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More than Sushi Served at These Top Japanese Restaurants



Most people think of sushi when they think of Japanese food, and that is a main staple of many Japanese restaurant menus. But there's also plenty of grilling, and steaming going on in Japanese kitchens. While fish usually takes center stage in many dishes, there are plenty of meat items on the menu, too. Those who want more traditional Japanese fare will like off-the-beaten-path places like Sankyu and Katsu.

New on the scene is Momotaro, serving upscale gourmet Japanese foods. Craving sushi rolls? Chicago has it well covered with places like Coast. Or if you want to browse a food court filled with Japanese food, drive out to northwest suburban Arlington Heights, where the Mitsuwa market - the closest thing to a Japanese mall in America, has several restaurants plus grab-and-go choices. The market also has a huge grocery store filled with imported and hard-to-get Japanese delicacies, including two aisles full of Japanese candy.


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Matsuya


This is one of those restaurants that assures you of its authenticity with its loyal following of transplants from Asia, who regularly show up for a taste of home. Though small, the dining room is lined in wood and is constantly filled with sushi fans that say this is the best maki and nigiri in town. You can also get your fish cooked, if you prefer. Nine fresh catches are prepared daily. But most people stick to the huge sushi menu, which includes a roll named after different cities. Since you're in Chicago, try the Windy City Roll, made with cooked tuna, masago, avocado and cucumber with a spicy sauce.




Finding a great sushi place in the South Loop isn't easy but Oysy fits the bill. Oysy is an Izagaya, a bistro type restaurant serving traditional food in a relaxed atmosphere. Its contemporary atmosphere includes modern designed tables and lighting and a lot of open space so you won't feel crowded. Service can be spotty depending on your expectations but prices are about right (specialty maki rolls range from $10-15). Fan favorites include the seaweed salad, Godzilla and Chicago maki rolls and Chilean sea bass with black bean sauce. If you prefer cooked maki rolls, opt for the Firecracker which is a bit spicy and fully cooked.


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Logan Square


A relative newcomer to the Chicago sushi scene (2010), Wasabi wasted no time becoming a darling among local and out of town visitors. One of only a handful of Japanese-owned Japanese restaurants in Chicago, it also has Executive Head Sushi Chef, Hiromich Sasaki, one of original Japanese sushi chefs in the Chicago area, at the helm. Most places know not to bother trying to appease everyone but Wasabi does and it does it right. It offers small plates (Izakaya-style), grilled skewers and an authentic Japanese ramen made from boiling pork bones for days.  Seafood is flown in fresh on a daily basis from all over the world, including Tsukiji market in Tokyo. 


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Arlington Heights


Just 30 minutes from Chicago, this large, popular Japanese grocery superstore boasts an impressive food court with a huge variety of choices of Asian delicacies. If you want authentic Japanese, you'll find udon, teriyaki, sushi and bento boxes aplenty. There are tables and chairs to dine at the food court but weekends get slammed with shoppers so you may have to stalk tables to get a seat. While you're there, you can stock up on pretty much anything Asian (from fresh seafood, meat, pots and pans, rice cookers and even comic books) since the place is a grocery superstore. Shop in the aisles of Japanese candies, or grab some tongs and pick out some treats in the Japanese bakery.


Sankyu Japanese Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Megy Karydes

Walk into Sankyu and you'll immediately notice its clientele speaking in Japanese. Most of the menu is written in Japenese (with English as the second language). JapanTV is on. Like most ethnic restaurants, it says something when people from your home country patronize the place enough that these details are appreciated. As in true Izakaya style, the dishes here are meant to be shared. Also described by one regular as Tokyo type street food, Sankyu delights its guests with both traditional Japanese dishes like ramen, teriyaki, yakisoba but plenty of options to satisfy those who like their maki rolls, too. Oh, did we mention it has a karaoke lounge?


This popular Japanese restaurant and sushi bar has been around so long (it claims to be Chicago's first sushi restaurant) that several patrons talk about coming when they were little kids and keep returning now as adults. An outdoor garden is a treat in Chicago and if you don't have reservations, you might be waiting for a table both indoors and out. It serves saké martinis along with a few cooked Japanese dishes. Throughout the day, sushi is a mainstay, but noodle dishes, hot entrees and a selection of elegant specials also prove satisfying. With several locations, most near downtown Chicago and one in the northern suburbs, it's relatively easy to find one near you.


Coast Sushi Bar


With three locations, Coast is known for its high quality sushi coupled with outstanding service. Weekends can get loud and very busy, especially at its city locations. The Bucktown hotspot (BYOB) features a warm and sexy interior while its South Loop locale is a bit more stark and modern in ambiance. Its Evanston spot gives North Shore diners many of its signature dishes including its popular Coast Crab maki roll which features king crab, scallion in spicy mayo with tempura crumb or the White Dragon roll with shrimp tempura, wasabi tobiko, avocado and cream cheese. For those craving more traditional fare, the menu rounds out its maki roll and sashimi options with dishes like seared tuna, filet mignon and Yakisoba stir-fried noodles with fresh vegetables.




This lively, modern space is a standout in the trendy, restaurant-filled Fulton Market area. Not only is it one of the best Japanese restaurants in Chicago, . The stylish 11,000-square-foot restaurant includes a subterranean Izakaya lounge and a bustling sushi bar. The enormous, 7-page menu serves excellent modern Japanese food by Chefs Mark Hellyar and Jeff Ramsey – the only American-born chef to receive a Michelin Star in Japan. Just about everything on the menu is a hit, especially the rice and noodle dishes. A creative and tasty dish is the aji yakusugi, a jack mackerel smoked with shavings from a 1,000-year-old cypress tree. It arrives under a lid to lock in the fragrance.


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Meet Jamie Bartosch

Jamie Bartosch is a lifelong Chicagoan who thinks her hometown is the greatest city in the world. She is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a freelance travel writer, and the mother of two great kids.

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