Making A List: Unearthing Japantown’s Gems

With the annual spring cherry blossom festival taking place over the next two weekends, it’s as good a time as any to head to the Western Addition mall known as Japantown. As the oldest Japanese community in America, San Francisco’s Nihonmachi (nihon: Japan, machi: town) remains one of the best places to get Japanese groceries, flower arrangements and of course, food. By our count, there are over 30 restaurants in Japantown. That’s a lot of restaurants for such a small space, and it follows that some are institutional successes while others are merely passing fads. Allow us to help you sort out the Sony Walkmans from the, um, laserdiscs.

Takara: One of the busier places in Japantown, Takara’s specialties lie with cooked dishes more so than sushi (though the live prawn tank reportedly yields some excellent amaebi, seen above). For a rather unique–or depending on your Japanese experience, traditional–experience, try one of the nabe (hot pot dishes). Sure, they’re over 20 bucks a pop, but you can get sushi anytime.

Ino Sushi: If you’re looking for a quick fishy fix, Ino’s the place. It’s just a sushi bar and the chef has been known to be a bit ornery, but that’s part of the charm, right?

Kappa: Only one table and eight counter seats occupy the space, making Kappa a small spot, much like Ino. Unlike Ino, however, Kappa does not specialize in sushi; it’s a ko-ryori, a formal restaurant specializing in small, seasonal tapas-style items. The $85 omakase is recommended for first-timers.

Kiss: We’re on record saying it’s the best sushi in the city. Good luck getting a reservation though.

bushi-tei: Even the staunchest sushi lovers give into the whole fusion thing every once in a while. At bushi-tei, Chef Waka presents picturesque, Flickr-worthy “French-Californian cuisine with a touch of Japanese flair” like miso-marinated Kobe beef and Sonoma lamb chops with wasabi-port sauce.

Making A List: Unearthing Japantown’s Gems