The best sushi transcends the sum of its parts, achieving self-evidence by way of pure ingredients and honest process. Whether it’s meticulous, traditional edomae-style, or a modernized, experimental take, New Yorkers are fortunate to have some of the best seafood available—even if much of it comes with a Gulliver-sized carbon footprint and prices to match (some restaurants attempt to offset these offerings with local, sustainable options). Arguments abound as to the superiority of a particular style, but wherever your allegiances lie, sushi in New York is as diverse a cuisine as the city itself. Every bite is a promise; a dream that we too can be Jiros, even if just for one day (or perhaps twice in one day if you’re Jeremy Piven). Here are our favorites.
Related: Read my story about the Upper East Side’s ocean of sushi, which appeared in last week’s paper.
10. Sushi Azabu, 428 Greenwich Street
Descending the steps to this subterranean raw fish powerhouse in the basement of Tribeca’s Greenwich Grill no longer feels as insider-y as it used to, but that hasn’t stopped the intimate sushi den from drawing waves of area residents and traveling nigiri nerds. The restaurant shines brightest when serving raw preparations including a kitchen appetizer of bakudan-natt?, which finds roughly diced sashimi (usually tuna, salmon, and white fish) bound together with sticky, fermented soybeans, slightly vinegared sushi rice, grated mountain potato, and a quail egg. Add a sprinkling of house-fermented, truly umami-rich soy sauce—infused overnight with seaweed and bonito flake—and drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto sheets of crisp nori to wrap into individual bites. The sushi is textbook edomae, and Azabu’s chefs pamper each piece with a brush of sauce or a scattering of scallions.
9. Sushi Dojo, 110 First Avenue
If his intentions weren’t so wholesome, David Bouhadana might be mistaken for double agent given the secrets he seems to have brought back from his time spent learning under sushi masters in Japan. Bouhadana has resurfaced in the East Village after presciently jumping ship from the ill-fated Sushi Uo before it succumbed to last-ditch stunts involving erotic rope bondage. Now free to do as he pleases, the 27-year old shows off superior sourcing in a knob of Tasmanian sea trout, luscious and sweet with background salinity, and a choice of three different kinds of sea urchin. Fish selection is tailored to individual tastes, and a meal spent at the chef’s side yields delightful surprises, one of which is Bouhadana’s ability to share his knowledge with both passion and patience.
8. Soto, 357 Sixth Avenue
Likely the most extravagant mom-and-pop shop you’ll ever come across, this paean to that spiky scourge of the sea—the urchin—serves as center stage for a romantic duet as husband-and-wife team Sotohiro and Maho Kosugi deliver a performance that is equal parts alchemy and precision. Mr. Kosugi applies a gentle touch to nigiri and other cold dishes while the matriarch presiding over the modest space constructs artful cooked plates including a miso soup whose urchin-enriched broth comes studded with nuggets of lobster, zippy ginger shoots, and chives. The Brangelina of New York sushi, the pair presents uni of varying provenance in unexpected ways, accentuating the orange roe’s many tastes and textures. In doing so, they’ve elevated the discussion on this cultish oceanic delicacy and created a worthy destination for the city’s uni lovers—a notoriously prickly bunch. [
7. Sushi Seki, 1143 First Avenue
For those who would cry foul at the exclusion of Sushi of Gari from this list, know that it’s only because Seki and Gari (along with Neo Sushi Studio, run by Steven Wong, another Gari/Seki alum) have similar—and at times identical—styles given that Seki worked under Gari before striking out on his own. But Seki stays open until 3 a.m., and Gari does not. That a sushi bar of this caliber would keep those hours is more than a mere blessing, and food writers love mentioning that Seki is a popular post-shift stop for many a famous chef including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, and Gordon Ramsay. For an efficacious introduction to this progressive method of sushi making—where sauces, pastes, and herbs are used with fluctuating degrees of subtlety and assertiveness—the $45 Seki special for one is unwavering in its delights, a selection of inventive creations like Gari’s signature yellowtail jalapeño and a piece of dashi-marinated eggplant hit with funky strands of the fermented and smoked skipjack tuna called katsuobushi. There’s also a nod to New York in a jewel of salmon topped with creamy onion sauce and a slice of tomato. Maître d’ Koji Ohneda steers the front of the house with the affable exasperation of Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit, and watching him maneuver the influx of intoxicated, affluent revelers on a Saturday night is as gratifying a sight as any krumping routine.
6. 15 East, 15 East 15th Street
“Stylish” is a bit of a flaccid descriptor, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re in the middle of a photo shoot when you’re sitting at Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky’s handsome, darkly-hued bubinga-wood sushi bar juxtaposed against high-ceilinged stark white walls. A sophomore effort for the married restaurateurs, the Spartan surroundings serve to further heighten the main attraction: Masato Shimizu’s stunning seafood, prepared with the love and attention of 1,000 helicopter parents. But unlike those parents’ burnt-out teenagers, Shimizu’s affection for his superior catch yields impressively cut fish pressed into wobbly mounds of warmed vinegar-soaked grains and a cultish slow-poached octopus appetizer that the chef imported from his time spent as the chef at Jack Lamb’s Jewel Bako in the East Village. Another holdover from his time with Lamb is the spiny lobster tasting, for which this crustacean undergoes a trio of cooking techniques appearing first in sashimi, where hunks of freshly extracted lobster meat are presented in the still-moving carcass, then tempura-fried, and finally in a deep, murky miso broth. Like depression, anxiety, and family feuds, this seasonal treat is as fleeting as the ramp: It only appears come winter—and really, what a way to eat your emotions.
5. Kuruma Zushi, 7 East 47th Street
Not since Led Zeppelin’s fabled rock ballad has ascension yielded outcomes this heavenly. Climbing the stairs to Toshihiro Uezu’s nondescript maguro mecca on the second floor of a nondescript Midtown low-rise induces a state of calm equal to that of any fancifully named yoga pose. The 67-year old chef’s purview is traditional edomae sushi of the strictest order, and Kuruma’s aquatic bounty is surely some of the highest quality on the island. That means dainty, opulent morsels like translucent slivers of fluke to dip in ponzu and house-smoked salmon nigiri. Omakase starts at $300, but savvy fish-over-rice fiends know to come at lunch, when a plate of 10 glistening hummocks with a roll (usually tuna) costs 1/10th of the price at $35. End your meal with seasonal Japanese fruits or house-made ice cream, which, like nearly everything served, is attentively crafted by the sprightly master.
4. Ichimura at Brushstroke, 30 Hudson Street
When downtown culinary pioneer David Bouley gave chef Eiji Ichimura his own sushi bar nestled within Brushstroke, Bouley’s splendid ode to multi-course kaiseki dining (and a joint venture with Osaka’s Yoshiki Tsuji and his Tsuji Cooking Academy), he clearly underestimated the trouble eight little chairs could cause. The seats, available by reservation only, give the few lucky diners a front row view as Ichimura doles out classic edomae-style nigiri with as much reverence for the past as PDT’s bartenders bestow upon their Negronis and Old Fashioneds. To wit: channeling sushi’s roots as a method of preserving fish, many of the restaurant’s offerings come aged, cured, or pickled in specific intervals to enhance pinpointed flavor profiles, and the chef even offers flights of the same exact cut of fish aged for different periods of time, making for the one of the tastiest “before-and-after” scenarios we’ve ever encountered. [
3. Sushi Yasuda, 204 East 43rd Street
It was early 2011 when Naomichi Yasuda left his eponymous Midtown sushi shrine and returned to Japan; the city’s sushi lovers wept. Thankfully, two of the master’s longtime disciples, Tatsuya Sekiguchi and Mitsuru Tamura, were there to wipe away those tears of sadness and replace them with salty droplets of joy. Good sushi has that effect on people, and Yasuda’s bolder offerings—hiramasa, rock crab, scallop roe—practically beg to be devoured by sentimental gastronomic Darwinists. The trusted itamae do the head honcho proud, dispensing immaculate product with a hushed and delicate fastidiousness, though there’s never a dull moment when plates hit the table. Blowfish has been sterilized of its poison. Still, the tempura-fried nuggets of tender white flesh feel daring. Yasuda is one of the tougher tables in town, but call ahead, and you might be able to snag last-minute seats. If you’re lucky, saddle up to that beautiful L-shaped bar and knock a few species off your sushi bucket list.
2. Tanoshi, 1372 York Avenue
Tanoshi was poised for sushi stardom from the onset. The bar seats 10 comfortably, 11 if a solo diner is willing to squeeze into a corner spot—a wise choice as the stool sits directly in front of chef Toshio Oguma—and before switching to phone reservations, hopeful eaters had to trek to the restaurant at 1 p.m. to scribble their name on a sign-in sheet. Together with a bite-sized apprentice, a porter, and a waitress, Oguma constructs a meal that includes uncommon offerings such as sea bream, halibut, and crab brains. Dishes for wasabi and soy sauce are nowhere to be seen, leaving a tumble of pickled ginger as the only condiment (and even then, it’s only intended use is as a palate cleanser). The spot has recently begun offering futomaki and a tiny but potent cup of miso-tinged fish broth to wind things down before the finale of an almost out-of-place spicy tuna hand roll. After several blazing hot reviews from trusted outlets, these seats are now booked a month in advance.
1. Sasabune, 401 East 73rd Street
Seven years ago, Kenji Takahashi brought LA’s omakase-only Sasabune to a modest, tranquil space off the corner of First Avenue and 73rd Street. Takahashi famously makes daily 5 a.m. trips to the Hunt’s Point Fulton Fish Market to source product for the New York flagship and a less expensive, a la carte offshoot called Sasabune Express on East 59th Street. In addition to selective sourcing, it’s the chef’s control of his ingredients that most astounds. Kelp, yuzukosh?, ponzu, and nitsume sauces empower piece after piece of delicate seafood on plates featuring two or three different phylum. This edible taxonomy paints pictures of the seasons and displays them like compositions arranged in an art gallery. Perhaps even more essential is Sasabune’s treatment of their rice; served at varying temperatures and with varying amounts of vinegar to bring out the nuances of each protein. The restaurant’s design is less grand than some others on this list, but like the pristine nigiri Takahashi places in front of his customers, Sasabune far eclipses its own humility. It also serves some of the finest ankimo (monkfish liver) we’ve ever tried; warm and wobbly, the livers are soft as fresh tofu and redolent with heady, briny fat.