head to Keiko's.

9. Ozumo

Beautifully dressed in granite and pale wood, this enticing restaurant is a magnet for local professionals. Not only do they relish its fabulous sushi, but they also appreciate a creative approach to traditional Japanese fare. Artfully presented dishes are a visual delight, as are sublime views of the Bay, maximized towards the rear of the dining room. Along with sushi, choose grilled robata-yaki dishes, hot pots, or indulge in an omakase tasting menu. Superb sakes heighten the expensive, high-quality experience. Ozumo's San Francisco location in the urban-chic part of the Embarcaedro district makes this restaurant an ideal "starting off" location for a memorable Bay Area night.

8. Hamano Sushi

At this trendy Japanese restaurant, you'll be mesmerized by both the cuisine and the beautiful interior. A blonde-wood sushi bar serves as a gathering spot for folks who want to glimpse the sushi-making process, and a dining room accommodates groups. Sushi itself is a splendid visual treat, perfectly in synch with the handsome clientele. Traditional sushi items and select specialty rolls both come highly recommended, and cooked meals (steak and cold steamed spinach, among them) are available as well. You'll meet many regulars at this low-key restaurant, and many of those will probably rave about hamano-style-ceviche, a popular house specialty.

7. Kabuto Sushi

This spirited Japanese sushi bar thrives on the quality of its fish and the variety offered to customers. Affordable maki, nigiri, and sashimi are beautifully prepared and presented, as much a visual delight as a gustatory one. Guests are also encouraged to try nasu dengaku, a delicious baked eggplant. With more than 90 sushi selections on the menu, it's easy to find a wealth of appetizing options. A big favorite is their signature S.F. Wave Tsunami, which includes cooked red tuna, chopped with ginger and green onion and wrapped with egg and served with Kabuto seaweed gravy sauce. Full dinners are available.

6. Ace Wasabi's Rock 'n' Roll Sushi

For good times and great sushi, head to Ace Wasabi's, where you'll find a happening crowd and a diverse menu, including appetizers, salads, and seafood cooked and uncooked. Innovative sushi rolls are a specialty, as indicated by the Flying Kamikaze (spicy tuna, asparagus, and albacore) and the Three Amigos (tuna, eel, and cucumber). Fresh ingredients are standard, and daily specials up the ante on options. Friendly service is also a plus. Located in the hip and happening Marina, this modern take on sushi has the perfect location. After dinner, simply roll out the door and let the good times roll on.

5. Sushi Ran
Photo courtesy of Facebook

Clean-lined, airy, and brightened by original artwork, this small restaurant serves top-quality sushi. The quality of the food begins and ends with owner Yoshi Tome, originally from Okinawa but overseeing the precise workings of Sushi Ran since 1986. Servers easily cater to fans and to newbies who aren't quite as well-informed. They'll even recommend the best sakes for the foods you choose. Nigiri, maki, and sashimi offer plenty of options, as do combination plates. A variety of salads also promises fresh, crisp flavor, and cooked meals feature chicken, prawns, squid, and noodles. If you're a regular, consider joining their Sushi Lovers Club.

4. Sanraku
Photo courtesy of Sanraku

Cuisine leaps to the forefront of this restaurant's appeal, thanks to raw and cooked options that, without exception, deliver on flavor, presentation, and preparation. Diners can choose from teriyaki, donburi, and tempura dishes and then pair them with a selection from the extensive list of sakes. Maki is a specialty, and resident chefs share their time with the Four Seasons next door. Sanraku also boasts a kaiseki menu, a rarity among Bay Area restaurants. Vegetarian items are available. Besides the Four Seasons location, Sanraku is also located in the newly remodeled Metreon, making a dinner date of sushi and a movie very convenient.

3. Ebisu
Photo courtesy of Ebisu

City veteran Ebisu has been serving some of San Francisco's best sushi for two decades now. The legend behind the namesake reveals the care and tradition this restaurant brings to their food. Ebisu, one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, is the god of rice paddies and kitchens. Although a menu is provided, it's best to sit at the sushi bar and let the chef serve you his off-the-menu favorites. Fashioned from impeccably fresh seafood, the sushi is out of this world. It does, however, come at a price: long waits and hard-to-find parking. Still, you'll find the results more than compensate, proof of Ebisu's consistent popularity. Cooked dinners are available.

2. ICHI Sushi + NI Bar
Photo courtesy of ICHI Sushi

Owners and partners Tim and Erin Archuleta have put their heart and soul into this small, popular sushi restaurant. Since opening, ICHI Sushi has won Best of the Bay in five outlets, was named one of Zagat San Francisco Bay Area Guide 2013's Top 20 Restaurants, and is included in the 2013 San Francisco Louis Vuitton City Guide. Sustainability is the focus, and menus change seasonally. ICHI offers Omakase service at the bar and full menu service at tables. Brand new location on 3282 Mission is even bigger and more comfortable than their old space in Bernal Heights. One of the most popular restaurants in the Mission area.

1. Grandeho's Kamekyo
Photo courtesy of Ebisu

Although it's a small place, and waits are inevitable, this Japanese restaurant creates some of the city's best sushi. The quality of food is impeccable, and the friendly waitstaff are happy to explain the menu's offerings. Cooked dishes are available, but the sushi is so spectacular that folks rarely get to them. Among the delicacies you'll find are white tuna sashimi, unagi, and spicy tuna. Best of all, the place not only aims to please – it succeeds. After sushi, be sure to leave time to stroll around small but quaint Cole Valley. If you're looking for something a little more up tempo, Haight Street is just a few blocks away.