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Choosing the Best San Francisco Japanese Restaurant

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Bigger than small plates, more sought-after than comfort, what people wanted from cuisine this year was flavor. Pungency in all its forms won our interest and hard-earned dollars – from the miso soup to deep-green, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am wasabi. Throw in cumin, ginger, juniper, lime, horseradish, mint, fennel, harissa, and pow!…you've got a taste of the tang that's redefining City dining. Here is a list of some San Francisco Japanese restaurants that will satisfy that hunger for flavor.

Ebisu  

1283 9th Ave, (415) 566-1770

$$$ ($31 to $40) There's not much in terms of atmosphere at this San Francisco Japanese restaurant; the dining rooms are comfortable and low-key, if usually crowded. Master chefs stand behind the long sushi bar (where the true aficionados jostle for seats), offering suggestions on what to try while doling out free snacks. For sushi, try the ruby-red tuna topped with flying-fish roe or the sweet and savory barbecued eel atop sticky rice. Vegetarians have several maki choices, including pickled plum, soybeans and squash. Besides raw fish, you'll find the usual array of tempura and sukiyaki entrees, as well as salmon, chicken or beef teriyaki. But the clear winner here is the sushi; when it's in season, try the fatty tuna called "toro," which melts in your mouth.

Sake Bomb  

614 Pine St, Cross street : Grant Ave. (415) 434-9840

Bustling with business lunchers in the afternoon, curious tourists and local hipsters at night, this tiny sake and sushi bar has the dubious distinction of being a major San Francisco Japanese restaurant outpost in Chinatown. Although the cheesy dance music and casual service may be trying too hard to be hip, the rewarding cuisine is spot-on. Although the menu is mostly standard Japanese, there are a few standouts. The grilled broccoli and Tuna Poki (Hawaiian-style) appetizers don't deny their American roots, while the T.G.I. Sushi (tuna, lettuce, mango and creamy garlic) and the Screaming Opera (tempura ahi with house spicy sauce) reward more adventurous palates. Other reliable rolls include Crazy Monkey (unagi, avocado, sea urchin and tobiko) and the KK (smoked salmon, shrimp, unagi, cucumber and avocado). Sashimi cuts are generous and favorites like tekka don and grilled rib eye steak teriyaki are well-presented at this San Francisco Japanese restaurant.

Ace Wasabi

3339 Steiner at Chestnut 567-4903

Trendy sushi in the Marina. Not a touristy San Francisco Japanese restaurant, but too many beautiful people to be wholly authentic in such a "white bread" neighborhood. A pleasant place to eat in a cool neighborhood with great food.

Anzu in the Hotel Nikko

222 Mason, 394-1100

$$$ This elegant dining venue envelops diners in soothing warm hues, complemented by local abstract art. Chef Mark Pettyjohn and master sushi chef Kazuhito Takahashi follow an East-West theme boasting prime rib and sushi bar cuisine. Signature items include wild mushroom bread pudding and a Maki platter. The bar of this San Francisco Japanese restaurant features 55 different sakes.

Blowfish Sushi To Die For

2170 Bryant, 285-3848

$$$ Blowfish features inventive Japanese cuisine served up in an inviting, hip décor. Executive chef Ritsuo Tsuchida offers a menu of unique and traditional nigiri, maki and sashimi, as well as bold appetizers, salads and desserts. Full bar with large selection of sake and sake cocktails. Japanese anime plays on three screens.

Country Station Sushi

2140 Mission St., 861-0972

$ This offbeat sushi bar in the Mission owned by Japanese butoh-dance masters Koichi and Hiroko Tamano features delicious sushi rolls with catchy names. Taste the mando hamachi roll, the Godzilla roll or the rock'n' roll and enjoy an edgy, quirky, almost fascinating atmosphere.

Hana Zen

115 Cyril Magnin, 421-2101

$$-$$$æ Modern decor and large windows surround the Japanese-food lovers at this popular Union Square spot, which serves 24 kinds of yakitori (literally “grilled fowl” on skewers) cooked over imported charcoal from Japan. Fresh, quality fish and a variety of sushi rolls. Open until 10:30 p.m. nightly, and until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Kyo-Ya in the Palace Hotel

2 New Montgomery, 546-5090

$$$-$$$$ Elegant and ultra-modern Japanese environment with sushi bar and upscale cuisine. Specialties are butterfish, tempura, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, sushi rolls, kaiseki, and 11 different kinds of sake.

Midori Mushi Sushi & Sake Lounge

465 Grove St., 503-1377

$$! This new, tiny neighborhood hang-out has an underground atmosphere with a sense of humor. Signature dishes include a superb tuna nigiri; the slammin' salmon roll – a crab cucumber roll topped with slabs of broiled salmon dressed with tobiko caviar; and the ecstasy roll – red and white tuna with scallions and nori. Try the sushi submissive – which demands that you sit down, shut up, and eat whatever ninja/chef Michael Black feels like feeding you. Prepare to wait a bit in the tiny upstairs sake lounge – there are only five tables in the restaurant itself.

Moshi Moshi

2092 3rd St., 861-8285

$$ Comfortable, casual San Francisco Japanese restaurant with garden seating. Specialties include a changing menu of sushi rolls and the Moshi Moshi combo – a sushi/grill combo platter for two or more.

Naked Fish

2084 Chestnut St., 771-1168

$-$$$ Modern, trendy Naked fish features a vast selection of exquisite sushi as well as distinctive dishes such as hatate batayaki, scallops served with garlic butter, and grilled baby lobster tails. Open daily. Dinner is served from Monday through Friday until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. and on Sunday until 9 p.m.

Opera Plaza Sushi

601 Van Ness, 292-9997

$$ A hot spot for lunch and dinner. The reserved and tranquil eatery is focused on the sushi bar. Other favorites include chicken, steak and salmon teriyaki, and tempura. After 5 p.m. they'll validate 2 hrs of parking in the Opera Plaza garage.

Ozumo

161 Steuart, 882-1333

$$$% A popular, stylish San Francisco Japanese restaurant on the Embarcadero offering exquisite contemporary Japanese cuisine seven nights a week. An young professional crowd favors menu items like halibut carpaccio, shiitake salad, and green tea panna cotta, as well as delicious sushi and sashimi at table or at the sushi bar. Japanese films and sumo wrestling play on a large screen in the Sumo Lounge. Visit the ultra-cool sake tasting lounge for the largest selection of imported sake in the country.

Sakana

639 Post, 775-7644

$-$$ This modern eatery features high ceilings, a ‘50s retro dining room and jazz music in the background, as well as a great selection of seafood and sake.

Sushi Groove

1916 Hyde, 440-1905

$-$$ Behind wasabi-green velvet curtains lies impeccable sushi, especially the silky salmon and special white tuna nigiri.

Sushi On North Beach

745 Columbus, 788-8050

$$ Simple but serene space with coral colored walls and some Japanese antiques coupled with great teriyaki and tempura. Specialties: spicy dragon roll with shrimp tempura inside, wrapped with avocado and eel; North Beach roll sushi with tiger shrimp avocado kanikama wrapped with smoked salmon and baked with special sauce.

Sushi Rika

Bush at Taylor St., 923-1141

$-$$ Sushi Rika offers high quality Japanese food at an affordable price. Even parking is free. Their sushi chefs have at least 20 years experience and customers can eat for just 99-cents per piece. On display throughout the restaurant are large pictures of patrons munching on Rika's traditional and fusion-style sushi.

Tokyo Go Go

3174 16th Street, 864-2288

$$$$ This trendy stop for sushi lovers serves California-influenced Japanese cuisine. Favorites include soft-shell crab with mango chutney; sashimi; and the specialty, maki (salmon, basil, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers).


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