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New York's Enigmatic Japanese Restaurants Will Have You Saying "Arigato"



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. Find your way to the hidden gem Sakagura tucked away in a corporate office building or rely on one of the early pioneer restaurants, Hatsuhana in midtown for a solid Japanese fix.

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.


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8
Union Square


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.

Recommended for Japanese because: No exotic ingredients or flashy garnishes: just purely and simply fantastic Japanese food.

Courtney's expert tip: Expect to come away knowing more than you did coming in. With personal chefs describing dishes with textbook references, 15 East is a restaurant to savor.

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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 ny-info@playearth.jp 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.

Recommended for Japanese because: Only 6 tables and maximum 75 people a night make this "hidden" restaurant worth chasing.

Courtney's expert tip: The tasting menu is the way to go if you want a lot of food. Six courses will only set you back $55.

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Sakagura


Mark this hidden gem in the basement of a corporate office building in the Grand Central Terminal and United Nations neighborhood. A nondescript sign is tacked on the wall outside but otherwise you need a guide to get you here and you won't be disappointed. Lively lunch crowd, bustling, small quarters and inventive dishes besides traditional sushi and sashimi. Try 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 for just the right match.

Recommended for Japanese because: Off-the-beaten path location matched with great food, delightful energy and more than 200 types of sake, ask the waiter to match one up to your dish.

Maria's expert tip: 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.

Read more about Sakagura →


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5
Financial District


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 JalapeƱo, 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.

Recommended for Japanese because: This world-renowned sushi restaurant is frequented by high fliers from all corners of the globe.

Courtney's expert tip: If you are stumped with what to order, try the Omakase, a multi-course selection of the chef's choosing which covers a wide range of flavors, textures and styles.

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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.

Recommended for Japanese because: The natural flavors of top-notch ingredients truly shine at EN Japanese Brasserie.

Courtney's expert tip: Every last Tuesday of the month, Chef Abe Hiroki offers a 15-course prix fixe menu. This is only available for 8 guests at $125 a person.

Read more about EN Japanese Brasserie →


3
East Village


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.

Recommended for Japanese because: Exclusive yet understated, Kyo Ya will give you beautifully prepared Kyoto home cooking.

Courtney's expert tip: If you get lost easily, let us help you out with getting here. There is no sign and no number outside. Wait, we didn't help you at all, did we?

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If you have never tried sushi, start your journey here at Hatsuhana. Ever since it opened its doors in 1976, it has become the go-to place for those who have never tried sushi, sashimi or any of the delightfully fresh-in-your-mouth dishes that regale a Japanese restaurant menu. The decor is decidedly simple and serene: blonde wood, Japanese lanterns, that muffles the din of the city just beyond the transom to frantic 48th St. This place has "no gimmicks" just the freshest fish from Maine, Spain, Japan or New England to name a few sources, the most delightful decor that recedes as your dining experience takes center stage and really scrumptious sushi. Cooked dishes include tempura: shrimp, taro root, pumpkin and maybe broccoli made in a way you might not be able to at home. You'll be hobnobbing with lots of regulars in business suits. And don't forget the sake.

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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.

Recommended for Japanese because: People in New York like to eat well without breaking the bank and Sushi Yasaka makes both of these dreams possible.

Courtney's expert tip: Sushi Yasaka is small and crowded, so unless you want to spend the majority of your evening waiting to eat, make a reservation on Open Table.

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Meet Maria Lisella

No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.

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