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Bangkok's Best Japanese Food: From Sushi to Sashimi and Plenty More



The list of Japanese restaurants in Bangkok is staggering, enough to fill an encyclopedia, which isn't surprising given that over 50,000 Japanese expatriates call Bangkok home. With this clientele and demand, it is natural that hundreds of new spots open up each year, but some really stand out for their fresh ingredients and preparation just like in Japan.

Of course leading the list are the top sashimi and sushi joints, all of whom fly in their fish from the prestigious Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo, with deliveries to Bangkok several times a week. Heading this list is Sushi Juban, which specializes in warayaki straw grill cooking and omakase sushi. Then there is Sushi Ichizu, whose master chef Riku Toda studied under some of Tokyo's top sushi masters in Michelin-starred omakase eateries, and now runs the elite Sushi Ichizu. Uomasa and Maru also get fresh cuts of tuna and other delicacies, and you wont be complaining about the bill if you are feasting on the top bluefin and fatty tuna slices that are melting in your mouth. Yamazato is also a standout, recently awarded a Plate by the Bangkok Michelin guide for its superb teppanyaki and kaiseki menus.

Non-traditional sushi rolls have become all the rage but can be pretty hit and miss, but one place that stands out is Isao, which has to be the only restaurant in Bangkok with a line out the door 365 days a year! Not that it has to be all sushi either. Jua is a an innovative and fun drinking spot, taking the working class izakaya and turning it slightly hipster, along with serving innovative takes on kushiyaki, traditional Japanese meat and vegetable skewers. Bankara Ramen is also high on the expat list, with humongous bowls of traditional ramen keeping their tables packed through lunch and dinner. The tonkatsu stewed pork belly is made with the pork bones dissolved completely into the soup broth, extremely pungent and rich. For creative and sumptuous Japanese, try the longstanding elegant Zuma.

The listings of Japanese are so numerous, one could probably just stroll down Thonglor night after night and pop in to a new eatery for months and not go wrong, and these days, its not just the Japanese expat-heavy Thonglor that's getting in on the act, but all over the city.


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Tsu & Nami
Photo courtesy of Tsu & Nami


Actually two restaurants, Tsu is the sushi bar and Nami is the teppanyaki grill, so take your pick. Certainly not cheap, but visitors often remark that it is the best Japanese food they've had outside of Japan at this upscale affair in the Marriott Hotel, partly due to the fact that the restaurants use extremely fresh high end ingredients, with fish flown in from Japan regularly. Standouts include hairy crab, the extremely fresh otoro sashimi, oysters with ponzu sauce, and any of the teppanyaki grills. You get a lot of personalized attention from the chefs here, and they are well used to dealing with celebrities and VIP's who flock to Tsu & Nami for their Japanese imported fish cravings. The dining room is elegant, with a long wooden art piece resembling a wave, the restaurant's namesake, commanding attention across the room. Oddly enough, the restaurant opened just after the tsunami of 2004, yet kept its name, and it still delivers a powerful wave of fresh food today.

Recommended for Japanese because: Tsu & Nami combine all of the best of Japanese cooking, a rarity in Bangkok.

Dave's expert tip: reservations are advisable, shorts and sandals are not. Get here via the BTS Skytrain Ploenchit station. The Sunday brunch all you can eat with free flow sake and wine is worth the splurge

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Maru Kaiseki Japanese Restaurant
Photo courtesy of pttaya


Given the sky high prices, you wonder why Maru is so crowded on Tuesday and Friday nights. Well, these are the days when the fish gets flown in from the Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo, and the faithful join the queue to get their fix of fresh sashimi. Granted, most of the customers at Maru are Japanese businessmen earning Tokyo salaries, but anyone who is willing to part with a bit of cash should come to Maru just to sample fish at its finest. The otoro tuna is the melt in your mouth variety, the freshwater unagi eel is as taste bud tingling as it gets, and they even have puffer fish on the menu, you know, the one that if it is not sliced up perfect by the chef, can end your sushi eating days within seconds. There are other items on the menu, like tasty zarusoba, cold soba noodles dipped in soy sauce and wasabi, but hey, you might as well join the masses and put your credit card on the table and dig into some of Bangkok's best fish, that is what you are here for.

Recommended for Japanese because: For ultra fresh sashimi at a premium, Maru ranks with the best.

Dave's expert tip: given the prices, the set dinner at Maru featuring 4 items plus a beverage is good value. Best to make a reservation here, it gets crowded.

Read more about Maru Kaiseki Japanese Restaurant →


Uomasa
Photo courtesy of Uomasa Bangkok


Uomasa is a long standing player on the Japanese food scene that has been serving up some of the best sashimi and traditional Japanese food in town, mostly aimed at purists and Japanese customers. Slightly hidden away in Nihonmachi "Japan Town" in Thonglor Soi 13, Uomasa is immensely popular with the expat Japanese crowd, and for very good reason. The fish here is some of the freshest in Bangkok, and this is one of the few Bangkok establishments to fly fish in from Tokyo's central fish market. Standouts include lobster sashimi, tuna maki rolls, and beef tongue stew, for which Uomasa is noted for. You'll pay a bit more here for all your fresh fish, but it is well worth the splurge, and Uomasa has a very pleasant vibe, with a crowded sushi counter or options to sit tatami style or at tables and chairs.

Recommended for Japanese because: For consistency throughout time, Uomasa can always be relied on, serving stellar sashimi for years now.

Dave's expert tip: Best to make a reservation as Uomasa is always crowded. From Sukhumvit, taxi up soi 55 to Thonglor soi 13, another 200 meters down the soi you will find the large Japan Town complex which has many restaurants. Uomasa is in the back, the one with the giant swordfish plaque above it.

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The Japanese have a word for master craftsmen or artisans, "shokunin," and the sushi shokunin master chefs in Tokyo have almost a cult-like following, considered to be at the top of world cuisine and gastronomy. The closest most Bangkok residents have ever come to experiencing such fish perfection has only been through a viewing of the famed documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, detailing the life of Tokyo sushi maestro Jiro Ono. Yet now, perhaps foreshadowing the arrival of the Michelin Guide in Bangkok and putting it forever on the world foodie map, locals and visitors alike have the chance to experience sushi and sashimi like they never have before, with the opening of Sushi Ichizu. Ichizu, which means "the way of" in Japanese, showcases the extraordinary talents of Chef Riku Toda, who trained under Hachiro Mizutani, owner of the 3 Michelin-starred Sushi Mizutani. Mizutani himself was a disciple of Chef Jiro, and when he bowed out of the sushi master class due to old age, Chef Toda continued his sushi apprenticing with Takaaki Sugita, owner of Sushi Sugita, another Michelin-starred omakase sushi restaurant that is booked out a year in advance and is Tokyo's top eating spot. Sushi Ichizu follows in these noble and elegant traditions, striving to show that perhaps the best sushi in the world is not only found in Tokyo or Ginza, but right here in Bangkok. There are two seatings per night at Sushi Ichizu, one at 5:30 and another at 8:30, and there are only ten coveted spaces available in the minimalist and traditional Japanese home, and walk-ins most certainly are not catered to. Chef Toda and his two assistants put on a fascinating display of skill and complete mastery of their craft, with their attentiveness to detail and the quality of the fish almost more akin to a theatrical production. The omakase tasting menu features 16 courses made up of whatever the best connections to the Toyosui fish professionals from Tokyo have been able to source, but usually include the absolute top cuts of akami, otoro, and other sections of bluefin tuna. Other items like hairy crab from Hokkaido and black abalone stewed for 8 hours and then served with a risotto-like sauce made from the abalone liver are as mouth-meltingly delicious as they are photogenic, with the chefs presenting each item for photographing and discussing with the clientele before serving it up. Despite the complete attentiveness to detail and highly elegant atmosphere, there is plenty of interaction with the chefs, and a meal at Sushi Ichizu most certainly isn't a stuffy affair, instead more like a private workshop with one of the world's top food artisans. Even the uni (sea urchin) and tobiko (fish roe), often a bit too fishy or pungent for all but the most devoted seafood lovers are of such high quality here that you'll be left salivating in amazement. A dining experience at Sushi Ichizu does not come cheap at 8,000 baht for a tasting menu (although you can also opt for a smaller mini-tasting course at 6,000 baht), but then again, you're getting the best of the best served up close and personal by a culinary wizard. For that once in a lifetime experience, foodie splurge, or chance to experience the world's best sushi, Sushi Ichizu takes the Bangkok Japanese dining experience to a new level.

Recommended for Japanese because: For Bangkok's premiere omakase sushi and one of its most elegant high-end Japanese eating experiences, Sushi Ichizu brings a new level to Thailand.

Dave's expert tip: With only 10 seats available at each serving (twice per night), reservations are an absolute must here. To find Sushi Ichizu, find Creadz Cafe on Petchaburi Rd, and look across the parking lot for the tiny door which leads to the restaurant. It's in the same building as the Classic Chair Co, at the back of the building.

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Bankara Ramen
Photo courtesy of Bankara


This is the first international branch of the famed Ikebukuro ramen house, and boy is it authentic. The interior and decor,along with all the ravenous Japanese expat regulars make one feel like one is in Tokyo, and even more genuine is the food, which features huge portions of the four signature ramen dishes that Bankara puts out. You can choose from the original Bankara ramen, Tonkatsu (stewed pork belly), Tsukemen (cold noodles dipped in soup) and Miso Ramen, and you can personalise your dish by choosing additional toppings such as egg, pork, seaweed, etc. Individual garlic presses are given to each diner, so you have a lot to say as to how your dish will taste. The gyoza dumplings are superb and make an excellent compliment to the ramen, and there are other dishes on the menu as well, but the ramen bowls are so huge and filling, you will be hard pressed to find the extra space.

Recommended for Japanese because: Simply put, the best ramen you will find in Bangkok.

Dave's expert tip: the Tonkatsu ramen is either loved to death or a bit much for individual diner's palates, so be forewarned. The stewed pork belly, bones and all, are simmered in soup broth until they dissolve, and the taste is strong and heavy, which will make some ecstatic. Try the Bankara ramen if you want it slightly milder.

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Zuma, the posh Japanese eatery with branches in London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Miami, and Dubai, is just as successful at their Bangkok location, serving truly superb and creative Japanese cuisine. Based on a traditional Japanese izakaya, yet with a very sophisticated and elegant twist, and designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the renowned architect and design head of Tokyo's Studio Glitt, Zuma features some of Bangkok's freshest and most innovative Japanese cuisine, in an immaculately planned urban setting. Signature dishes include the gyuhire sumibiyaki karami zuke- spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chili and sweet soy, as well as the gindara saikyo misoyaki, a fine black cod marinated for 3 days in miso and served wrapped in a hoba leaf

Recommended for Japanese because: For great fusion, and knockout signature Japanese dishes and drinks, Zuma is always in form.

Dave's expert tip: Absolutely not to be missed at Zuma is their unique signature cocktail, the "rhubabu," which combines rhubarb infused sake and vodka chilled at -42 along with passion fruit and served as a martini. Additionally, Zuma's outstanding wine cellar is stocked with over 1500 bottles of fine sake, wine, and champagne.

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Japanese cuisine has become all the rage in Bangkok over the past few years, with Thais now getting visa-free week long visits to Japan, going wild over the food, and returning home demanding and craving more. Throw in some 60-80,000 Japanese expatriates settled in Bangkok and you can imagine that there must be some pretty authentic Nihon-no-ryori (Japanese cuisine) available. The problem often though, is how to find it. While hole in the wall izakayas and sushi bars have become a dime a dozen, you know you've stumbled into the right place when you enter a hard-to-find locale tucked away at the end of a dead end alley, where 90% of the clientele are Japanese, most of them partaking of the astoundingly massive array of different sakes, shochu (Japanese whiskey), and umeshu plum wines that stock the shelves (there are over 30 different brands of sake available here, one of Bangkok's greatest collections). Sushi Juban specializes in omakase sushi, where the diners leave it up to the chef as to what he'll create and serve. The restaurant features warayaki straw grill cooking, which comes from Koichi prefecture in Japan and uses burning straw to create an intense flame, which sears fish and meat on the outside, yet leaves the interior incredibly soft and juicy, as well as adding a smoked aroma. With great connections to the best of Japan's seafood industry, Juban gets choice cuts and various types of seafood from across Japan, featuring diversity such as Hokkaido sea urchin, kintokidai big eye snapper from Kanazawa, or some of the best cuts of yellowtail tuna you'll find in Thailand. If you are a sashimi and sushi connoisseur, you're going to be in 7th heaven here. Just make sure you've got the directions here spot on though, as it's the biggest challenge of the evening.

Recommended for Japanese because: For real authentic Japanese omakase sushi, Sushi Juban is miles ahead of the crowd.

Dave's expert tip: To get here, best hop a taxi from the Asok BTS station. You'll need to head up Sukhumvit Soi 23, then turn right after 300 meters (just after CRAFT beer bar), where Soi 23 divides. Continuing on this right branch of Soi 23, it swings left again after another 300m, and then you'll travel up another 250m to the third alleyway on the left. Juban is down this alley at the end, just after Serendib Cafe.

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Your average Japanese izakaya usually features plenty of smoke, simplicity, and is often thought of as the equivalent of a pub; informal, unpretentious, and certainly not where you go to fine dine. It's not that Jua doesn't live up to any of these, it's that it is much more. In a city where hole in the wall after-work izakayas are a dime a dozen, Jua is hip, bold, innovative, not to mention a perfect choice for grabbing an outstanding after-work drink or two, exactly what a good izakaya should be about.

Acclaimed photographer Jason Lang is one of the co-owners, along with chef extraordinaire Chet Adkins, former Executive Chef at the swanky Ce La Vie (formerly Ku De Ta) of Sathorn Road fame. Lang focuses on food photography, and images from his book Sake: The History, Stories, and Craft of Japan's Artisanal Breweries, are part of a rotating series of large prints in the bar that fit perfectly with the perfectly executed hand-crafted cocktails and curated pours of fine sake that make this one of Bangkok's hip new creative district's best places to drink.

Jua takes the art of kushiyaki, traditional Japanese meat and vegetable skewers that are grilled over charcoal, and goes a step further, adding small tapas plates like yellowfin tuna with sriracha sauce or tonkatsu rib chops to the menu, perfect for friends to share over a few beverages. Try the smoked bacon wrapped around asparagus or a banana prawn flavored with fermented local durian butter, an homage to SE Asian ingredients, yet not at all out of place on this izakaya menu.

Set in Bangkok's most popular new art and hipster locale, between Bang Rak and Chinatown, Jua is a refreshing departure from your usual Thonglor Japanese eatery. The building it's in used to be an illegal gambling house and the name Jua is a reference to the game of Siamese blackjack, although everything about this dapper new spot looks mighty legit, and you might end up staying a good few hours longer than planned.

Recommended for Japanese because: For an upscale and creative take on your average izakaya, Jua is a refreshing standout.

Dave's expert tip: You can take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and then make the 10-15 minute walk or taxi ride up Charoenkrung Road, but even better, take the Chao Phraya ferry to Sri Phaya and walk up Sri Phaya Road until you hit Charoenkrung Soi 28, where you take a left and follow the soi as it swings around to the right, with Jua on your right side as you near Charoenkrung.

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Isao
Photo courtesy of Isao Bangkok


Fusion Japanese food is always hit or miss, and fortunately for intimate Isao, it is a home run night after night. This small eatery just off of Sukhumvit is always packed with discerning diners coming to try out creations that just aren't available elsewhere in Bangkok, and is surely the only restaurant in town with a line outside 365 nights a year. The owner at Isao studied under the chef at Green Tea in Chicago, and obviously brought back some creative expertise. Try out some of the signature fusion specialties here such as the Volcano, a baked scallop in cream sauce served in its shell resembling orange molten lava, spicy and taste tingling. Or how about the Jackie, a caterpillar shaped sushi roll with egg, boiled shrimp, roe, and tempura, or the Chicago Spicy Crazy, which features salmon, tuna, white fish and vegetables. A most pleasant change from your average tuna and salmon sushi joint, and nobody ever walks out of here disappointed.

Recommended for Japanese because: For being not only the best Japanese, but one of Bangkok's best restaurants period.

Dave's expert tip: They don't make reservations here and it is always full, but well worth it to come join the line, and they keep the crowds moving pretty smoothly. The nearest skytrain stop to here is Phrom Pong, just a short stroll from Soi 31.

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One of only two Japanese restaurants to receive a Plate award in the inaugural Michelin Bangkok guide several years ago (there are now five), Yamazato features elegant and refined Japanese cuisine, served up on the 24th floor of the fashionable Okura Prestige Bangkok hotel, and looking out at the Bangkok cityscape. Divided into three sections, the restaurant offers teppanyaki grill tables, a sushi bar that brings fresh fish from Tokyo's prestigious Toyosu Fish Market, and also a private dining area. Menu choices range from high end kaiseki ryori, fine dining cuisine that dates back to the Japanese Imperial Court or the 9th Century, omakase chef's tables, as well as an outstanding a la carte menu of a variety of sashimi, noodle dishes, teriyaki, and many other favorites. Yamazato has also been listed in BK Magazine's Top Tables list, and is one of the more esteemed Asian fine dining establishments in the city. With the views, detail and presentation of the food, quality ingredients, and complete overall service, it is the perfect spot for a date, special night out, or for any gourmands seeking excellent Japanese cuisine.

Recommended for Japanese because: For outstanding and refined Japanese cuisine, Yamazato is superb.

Dave's expert tip: Take the BTS Skytrain to Ploenchit and look for the Okura Prestige Bangkok/Park Ventures building, which is on the south side of Sukhumvit, accessed by BTS exit 2. You'll need to go into the hotel and take an elevator up to the hotel reception.

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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave

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