(Bloomberg) — When the first notable sushi stall opened for business in the 1820s in present-day Tokyo, the dish epitomized casual, inexpensive street food.
Since then, sushi has evolved into a staple at strip malls and airports worldwide. The US has an estimated 16,000 sushi restaurants, a number that’s increased an average of 3.6% every year since 2017, according to marketing research firm IbisWorld.
Sushi also represents the most coveted reservation in cities nationwide—for good reason. Elite chefs have committed to crafting the art of serving raw and cured seafood at the highest level, with a range of styles. Some, like Yohei Matsuki at Sushi Ginza Onodera in Los Angeles, adhere to a traditional style of sushi making known as edomae, which prioritizes seafood sourced from around Japan, particularly Tokyo Bay. Meanwhile, in New York, chef Nozomu Abe of Sushi Noz has a license to import seafood directly from markets in Japan rather than go through middlemen. As a result, his menu is stocked with fish you can’t find elsewhere in the Big Apple.
Each of the following sushi masters goes to great lengths to source top-of-the-line seafood, along with other coveted ingredients such as fresh wasabi root and sour sudachi citrus from markets in Japan. All are exquisite craftspersons, personally preparing dishes for a handful of customers from behind a counter.
Here are the nine U.S. bars for the best sushi experience you will find outside Japan.
Since it made its debut four years ago on the Upper East Side, Sushi Noz has become the city’s premier sushi spot. What separates this dual-counter place from other local haunts is that five times a week, chef-owner Abe receives seafood direct from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market and Kyushu’s Nagahama fish market. No surprise then, that the $495 omakase menu changes daily. Abe features such hyper seasonal offerings as briny sea cockle and sweet mako flounder, along with a few signature bites like hay-smoked bonito sashimi, and anago (eel) nigiri lacquered in a 13-year-old tare (“mother”) sauce.
Eight-seat Icca quietly opened in Tribeca in October 2021, helmed by Ginza Onodera alum chef Kazushige Suzuki. The chef has earned praise for such signature bites as creamy, umami-rich abalone liver nigiri. The $400 meal leans heavily on small appetizers, including a chilled corn soup with Hokkaido horsehair crab, before moving on to 12 nigiri bites. Most unconventionally, the chef adds Italian influences to his edomae menu; there’s even a pasta course—for instance, silky capellini laced with hairy crab—that flows seamlessly into the menu.
In a city lauded for its quality sushi outlets, Ginza Onodera—one of three US outposts of the Tokyo-based brand—stands out as one of LA’s top experiences. Chef Matsuki oversees the 10-seat West Hollywood spot, offering a 20-course omakase menu based on seafood from Toyosu Market; his menu progression varies based on the day’s best fish. Snacks include the signature, ethereally creamy monkfish liver, cooked in red wine with about a dozen nigiri bites such as seasonal baby gizzard shad and sweet, plump Hokkaido uni. The house miso soup is prepared with three types of the fermented paste; desserts are more inspired than at most sushi spots, with such options as panna cotta-like blancmange flavored with green tea.
Before Keiji Nakazawa moved to Honolulu, he was one of Japan’s most respected sushi masters at his original Sushi Sho. Six years ago, he took over a sleek 10-seat cypress counter in the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Waikiki and began applying Hawaiian accents to his plates, many featuring local seafood. Nakazawa offers such dishes as taro-wrapped opah cheeks (his take on the local pork dish lau lau), anoints toro tuna with the sweetest Maui onions, and replaces ginger with pickled bamboo shoots. Sho’s lengthy, untraditional $300 omakase mixes small appetizers with nigiri throughout the meal. A mark of Nakazawa’s attention to detail: He prepares two batches of seasoned rice for varied seafood preparations, one flavored with white vinegar and a more intense version accented with red vinegar.
There’s no sign outside Sushi Yoshizumi. Insiders know where to find the unadorned, eight-seat, jukusei (aged) sushi-focused counter helmed by eponymous owner Akira Yoshizumi. The chef, who charges $295 for this roughly 21-course omakase, ages his wild-caught seafood to intensify the fish’s flavor. He rests white fish for around four days and waits about two weeks before serving mature yellowtail, which makes the fish more tender. He offers bites like hay-smoked bonito sashimi before moving into 11 nigiri bites, which currently include abalone and sweet pickled gizzard shad.
To secure one of the 12 seats at Sushi Kashiba, you must be willing to wait. Owner Shiro Kashiba trained under the legendary Jiro Ono, from the cult film , and he doesn’t accept reservations. The modest eatery debuted seven years ago, and its $160 omakase features seafood from local Pacific Northwest waters, including buttery Copper River salmon and bitingly fresh spot prawns, plus matsutake mushrooms. Another dish you’ll find on the menu Kashiba is black cod marinated in sake lees, which the chef is credited with creating at Nikko, his original restaurant in 1980s Seattle.
A leading figure in LA’s sushi scene, chef Mori Onodera helms an upscale space with a $400, 30-course omakase punctuated with California produce and subtle Italian touches. Olive oil-laced toro tartare is topped with pine nuts and caviar; nigiri might include such little known options as grunt fish, a mild flaky fish similar in flavor to delicate and sweet-tasting snapper. For more experienced enthusiasts, Morihiro has been known to serve the pink-hued, spiky Japanese delicacy sea pineapple, which has an intensely unique briny flavor,.
You’ll need a secret passcode to get into Hiden, the discrete, impossible-to-book sushi counter tucked inside an unassuming Wynwood taco shop, from chef Shingo Akikuni and restaurateur Edo Lopez. Since it launched four years ago, Hiden has been plating 14-course omakases based on both Japanese and American seafood. Starters include a peach-cucumber mignonette-dressed oyster. A mix of nigiri—both traditional and accented with luxury ingredients—ranges from skinny translucent ice fish and silver-skinned gizzard shad to binchtan-grilled anago crowned with ossetra caviar; the salt water eel is so perfectly cooked, it melts in your mouth.
One of America’s pioneering Japanese restaurants, Sushi Toro has been going strong for almost four decades. Owner Nobu Yamazaki and chef Masaya Kitayama weave principles of kaiseki cuisine (Japan’s elite seasonal tasting menu) into their $250 10-course omakase menu, which is served at a six-seat counter. A meal might begin with a crystal-clear conger eel soup and seasonal sashimi, followed by wagyu shabu shabu and the guest’s choice of nigiri, including silver whiting and ivory king salmon. This is one of America’s very few, highly authentic menus offering a sense of washoku—traditional Japanese cuisine.