In the high-end world of big-city dining, few restaurant genres evince more passion and contentious argument than the delicate, subjective, ever-changing realm of first-class sushi. This is especially true these days, when discreet tasting rooms and out-of-town chains seem to be popping up around this toro-mad town like so many coffee bars. Here are our current favorite destinations in the city for a pure sushi fix, along with the usual gaggle of worthy runners-up.
2. Sushi Nakazawa
23 Commerce St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-924-2212
Daisuke Nakazawa was trained by the famously stern Jiro, but compared to the usual stilted, priestly $150 sushi experience, the mood at this swank West Village omakase palace is downright convivial. For this kind of cash, you should insist on a seat at the bar, of course, and pay attention to the deep selection of continental wines, and to the impeccably sourced fish like pearly, wet chunks of Maine scallop touched with yuzu and pepper, and the extraordinary sea urchin, like the coveted, long-spined Murasaki fished directly from the chilly waters off Hokkaido.
3. Sushi Yasuda
204 E. 43rd St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-972-1001
Despite the retirement of its revered founder, a few years back, this bustling, reliable midtown sushi palace sails resolutely on. There are more intimate and inventive sushi parlors around town, but none combine the clean, purist style of Tokyo with the bustle of New York in quite such a unique and satisfying way. The best seat in the house is at the bar, of course, during the weekday lunchtime rush, when the room is filled with a mix of tourists, Japanese salary men, and animated wise-guy regulars from the trading desks around the neighborhood, gobbling their Hokkaido uni and rosy pieces of fatty tuna belly with their winter coats slung over the backs of their chairs.
4. O Ya
120 E. 28th St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-204-0200
The room lacks the intimacy of a great sushi bar, it’s true, but if you don’t feel like groveling for a seat at one of the city’s stuffy omakase palaces, Tim and Nancy Cushman’s spacious establishment will do just fine. The vibe is refreshingly relaxed, getting a seat at the bar doesn’t involve a monthlong wait, and the well-trained team of chefs can twirl up just about anything your heart desires — from glimmering Edo-style slips of kohada shad, to soft pats of freshwater eel flavored with a modish cutting of Thai basil, to addictive vegetable-sushi creations constructed with Italian summer truffles and a single, carefully fried fingerling-potato chip.
10 Columbus Cir., nr. Eighth Ave., fourth fl.; 212-823-9800
The great man is not always behind the bar these days (his ambitious restaurant empire is ever-expanding), and thanks to a variety of factors (climate change, vanishing fish, etc.) the unique range of his sushi offerings is not what it used to be. But if you happen to have $1,000 ($595 for the most basic dinner, plus tax and the inevitable flutes of Champagne) burning a hole in your pocket, this great omakase temple is still worth visiting, provided you sit at the bar, not the dreary tables.
130 St. Marks Pl., nr. Ave. A; 212-228-1010
Whenever I’m asked, as I was the other day, “for a good sushi place, not too anal, and not bank-busting,” I direct people to this snug, refreshingly unpretentious omakase cubbyhole off Tompkins Square Park. Norihiro Ishizuka serves his relatively affordable menu ($100 for 12 pieces of sushi, appetizer, soup, and dessert) with a happy smile, one piece at a time. Everything is first-rate, but the house specialty is the toro, which comes in four different grades.
428 Greenwich St., nr. Vestry St.; 212-274-0428
With its intimate, slightly hushed atmosphere, and quirky, subterranean speakeasy location, this Michelin-approved Tribeca standby is as close as you’ll come in sushi-mad New York to the look and feel of a classic Tokyo (or Osaka, or Kyoto) sushi bar. There are four omakase options, but for the real Tokyo experience, open your wallet, call for one of the fine house sakes, and order à la carte.
210 Seventh Ave., nr. 3rd St., Park Slope; 718-788-5338
357 Sixth Ave., nr. Washington Pl.; 212-462-0039
This popular little Park Slope establishment has long been a favorite haunt of local sushi snobs, who prize variety (you can choose from uni trucked in from Maine, or flown in from Hokkaido) and, at $47 for the most basic sushi omakase option, relatively modest Brooklyn prices. Manhattanites who don’t want to make the arduous trek across the river can now enjoy similar elegance and value at the new West Village branch, which just opened on lower Sixth Avenue.
Sushi of Gari
402 E. 78th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-517-5340
The great Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio runs a various, unruly chain of high-end sushi joints these days, but if you want to experience the kind of vivid, high-wire creations for which he’s famous, this original, snug little flagship restaurant is the place to do it. The bar only seats ten, and is filled with devoted regulars, so call well in advance, or show up early and beg.
1143 First Ave., nr. 63rd St.; 212-371-0238
Like most things in the Upper East Side neighborhood, Seki’s fabled sushi creations will cost you, but if you have resources, and ration yourself to a few splurge visits per year, they’re worth the price. The bar is a favorite haunt of noted sushi fiends, Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, and like any chef hangout worth its salt, stays open until 2:30 a.m.
88 W. 3rd St., nr. Sullivan St.; 646-405-4826
With the long-awaited arrival of the great L.A. invasion in upscale New York sushi circles, and if you want to experience the uniquely spare-no-nonsense (and, yes, at $200 per dinner, uniquely pricey) West Coast style, this unassuming 18-seat restaurant, below Washington Square, is the place to do it.
Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar
1372 York Ave., nr. 73rd St.; 917-265-8254
The variety of fish at this friendly, slightly ramshackle Upper East Side spot isn’t astounding, but the place has the relaxed, unstuffy feel of a real neighborhood sushi joint, and everything on Toshio Oguma’s menu (fat Hokkaido scallops, a generous wad of uni with a quail egg on top) is impeccably fresh and, starting at $80 for the standard omakase dinner, relatively cheap.
This post has been updated throughout.