New York's Best Japanese Restaurants Will Have You Saying 'Arigato'
By Courtney Sunday
New York and Toronto Local Expert
No matter who you are, New York has the food and the corners that feel like they are precisely made for you. Whether you like to break out of every mold or you want to blend into the crowd, New York is the city that allows you to be yourself.
But what if yourself is a person who is intensely craving sushi and sashimi? With the largest Japanese population on the East coast of the United States, we don't worry about you for a second.
We forget that the assortment of food options in America is relatively new. Japanese restaurants were almost unknown in America until after World War II. Now the main problem is the scale of choice. It is so mighty that you may occasionally consider giving up the whole eating thing. There will be someone on a cleanse in your office who will be happy to have you join their team.
We want to help. This list is designed to help you find Japanese food that is fresh, creative and delicious. Consider the inventive multi-course meals at Brushstroke, which masters such delicate dishes as Lobster and Chanterelles Mushroom Chawan-mushi Truffle Ankake. Or indulge in Sushi Yasuda's masterful and delightfully fresh fish that tastes like it swam from the ocean to your plate.
These restaurants are worth your hard earned dollars. In exchange, you will be mouthing the words "tasty" and "terrific" in between noble efforts to make rice balance on your chopsticks. You'll get it one day.
Iroha Japanese Restaurant
With much of the delicious food in New York coming with a hefty price tag, it is refreshing to see a restaurant declare that it is casual. Even better, you get two restaurants for the price of one. Sake Bar Hagi is in the basement and is open late. Iroha offers solid Japanese food at a lower price tag, right near Times Square. Iroha serves more sushi and sashimi platters for those who are looking for the Japanese flavors that they know and love. Spicy mayo and cream cheese do make appearances, so this might not be the place for purists. Fast service and cramped conditions are part of the deal but it is nothing New Yorkers aren't used to. (212-398-9049)
A sake bar as much as it is an exceptional restaurant, Sakagura pairs its over 200 types of sake with tapas-style Japanese dishes and homemade desserts. You could always go for the sashimi, but inventive dishes include the Sliced Egg Omelette with Bonito Broth, Half Served Wrapped Around Grilled Eel or Taro Potato, Eggplant and Shiitake Mushrooms Fried in Lightly Battered Broth. Soba is made from scratch and there is a sake connoisseur on hand to help you to decode the menu. Hidden in the basement of a corporate building, expect to be surrounded by suits shaking off the day. Come for lunch to get an array of tasting options, but be sure to reserve a table in advance. (212-953-7253)
Chef Marco Moreira wants to make sure you never eat "fake sushi" again. If you have been getting by with faux crab legs and extra spicy mayo, the upscale 15 East will put your sushi expectations in their place. 15 East has won numerous awards and has been awarded a Michelin Star. It is noted for its clean and pure ingredients. It isn't easy on the wallet, but you will certainly learn about the nuances of fish and fine Japanese dining. Chef Moreira goes so far as to show his customers the exact cut or section of fish in a book. His gregariousness is surpassed only by his precise command of technique, demonstrated by the simple purity of his sushi. (212-647-0015)
Even if you don't hail from New York City, you have likely heard of many of the monuments, street names and even restaurants. Nobu makes that list as one of New York's most recognized Japanese restaurants. Its fame is punctuated by frequent visits from celebrities and the New York elite, but it is truly the food that is getting people talking. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa draws from his experiences around the world to create dishes unlike any other. Take Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño, Tiradito Nobu Style, Lobster with Wasabi Pepper Sauce, and Black Cod Miso. Don't forget to check out the great sake selections and strong wine list as a complement to any meal. (212-219-0500)
Exclusion does one of two things to people: 1) It makes you not even care because you're too cool for it anyway. 2) It makes you want in. Really, really, bad. If you are in camp 2, there is no judgment, but there is a restaurant for you. The restaurant's name is Bohemian and it has no phone number and a crytic website. They want you to email them at email@example.com and ask to get in. The only promise you will get is that they "may" contact you. Why would you go through this high school torture? Because this Japanese food serves everything from Foie Gras soba to Washa beef steak and it is hella good.
While at one point in time, many Americans thought "Japanese food" was synonymous with sushi, New York now has many diverse offerings under the same cultural umbrella. Zenkichi is one of those unique dining experiences. You will be escorted to a booth with your dining companions that is fashioned with secluded bamboo curtains. This is perfect if you like to worship your food in private, thank you very much. Order some shark cartilage from the a la carte menu if you like to live on the edge, or go big with the eight-course omakase menu which is seasonally driven and generously proportioned. (718-388-8985)
EN Japanese Brasserie
In the West village, EN Japanese Brasserie takes carefully selected local and Japanese ingredients and elevates them to something far greater than what they would be alone. Tofu is made in-house and is prepared six times a night. It is especially delightful served freshly scooped, like ice cream. Fresh fish waits to be expertly sliced and presented, with inventive offerings like grilled wild Conger sea eel with sweet shoyu cucumber. Chef Abe Hiroki has created seasonal dishes that place the utmost importance on the ingredients. There is even a wide variety of vegan dishes, such as the grilled eggplant with kobucha broth. (2126479196)
In the age of social media and oversharing, Kyo Ya doesn't even have a website. This quiet confidence extends to its food with small plates that are perfectly executed. Try the Alaskan kinki or the sea urchan on tofu skin. Vegetarian sides include a baked-then-fried sweet potato which pairs beautifully with soy sauce. Six dishes for two people is usually a good amount to start with. If you are a planner, the Kaiseki menu can be reserved days in advance. Chef Chikara Sono has a laser-like focus that is inspiring to watch. Sit at the chef's table for a truly outstanding dining experience. (212-982-4140)
While the Upper West side location might have you assuming an expensive pricetag, Sushi Yasaka is committed to delicious Japanese food that doesn't break the bank. Open since 2011, the diverse menu is clustered into groups, from noodles to maki hand rolls to a la carte tempura. Beautifully cut pieces of fish seem to melt in your mouth in this understated, dimly lit restaurant. It is also a great place to go to try Omakase: a lovely assortment of aquatic creatures for your dining pleasure. They even have a mini-Omakase for under $25 which provides a nice array of the chef's selection. (212-496-8460)
We're not going to lie to you and tell you that eating at Brushstroke is a financially sound decision. Nor are we going to play on words by telling you that it is a "stroke" of good fortune to eat here (although for a writer, that is difficult to do). However, we are going to drop a name that is really meaningful in the TriBeCa area: David Bouley. The famous chef behind Brushstroke does not exclusively offer sushi, but rather interprets kaiseki cuisine: tasting menus that change seasonally. Brushstroke has two kitchens and each of them has a Michelin star. The many courses build like a crescendo, rendering you powerless to entrees such as the Wagyu steak platter (Wagyu four ways), or the skate wine and Peruvian red shrimp with sweet vinegar dashi sauce, tomato and early spring green puree. (212-791-3771)
About Courtney Sunday
Courtney Sunday lived in Canterbury, England and Luzern, Switzerland before returning to Toronto in 2010. Yoga teaching and freelance writing became her full-time professions, as she learned the true meaning of the statement: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." Courtney now divides her time between Philadelphia and Toronto. She loves the cafe culture of both cities and the ever-expanding group of foodies. When not leading small yoga teacher trainings around the globe she explores her cities by foot: www.courtneysunday.com, @Omathomeyoga.
Read more about Courtney Sunday here.