Exotic Japanese Culinary Adventures at Seattle Eateries
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
Sometimes, the urge to have Japanese food strikes, and nothing satisfies until you get it. When that happens, count on 10Best to point you in the direction of Seattle's best Japanese restaurants. We understand the desire to have a great meal, and we work hard to bring you the top places to eat in Seattle. We vet restaurants carefully for quality, and when we recommend popular eateries like Wasabi Bistro or tell you that Toyoda Sushi gets good reader feedback, you can believe it. We'll make sure you get - and eat - what's best. Thanks to Seattle's large Asian community, this is an especially easy city in which to find authentic Japanese food crafted with care, using only the finest techniques and the freshest ingredients. Sushi aficionados and newbies alike will delight in the city's options for to-die-for rolls. But that's not where the deliciousness stops; diners also enjoy miso soup, fresh noodle dishes and an array of options that showcase the city's local seafood scene. Japanese restaurants also typically feature serene and simple decors, marked by bamboo plants, beautiful artwork and lovely hanging lanterns. Find Japanese gems in the eclectic International District, student-filled University District, funky Fremont, bustling Ballard and beyond.
Upscale crowds applaud this lovely restaurant for a sushi bar that delivers maki and sashimi fashioned from the day's freshest catches. In addition, cooked items and luscious omakase meals are available for diners who crave something besides sushi. Nishino's subdued atmosphere provides a perfect environment for enjoying a relaxing dinner, whether it's in the colorful dining room or on the peaceful outdoor patio. Located steps from the Arboretum, this restaurant has been delighting diners since 1995. Nishino features hand-picked wine from around the world, focusing on wines from the Pacific Northwest. The sake selection spotlights the distinctive flavors and regional characteristics of Japan's traditional beverage. (206-322-5800)
It's hard to keep great places secreted away, and Toyoda's reputation has, for better or worse, become public knowledge. Better for business, yes, but worse for relaxed dining, as you can tell by the crowds that descend on the small eatery. Still, the food is a wonderful treat. Sushi is fresh and well-presented, and the nigiri is particularly good. Gyoza, the Japanese version of potstickers, are also celebrated by patrons, who munch them eagerly. Geoduck clams continue the seafood theme, along with black cod broiled with sake paste and other seafood entrees. The ambience is laid-back and friendly, bolstered by the charm and ready smiles of Mr. Toyoda and his wife. (206-367-7972)
Nara Japanese Restaurant
Located in Redmond, Nara is noted for exceptionally fresh sushi and terrific Japanese fare. The food, along with elegant atmosphere, make the restaurant a memorable experience. Lots of rolls and sashimi provide plenty of choices, and combination plates (including sushi) at lunch and dinner further expand the options. The Makunouchi combination is a highly recommended plate that features sushi, tempura, chicken teriyaki, and stir-fried vegetables. Noodle and donburi dishes also prove delicious. Diners come for lunch or dinner, to visit the sushi bar or to nibble on appetizers with a glass of sake. Nara is open 11:30 am to 9:30 pm Mondays through Fridays and from 4:30 pm to 9:30pm on Saturdays. (425-885-0703)
A distinctly contemporary scene of exposed ductwork and sleek concrete walls sets the stage for one Fremont's more exceptional dining options. The restaurant prides itself on using seasonal and local ingredients as well as traditional fish from Japan. Well-dressed young professionals and hip college kids who frequent Chiso heap high praise on owner-chef Taichi Kitamura's skilled renditions of sushi -- yellowtail, scallop, octopus and eel in particular. Thrown in for good measure are a number of vegetarian dishes and a selection of sakes. Those who arrive thirsty will also delight in the list of innovate cocktails. Reservations not accepted on Friday or Saturday evenings. (206-632-3430)
Chef Ken Yamamoto is the only chef in the state of Washington licensed to sell fugu, the potentially deadly (if not prepared correctly) Japanese blowfish. Whether you opt for this rare delicacy or one of the other carefully created entrees, you're assured of Ken's masterful hand in the exquisite textures and flavors on your plate. Choose from appetizers like kaki fry (deep-fried oysters) or gyoza, and main dishes like black cod with tempura, eel donburi, and salmon teriyaki. Shiki's sushi has a loyal following; sample toro nigiri, made with fatty tuna, or a crunchy shrimp tempura roll. The restaurant has been serving the Queen Anne and Seattle community since 2001. (206-281-1352)
Adopting a distinctly modern attitude toward Japanese cuisine, Wasabi Bistro has taken Belltown, and Seattle, by storm. Come for terrific happy hour specials on sake and sushi from 4pm to 6pm daily and 9pm to 1am Sunday through Thursday. The Japanese wine can be had for under $4, and maki options like an indulgent Seattle Tempura Roll (salmon, avocado, and cream cheese, fried) are a steal at half price. Traditional Japanese entrees are updated and given new life, including standards like tempura and yakisoba. This restaurant has wowed diners since it's opening in the summer of 2000; come find out what the talk is all about! (206-441-6044)
Dragonfish Asian Café
Serving excellent Pan-Asian cuisine from breakfast until late-night, this eatery happily accommodates a host of patrons in the Paramount Hotel. Skillfully prepared dishes incorporate the signature flavors of the entire East Asian region to Seattle, representing the cuisines of China, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. Needless to say, the menu offers a wide variety of imaginative selections. Sushi roll lunch boxes, lemon chicken and Chinese sausage fried rice are among the most popular choices. Servers are knowledgeable and friendly, bartenders are proficient, and prices are reasonable. Check out deals from a Happy Hour that happens to daily or Sake Cinema Sundays. (206-467-7777)
This is a prime spot for enjoying delicious food and a buzzing scene in Ballard. The venue prides itself on serving "top quality sushi, an innovative Izakaya menu, premium sakes and creative cocktails." This venue serves starters like miso soup, Goma Salad, edamame and ginger kabocha squash soup. Fresh sushi rolls range from the traditional to the exotic. Specialty rolls include the "Zig Zag" (spicy snow crab, soft shell crab, avocado and cream cheese) and the "Green Sea Monster" (jalapenos, seaweed salad, green onions and chopped tomatoes). Sakes include Gekkeikan Hat Sake and Hakutusuru House Sake, and cocktails include the Momo Iced Tea (sweet tea vodka, peach vodka, iced tea) and the Shiku Sunrise (Barcardi Limon, splash of Chambord, Malibu, and Peach Schnapps). Happy hours take place Mondays through Fridays 4:30 to 6:30pm and Fridays and Saturdays 11 pm to midnight plus Saturdays and Sundays midnight to 6 pm. (206.588.2151)
Moshi Moshi Sushi
Diners at this Ballard venue find fresh fish selections at the sushi bar, tempting cocktail creations to complement the extensive list of food and a unique LED Sakura "tree" from Japan. Maki sushi rolls range from the more traditional (rainbow roll, eel avocado) to the Moshi Moshi 2.0 (jam-packed with ingredients like snow crab, scallops, mayo, cucumber, shiso, scallops and more). Choose from over 25 specialty cocktails to complement sushi selections, a wide array of Japanese and domestic beers (including Maritime Islander and Sapporo on draft) and an equally impressive sake program. The dinner menu delights omnivores and vegetarians alike, with options ranging from Yakitori Chicken to Vegetable Udon. (2069717424)
The straightforward decor at this popular restaurant allows taste buds to focus on the culinary adventure. Among the loyal patrons are sports celebrities, business people and local sushi-lovers. They come for the terrific food and also for the special treats available at the sushi bar. The reputable Master Chef Shiro Kashiba directs guests to the best choices of the day while offering samples that aren't on the menu. A two-time James Beard nominee, Chef Shiro has been profiled in most major publications and lauded restaurant guides. Born in Kyoto, Chef Shiro later trained with the culinary masters on the infamous Ginza in Tokyo, and years of navigating theTokyo fish markets have inspired him to use only the finest and freshest ingredients. Before enjoying the tempura and sashimi choices, enjoy appetizers like the Poke Belltown (tuna with Shiro's signature spicy sauce) andTako-su (octopus in ponzu or miso vinaigrette). (206-443-9844)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.