In the world of high-end, big-city dining, few subjects elicit more passion and contentious argument than the delicate, subjective, ever-changing realm of first-class sushi. This is especially true these days, when a new, younger generation of chefs from Japan is opening restaurants around town, and some local sushi aesthetes we know are beginning to whisper that in terms of the variety of styles and even in terms of quality, New York might actually be beginning to rival Tokyo itself (which, to be fair, generally boasts only the traditional edomae style). Here are our current favorite destinations for a pure sushi fix, which we humbly present for your debating pleasure, with the usual caveats that the last sushi dinners one has had (Sushi Noz and Ichimura, in our case) have a way of lingering foremost in the mind, and that it always helps, in the realm of big-city sushi, to have an expense account or a high-roller friend (or two) in tow to foot the extravagant bill.
2. Ichimura at Uchu
217 Eldridge St., nr. Stanton St.; 212-203-7634
After wandering in the proverbial desert for a short time following the unfortunate blow-up of his eponymous project down in Tribeca, one of the city’s great masters of the edomae style has found a properly palatial home at this discreet, big-money tasting-room complex on Eldridge Street. With its flattering lighting, wide pine-wood bar, and soft, red leather chairs, the little room is surpassingly stylish, and the same goes for Ichimura himself, who doles out his impeccable omakase menu nattily dressed in a traditional Japanese yukata. If there were a slightly less expensive way to get a taste of the plump, shiny scallops, or the delicately cross-hatched ika, or the multitude of toro variations (we counted four different kinds), this posh little establishment might be at the top of the list, but if you have $300 in your pocket (before tax, tip, and the invariable carafes of sake), we suggest you run, don’t walk, down to Eldridge Street.
3. Sushi Satsuki
114 W. 47th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-278-0047
Former Sushi Zen chef Toshio Suzuki is one of the OG godfathers of the city’s sushi scene, and if you happen to have $230 at your disposal, it’s a pleasure, early in the evening or after the lunchtime rush, to slip into one of the eight seats at this tastefully appointed subterranean bar on West 47th Street and listen to him discourse in his friendly, dignified way on the traditional style of doing things. Everything we tasted was top-notch, but pay attention to the chef’s signature eggy tamago, which he mixes the way the sushi masters in the old country taught him to do, with dashes of tofu and yam, because eggs were a scarce commodity back in wartime Tokyo.
6 W. 28th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-481-2432
With its violet-cushioned chairs and elaborately stocked whiskey bar, this discreet Flatiron establishment looks an awful lot like a caricature of a young bond trader’s fantasy sushi den, but the young Tokyo chef, Shigeyuki Tsunoda, serves one of the better new omakases in town. Our edomae-style 14-course nigiri-sushi dinner included maki rolls made with long, silvery strips of mackerel, fat grilled scallops folded in slips of toasted nori seaweed, and slices of esoteric “cherry” sea trout, which, as the genial chef will tell you in his polished English, inhabit the tidal river estuaries of northern Hokkaido in the spring. At $285, the prices aren’t cheap, but the meal is filled with subtle touches, and toward the end of dinner Tsunoda mixes a great bowl of tuna tartare, which he hands around to his customers folded into nori hand rolls, like he’s serving guests at a party.
5. Sushi Yasuda
204 E. 43rd St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-972-1001
There are more intimate and inventive sushi parlors around town, but as we’ve written before, few of them combine the clean, purist style of Tokyo with the big-city hustle-bustle of New York in such a unique and satisfying way. The best seat in the house at this midtown mainstay is at the bar, of course, during the weekday lunchtime rush, when the room is filled with a mix of tourists, Japanese salarymen, and animated wise-guy regulars from the trading desks around the neighborhood. The omakase is aggressively priced, and not as intimate or polished as other chef-centric restaurants on this list, so do what the lunchtime regulars do and order à la carte.
6. Shoji at 69 Leonard Street
69 Leonard St., nr. Church St.; 212-404-4600
The presence of the genial Derek Wilcox behind the counter at this top-notch Tribeca omakase joint might come as a shock to traditionalists who are used to receiving their monthly (or yearly) rations of fatty otoro from lordly Japanese gentlemen who can trace their pedigrees back through generations of chefs in Japan. But never fear, sushi snobs. Wilcox grew up in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and spent a decade learning the intricacies of the trade in the restaurants and fish markets around Tokyo and Kyoto with a kind of convert’s fervor. At $252 per head (there are slightly cheaper and also more lavish menu options, but this is the most popular), the price of dinner here is on par with other high-tone sushi palaces around the city, and as one carefully sourced, well-constructed little course succeeds another (triggerfish from Montauk, Atlantic bluefin tuna belly, uni from Hokkaido and California, sweet little spot prawns from Santa Barbara), so is the quality.
47 E. 12th St., nr. Broadway; 212-228-6088
Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau’s popular, much-praised (including by us) Union Square operation tumbles a little in these updated rankings for all the usual reasons — the unrelenting crush of popularity, the arrival in town of a new wave of competition, the challenges of innovation, and the sense, on our last visit, of the same ideas being repeated again and again. By today’s standards, however, $180 is not a bad price to pay for a full mini-omakase feast (up to 16 pieces of sushi with a few non-sushi items thrown in), and there’s still no glorified fish house in town that combines upscale quality with that down-home, distinctively infectious New York City backbeat.
8. Sushi Amane
245 E. 44th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-986-5300
There are some purists who consider this high-priced, no-frills, eight-seat operation in the basement of the upscale restaurant Mifune to be the ultimate Tokyo–style sushi experience in town, and why not? The young chef is Shion Uino, who began his apprenticeship with the venerable Takashi Saito of Tokyo’s three-star Sushi Saito at the age of 18. His sourcing (most of the fish are wild-caught around Japanese waters) and effortless, deceptively simple style — you’ll find no signature sake cocktails here, nor newfangled fusion caviar rolls, and the cool, subtly eggy tamago is one of the best in town — mirror the master, although New Yorkers who are used to a certain kind of theatrical style (yes, the lighting in the cinder block-walled room is a tad harsh) might want a little more bang for their 250 bucks.
9. Sushi Nakazawa
23 Commerce St., nr. Seventh Ave. S.; 212-924-2212
According to our spies, the infectiously genial Chef Nakazawa is not in evidence behind the counter much anymore, although in case you haven’t heard, there’s a signature Nakazawa “Caviar Russe” on the menu, and the chef’s name is conveniently emblazoned on the bottom of every serving tray for Instagram branding purposes. Except for the slightly over-gummy rice, however, the quality of the product was as good as ever when we dropped in for a pleasant lunch not long ago, and if you avoid the thousand-dollar bottles of sake and wine, and the endless upselling offers (yes, there is A-5 Wagyu), the omakase option ($150 at the counter, $120 at a table) is a true bargain compared to the aggressively priced sushi joints around town.
10. Tanoshi Sushi
1372 York Ave., nr. 73rd St.; 917-265-8254
There are much grander venues in this neighborhood in which to get your elevated sushi fix these days, but not many of them combine the relaxed, slightly ramshackle sense of intimacy and occasion that this quirky little York Avenue institution does — a testament to the legacy of the late, great chef-owner, Toshio Oguma. The greatest drawing card used to be the prices, which hovered in the mid-two figures for the standard 12-piece omakase for years. Lately, we’ve noticed, they’ve been creeping up toward the $100 mark.
11. Sushi Ginza Onodera
461 Fifth Ave., nr. 40th St.; 212-390-0925
The grandiose Fifth Avenue outlet of this lavishly upmarket Tokyo–based omakase operation is beloved by members of the no-expenses-spared, Midtown sushi-bro set, and if you happen to get hooked in to the trophy sakes and wines, the grandest $400 omakase option can balloon into the four-figure stratosphere in a hurry. The lunchtime prices tend to be more reasonable ($150 and under for a 10 to 15-piece meal) in a relative, sushi-plutocrat kind of way, and according to our sources in midtown, there’s now a $70 futomaki to-go option filled with all sorts of goodies (seawater eel, prawns, shiitake mushrooms), which you can take back to the office tower and devour at your trading desk.
130 St. Marks Pl., nr. Ave. A; 212-228-1010
Norihiro Ishizuka’s snug little operation on the western edge of Tompkins Square Park is a throwback to the peaceful, relatively democratic, not-so-distant days before $300 menus and packs of verbose, Billions–watching sushi bros invaded the upper echelons of the city’s sushi scene. The atmosphere is cheerful and unhurried, the menu is nicely sourced (sea scallops tipped with yuzu, silvery slices of jack fish and sardines, four different grades of tuna), and it’s one of the last neighborly-feeling sushi establishments where the prices aren’t officially insane.
13. Sushi Zo
88 W. 3rd St., nr. Sullivan St.; 646-405-4826
Many of the city’s established sushi masters (Masa Takayama, Jimmy Lau) got their start in L.A., but if New Yorkers want to experience the uniquely spare, no-nonsense West Coast omakase style, this unassuming 14-seat branch of the famous L.A. restaurant of the same name is the place to do it. In keeping with the L.A. school’s famously no-frills, Zen-like aesthetic, the atmosphere in this unobtrusive little dining room just below Washington Square is quiet, bordering on hushed. The fish is fresh, expertly sourced, and beautifully cut, and your only option every evening is the take-it-or-leave-it $200 chef’s-choice omakase dinner. This seemed like an awful lot to pay when the restaurant opened a couple of years back, but compared to today’s increasingly stratospheric power-sushi prices, it could almost be considered a relative bargain.
14. O Ya
120 E. 28th St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-204-0200
The room, lying off of an anonymous, Flatiron District hotel lobby, lacks the intimacy of a great sushi bar, it’s true. The elaborate, layered style that Tim and Nancy Cushman and their little army of cooks helped popularize over the last decade, first in Boston and now here, has also been overwhelmed, in recent years — especially here in New York — by the rise of a new generation of Tokyo–centric edomae purists. But the vibe remains refreshingly relaxed, and if you have the necessary resources and don’t feel like groveling for a seat at one of the city’s stuffy omakase palaces, this isn’t a bad option.
15. Sushi Katsuei
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 provenance (most of the fish comes from local Atlantic waters or the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo). There’s a kosher omakase option available, and at $52 for the most basic sushi omakase option ($60 at the West Village branch, which opened not long ago on Sixth Avenue), the prices are hard to beat.
16. Sushi of Gari
402 E. 78th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-517-5340
The great Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio runs a large, unruly, somewhat uneven chain of high-end sushi joints around the city these days, but if you want to experience the vivid, high-wire creations that made him famous, this original, snug little flagship restaurant, which opened back in 1997 on a leafy, unobtrusive stretch of 78th Street near First Avenue, is the place to do it. As usual, the best seats in the house are at the bar, which seats only ten and tends to be filled with devoted regulars. Call well in advance for your spot, or show up early, like we do, and beg.
17. Sushi Seki
1143 First Ave., nr. 63rd St.; 212-371-0238
There’s a Seki branch in Times Square these days, and another one in Chelsea, but like the original Gari, this Upper East Side flagship, which opened in 2002, retains a little of the glamour and style that launched the franchise. As with his great compatriot, Gari, Chef Seki is rarely seen behind the counter these days, but the menu features omakases priced for every income level (the nine-piece, one-roll “Seki Special” is currently $49). As far as we know, the bar remains a favorite haunt for noted neighborhood sushi fiends Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, and like any chef hangout worth its salt, it still stays open until 2:30 a.m.
This post has been updated throughout.