The best sushi restaurants in Tokyo
Ask five Tokyoites to name the best sushi restaurants in the city, and you’re likely to get five different answers -- the old "how long is a piece of string?" quandary.
That's because the sushi experience is a very personal one that can include not only raw seafood, but also things like unmatched service, chefs whose skills were honed by years of apprenticeship, an atmosphere that screams “traditional Japan” and, in many cases, a whopping bill.
Because of all this, any one traveler’s favorite sushi experience is going to largely depend on budget, interests and previous experience with the cuisine.
But the great thing about Tokyo is its sheer breadth and depth of choice when it comes to eating out.
Sushi is no exception, and at least one of these five restaurants or chains is sure to please just about any hungry visitor.
Just don’t expect to be chowing down on California and spicy tuna rolls, OK?
The breakfast choice: Sushi Dai
Anyone dying to try the sushi-for-breakfast experience need look no further than Sushi Dai, located just steps from the Tsukiji fish market, which arguably serves the freshest seafood of anywhere in the world and is the unanimous choice as one of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
After wandering through all the chaos and wonder that make up the Tsukiji market, visitors head to Sushi Dai to sample some of the very fish they’ve just seen being sold to chefs and restaurant owners from across the city.
But if a Sushi Dai breakfast is what you crave, then cancel your morning meetings -- the wait for a seat in the restaurant often lasts two hours or more. However, most who have dined there agree that the subsequent feast is worth the tedious queuing.
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In addition to the extreme freshness of its fare (often items like clam are still moving when the chef places them on the counter in front of diners), Sushi Dai also boasts relatively reasonable prices.
The most popular item is the chef’s special course of 10 nigiri and one roll, as well as one nigiri of the diner’s choice.
At ¥3,675 including tax, it makes a delicious meal any time of the day, and won’t break the bank.
Sushi Dai, 6-21-2 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku; +81 (0) 3 3541 3738; Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-5 a.m. the next morning; Sunday and holidays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
The lunch choice: Sushi Saito
This tiny, unassuming sushi bar opposite the U.S. Embassy in Akasaka has many devotees and is booked out just as far in advance as Sushi Mizutani. It’s up to individual diners to decide which restaurant they prefer when on the hunt for the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
For a master sushi chef, Takashi Saito is young, surprisingly outgoing and friendly. Despite the local feel (there are only seven seats here), the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and the chef makes an effort to tailor the courses to individual diners’ preferences.
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Like Sushi Mizutani, Sushi Saito has been awarded three Michelin stars, but its lunch course may nonetheless be one of Tokyo’s best-kept dining secrets. At ¥5,500 yen it’s certainly not cheap, but the tender, flavorful seafood and perfectly seasoned rice are worth every penny.
Prices for dinner courses start at around ¥15,000. Chef Saito speaks a small amount of English and will do his best to communicate with each customer, but diners who don’t speak Japanese are advised to reserve via a hotel concierge or other Japanese-speaking person.
Sushi Saito, 1-9-15 Akasaka, Minato-ku; +81 (0) 3 3589 4412; noon-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-11 p.m., closed on Sundays and some national holidays.
The value choice: Fukuzushi
A family-owned establishment since 1917, Fukuzushi has occupied a quiet lot in the back streets of Roppongi for more than 40 years.
Unlike the plethora of tiny sushi bars that spans Tokyo, this restaurant is spacious (it even has a bar and lounge area), making it great for families, groups and business meetings.
Regular customers include many of Japan’s well-known entertainment personalities and celebrities drawn to one if the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
The current owner and master chef at Fukuzushi is George Fukuzawa, who honed his skills while studying the craft under both his father and grandfather.
Watching him and his assistants at work is half the fun of the experience, so small groups should opt for seats at the counter if possible.
Fukuzawa aims to please his customers in any way he can, while still maintaining the sense of pride for which sushi chefs are known.
He carefully seasons each piece of nigiri with exactly the right amount of wasabi and soy sauce, so don’t dunk yours in more shoyu unless you want to offend.
Careful attention is paid to every detail, such as cutting nigiri into two smaller pieces for women, so that they don’t have to struggle to try to bite them in half or chew on a huge piece of fish.
For one of Tokyo’s most popular sushi restaurants, Fukuzushi is priced slightly lower than many others. Lunch courses start at ¥2,625 and dinner courses go for ¥6,300 and ¥8,400.
At least two people need to order the dinner courses, but an à la carte menu is also available for solo diners.
Fukuzushi, 5-7-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku; +81 (0) 3 3402 4116; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m., closed on Sunday and national holidays.
The kaiten choice: Sushi Zanmai
For anyone on a budget who still wants to try Tokyo’s most famous culinary export, one of the 30-plus locations of this popular chain is never far away.
Like many sushi chains, Sushi Zanmai originated in Tsukiji and it claims to be Japan’s first 24-hour, 365-days-a-year sushi bar.
Most branches are decorated in a similar style of light-colored wood and hanging paper lanterns and offer both counter and table seating. Many use the popular and fun “kaiten” (conveyor belt) style as well.
While the quality of food and service alone might not qualify it as everyone’s choice as one of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo, Sushi Zanmai is usually a safe bet for beginners or those who don’t have thousands of yen to blow on something more exceptional.
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You may not get the very top cuts of fish, but you are pretty much guaranteed a good quality meal at prices that are hard to beat.
Nigiri lunch sets start at just ¥1,554 including a small salad and miso soup, and there is a “maguro zanmai” set of various types of tuna sushi for ¥3,150. It’s a great way for even the pickiest of eaters to sample Japan’s national dish.
Sushi Zanmai, 4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku (many other branches throughout Tokyo; check website for details); +81 (0) 3 3541 1117; open daily, 24 hours.
The high-end choice: Sushi Mizutani
True sushi connoisseurs who aren’t afraid to shell out lots of cash for a top-quality dining experience swear by Sushi Mizutani, located on the ninth floor of Ginza’s Juno building.
Like most traditional sushi bars, Mizutani is family owned and operated, with Mr. Mizutani preparing and serving the food while his wife chats with customers as she refills their glasses and teacups.
With only 10 seats, it is always full and reservations are required months in advance unless you get lucky and someone cancels -- a sure sign of one of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
Uninitiated diners have been known to complain about brusque service, exorbitant prices, the lack of a menu and a strict cash-only policy, but regulars swear there is no better place for absolute top-quality sushi.
The editors of Tokyo’s Michelin Guide must have agreed, because they awarded this tiny establishment three of their coveted stars.
Diners who choose to go to Sushi Mizutani should be prepared for a very traditional experience and shouldn’t expect a conveyor-belt style atmosphere. Very little English is spoken (none by the chef), and all but those whom the chef knows personally are expected to order the special menu, priced from about ¥15,000 at lunchtime and ¥20,000 during dinner.
Because the place is so small, the atmosphere will depend on the other diners present, but as a general rule, if you’re friendly and respectful, you’ll get the same in return.
Sushi Mizutani, Juno Building 9/F, 8-7-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku; +81 (0) 3 3573 5258; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m., closed on Sundays and national holidays.