“Sushi nazis”; “pristine temples”; “zen-like silence.” These buzzwords are almost inescapable when it comes discussions about about sushi here in America. But despite our best intentions to uphold its integrity, our take on this Japanese tradition is pretty twisted.

Just ask historians Trevor Corson and Sasha Issenberg, who will be the first to acknowledge that many of the stereotypes we buy into are rooted in deep paranoia and fundamental misunderstanding. And this applies to the most basic of concepts—in Japan, for instance, the sushi chef is more akin to a neighborhood bartender, welcoming and gregarious, than he is to an unyielding tyrant.

Even as we fumble to grasp certain rituals, our in interest in the culture is stronger than ever. The latest hullabaloo surrounding Jiro Dreams of Sushi proves it, and so does history. The first sushi bar in the U.S. was opened in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo in the mid-1960s, but it wasn’t until 1970 when the cuisine really exploded in America, thanks to a Japanese entrepreneur who opened a spot near Hollywood. That was near the 20th Century Fox Studios; celebrities like Frank Sinatra became early adopters, and it only gained momentum from there.


Granted, by the time it made its way to America, sushi had already gone through several evolutionary stages. The origin story places the primitive version in Southeast China thousands of years ago. After floods, rice farmers would preserve fish by packing it in cooked rice and allowing it to ferment underground for six months. The second big phase took place in Japan, where people started to eat the fish sooner in the fermentation process, when the rice was edible and acquired a tangy, acidic quality. The rectangular nigiri that we’re most accustomed to “grew out of laziness,” says Corson. Around 1820, chefs moved away from a method where sushi was pressed into boxes and cut into slices; instead, they squeezed the rice and fish together with their hands.

For the food-nerd, sushi packs a powerful one-two punch: not only is it wildly photogenic for IG close-ups, but understanding its scope and variety requires years of experience—even a certain level of mastery. It is with that in mind that we reached out to several chefs, food writers, and globe-trotters to set the course straight for our bucket-list sushi aspirations. Our panel includes:

Sushi Shin



A photo posted by Jamie Feldmar (@jfeldmar) on Oct 23, 2015 at 5:48am PDT

Address and phone: 4-18-20 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku (+81 3-5485-0031)
Website: sushi-shin.com

feldmarFeldmar says: “Choosing a sushi restaurant in Tokyo is no joke—I can’t count the number of recommendations, lists, and articles I parsed through before deciding on Sushi Shin, which David Myers (ex-Comme Ca, Hinoki and the Bird) hypes whenever he talks about Japan. Shin has a warm neighborhood vibe, with with a staff that helpfully points out unfamiliar fish in an English-language seafood guide, and a sushi chef who smiles shyly as he drops nigiri before you. After you pick your own individualized sake glass from a beautifully crafted tray (no two are the same), the fish starts coming, and coming hard: little plates of katsuo (skipjack) tuna with “bbq sauce” (their words) and crab salad with ponzu jelly as a warm up. Then sashimi and sushi: alien-looking blood cockles, horse mackerel smeared with a paste made from green onion, shiso and ginger, gizzard shad so silver and shiny it looks like a sculpture, three-levels-of-fatty fatty tuna, uni, salmon roe, and shrimp stuffed with chopped up shrimp head and guts. No plates, no chopsticks—just a gleaming wood counter for the chef to set each perfectly sauced, perfectly wasabi’d piece upon, ready for you to grab with your bare hands. It’s how sushi should be, and the way I want to eat all my meals in the future.”

ICHI Sushi + Ni

Address and phone: 3282 Mission St, San Francisco, CA (415-525-4750)
Website: ichisushi.com

nakanoNakano says: “My go-to sushi joint, Ichi Ni, here in SF doesn’t have Michelin stars, a cranky-ass chef, or documentaries being made about it. It started as a pop-up in a dive bar (I know, sushi pop-ups at their core sound awful) but somehow morphed into one of the Bay Area’s top sushi counters. What it does have is a fun atmosphere blended with some of the most serious nigiri I’ve ever tasted. Chef Tim and Co. dress every piece up for you with smartly designed sauces and tares: think agar- (or should I call it kanten?) thickened sauces to retain the brightness of yuzu. The atmosphere is lively instead of reverent, and the food is only outmatched by the incredible service and hospitality offered up by Tim and his wife Erin. There’s a lot of great sushi in SF, but Ichi is the one that keeps me coming back.” (Photo: Yelp/Ichi)

Sushi Nakazawa

Address and phone: 23 Commerce St, New York, NY (212-924-2212)
Website: sushinakazawa.com

chrisSchonberger says: “The mythology reads like a food-dork wet dream: Daisuke Nakazawa, known to the world as the struggling apprentice from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, defected to Seattle to pursue his own solo sushi career before finally being lured to New York by an enterprising restaurateur who had seen the film and tracked him down on Facebook. But the reality is even better: What you get to witness by snagging a seat at the 10-person counter—nearly impossible ever since the New York Times dropped its four-star review—is a chef who has managed to internalize the lessons of a master without losing his own point of view. So while the fundamentals are unimpeachable—lightly vinegared rice that falls apart in your mouth, immaculate ingredients, a sixth sense for knowing exactly when each type of fish is at its peak—there’s personality infused into every bite, from triggerfish topped with its own liver, to Atlantic sockeye salmon smoked on the roof. Monastic sushi experiences are all well and good, but with the quality of the food not in question, it’s refreshing (and contagious) to find a place where the guy behind the counter looks like he’s having the time of his life.” (Photo: Yelp/Nakazawa)

Sushi Mizutani

Address and phone: 8-7-7 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo (+81 3 3573 5258)
Website: yelp.com/sushimizutani

ullaUlla says: “It is known within certain circles that the great David Kinch possesses deep knowledge about Tokyo’s food scene. Some years ago, before my first trip to Japan, he was kind enough to share his intel with me. The one place he pushes for the most is Sushi Mizutani—and with good reason. But I’m not singling out my experience there because of the fish Mizutani-san serves, or the way he prepares the rice. Beyond the fact it was all tremendous, I can’t remember any of the specifics.

There was, however, one aspect of the meal that I vividly recall, and try to share as often as I can. It was terribly intimidating walking in there at 4:45pm, their first guest of the day, and sitting down without anyone to interpret for me. Unlike the pleasant butterflies that always seem to accompany big-time meals but subside after a drink or two, the feeling was intensified. I was 19 at the time. It was completely silent in there—just the constant hum of the massive row of coolers where he keeps the tuna carcasses. My hands actually didn’t stop trembling. Thirty minutes into the meal, I lost control of a piece of nigiri and it fell into the soy sauce. It made a mess all over the counter, and at that moment I considered cutting my losses and leaving—enough trying to pretend I can hang, I told myself. In a matter of seconds, Mizutani-san approached me and made eye contact for the first time. He reached over the counter, poured some sake into my glass, and asked where I was from. I think he may have even smiled.” (Photo: tripadvisor.com)

Sushi Dai



A photo posted by WM (@fowilla) on Nov 8, 2015 at 2:06pm PST

Address and phone: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Tsukiji Fish Market 6th Bldg, Chuo
Website: yelp.com/sushidai

jaeckleJaeckle says: “I eat a lot of sushi, but by far the coolest experience I have had was at Sushi Dai at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. We got there at 4:30am and waited in line for 1.5 hours.  Normally, I do not believe in waiting in line for food; I am blessed with enough connections for this to be a rare thing. But this was Tokyo, and my friend Lee Anne Wong had just gotten off her flight. We crushed a 750ml bottle of sake in the freezing cold. My feet were numb, and so was my face. Getting in to that warm environment, just loose enough from the sake, and eating approximately 20 pieces of warm sushi rice was pure joy. The product doesn’t get any more pristine. In fact, several of the items were clearly still moving when presented to us. Tsukiji is closing next year, so it was and is an absolute must. A mid-day nap has never felt better.”


Address and phone: 304 6th Ave S, Seattle, WA (206-622-2631)
Website: manekirestaurant.com

naomitomkoyTomky says: “Age is rarely considered an asset when discussing sushi, but it’s not the fish that’s old at Maneki—it’s the restaurant. Even ‘Mom,’ the octogenarian bartender, isn’t old enough to know exactly when this Japantown gem opened, though it’s thought to be around 1904. The age shows a bit on the restaurant, with the yellowing papers on the wall talking up specials, but that’s to be expected from a restaurant with this much history: It closed during the Japanese internment in World War II, and a one-time dishwasher there went on to become prime minister of Japan. But the reason to eat there has nothing to do with what happened before, and everything to do with what comes out of the kitchen right now. The only other thing that seems to be a little bit old here? The prices, which are cheap enough to seem like they’re of another era.” (Photo: Yelp/Maneki)


Address and phone: 85 Avenue A, New York, NY (212-505-6524)
Website: takahachi.net
djDieselboy says: “So I imagine when most people think ‘bucket-list sushi’ they dream of all of the legendary establishments such as Nakazawa, Masa, etc. But how about a great and affordable neighborhood spot with fresh fish and an awesome vibe? That’s where Takahachi comes in. This East Village staple is constantly swarmed with diners, and for a very good reason—the food is great, even if it doesn’t possess the magnificence of an omakase meal. Most of the nigiri options hover around $3, which is an absolute steal. There are plenty of great rolls as well, including a secret off-menu ‘Superman Roll’ (tuna, avocado, mango, tempura and spicy mayo). Quite tasty after a few rounds of sake served in a wooden box. The rest of the menu has great Japanese staples like chicken kara-age, soba, and udon. It may not hew to tradition, but Takahachi is an archetypal sushi spot that is equally as important as the ‘temples’ we’ve come to revere; it is places like Takahachi that introduced the American masses to the wonders of Japanese cured fish in the first place.” (Photo: Yelp/Takahachi Restaurant)

Sushi Tanaka

Address and phone: 2-6-3 Nishiogiminami Suginami Tokyo (+81-3-3335-3777)
Website: tabelog.com/sushitanaka

ivanOrkin says: “One of my favorite spots is a little sushi bar in Western Tokyo, a place called Tanaka. When I read about these sushi experiences of people going to Tokyo, spending $500…it’s an awful lot to invest in a meal. The last time I ate at Tanaka it was 10,000 yen (~$80), which included the omakase course. It’s the classic kind of sushi bar that offers the full scope of experience. There are about 20 seats at the counter, and it has very simple decor. The owner is there every single day, making sushi or sashimi, grilling octopus, or simmering dashi. Depending on the time of year, you’re eating seasonal things. It became a very personal experience; I’d walk in and they’d know me. Being a regular is very exciting, and the best sushi bars are the ones where the chef is sensitive to the different customers’ needs. He knew I loved shirako, so whenever I walked in, he’d always make that. In my opinion, neighborhood bars are the best places to experience sushi. At the smaller, more inclusive places, you can forge better relationships.” (Photo: tabelog.com)




Red snapper aspic, arugula flower, red snapper with its own shirako and ponzu jelly // #foodseyeview

A photo posted by Julian (@foodseyeview) on May 29, 2015 at 8:06pm PDT

Address and phone: 12244 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA (310-826-4737)
Website: shunji-ns.com

leeLee says: “Shunji is an exceptional eating experience, even in a sushi oasis like Los Angeles. The fish is for the most part flown in from Tskukiji market, the famed fish wholesaler that many of Japan’s top chefs source their seafood from. The sushi remains very traditional, but his zensai (appetizers) are where he shows his more progressive side. Some of the small bites you may be served would not be out of place at high-level Kyoto kaiseki restaurants such as Kikunoi, or even a cosmopolitan izakaya in Tokyo. On my last visit he even incorporated blue cheese and purple potato into a small bite. Some might shun a sushi restaurant that deviates from only serving nigiri, but I embrace it for what it is.”

Cafe Sushi



A photo posted by Tracy Chang (@uno2trac) on Aug 7, 2014 at 7:08pm PDT

Address and phone: 1105 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA (617-492-0434)
Website: cafesushicambridge.com

jenningsuseJennings says: “Cafe Sushi is my favorite sushi spot on the planet—not because the selections are astonishing, or their preparations painstakingly fussed over—but because it is ‘my place.’ The sushi joint that I hit with reckless loyalty, on frequent occasions with friends and family. Cafe Sushi is super seasonal, focusing on some unique specialties (nigiri or sashimi) such as aji (Japanese horse mackerel) or kamasau (Japanese barracuda). The ceviche maki is a Latin-Japanese mashup with tako, shrimp, salmon, avocado, and lime. Chef Seizi Imura is a badass and puts together a great omakase menu also. This place is hyper-fresh, with bright flavors, high-quality ingredients, and a subdued flair that makes it feel like home for me.”

Juno Sushi

Address and phone: 2638 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL (773-935-2000)
Website: junosushichicago.com

amyCavanaugh says: “If Chicago doesn’t seem like much of a raw-fish destination, you just haven’t tried the masterful work of Juno sushi chef BK Park yet. He’s the genius behind beautiful pieces of smoked sashimi, delivered to the table on spoons placed underneath a glass dome; King Juno, perfect mouthfuls of tuna nigiri accented with spicy crab; and wonderfully restrained maki rolls that focus on the fish (sushi chefs will also go off menu and craft maki for you). Treat all of these bites as a precursor to the omakase menu or chef’s-choice sashimi, both of which allow Park to take center stage and serve the most pristine raw seafood in Chicago.” (Photo: Yelp/Juno)


Address and phone: 378 Avenue Victoria, Westmount, QC (+1 514-750-7534)
Website: parkresto.com

scottVivian says: “My favorite sushi spot is Park in Montreal. Chef Antonio Park is a creative genius when it comes to composing unique and flavorful combinations—not to mention that the presentation of his omakase boards are breath-taking. You never have to wonder about the quality of the fish. Chef Park has his own import company, and even gets fish flown in from Japan that uses the revered technique of acupuncture. With his unique Korean-Argentinian background and Japanese training, you can’t go wrong with Park in the Westmount area of Montreal.”




A photo posted by Jonathan Broida (@jknifeimports) on Aug 30, 2014 at 7:11pm PDT

Address and phone: 17302 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA (818-986-9712)
Website: okumurarestaurant.com

broidaBroida says: “I travel to Japan for about a month every year, but finding the same kind of quality sushi at a similar price point is a bit more difficult here. Thankfully, a good friend of mine was kind enough to introduce me to Okumura restaurant. Ryota Okumura, the chef and owner, is doing some really amazing stuff in a very unexpected place. In a small, unassuming shopping mall in Encino, you will find some of the most well-composed sushi in Los Angeles. Okumura-san takes great pride and care in the fish that he selects. But, more importantly than that, is the way that he handles it. A lot of people assume that the best sushi is the freshest. Starting off with the fresh ingredient is absolutely paramount, but some fish are better aged. I often find myself enjoying things like Boston Bluefin tuna, aged for two weeks, or a perfect sanma that has been meticulously cared for over the course of the week, allowing its flavor and texture to develop. It’s a little bit of a drive for me, but I find myself craving the omakase all of the time.”