San Francisco is a city that's made for sushi. With a large inherent Japanese population and a perch right on the Pacific, the city hosts an abundance of skilled sushi chefs and easy access to fresh fish (some of which is actually from in from Tokyo daily). SF's sushi scene has exploded in recent years, and these days you can find everything from casual nigiri spots to Michelin-starred omakasès. How to navigate so many delicious choices? Don't worry, we're here to help.
It's worth keeping an eye out for Akiko, an unassuming Bush Street sushi bar and restaurant known for its amazing omakasè (a nightly offering of chef-selected dishes). The small, upscale space is extremely popular with its loyal clientele, who clamor for seats at Akiko's sleek narrow bar to try a bevy of a la carte seasonal nigiri offerings, such as madai (sea bream), uni (sea urchin) and tako (octopus). Its table seating is especially enticing for couples.
Opened toward the end of 2018 in the Financial District, The Shota is a luxe omakasè restaurant serving up traditional edomae (raw fish and cooked rice) sushi that's been aged, cured, and marinated and made from fish flown in that day from Tokyo. Shota offers a prix-fixe 10-course tasting menu — which incorporates many tableside elements into its presentation — and two seatings per night, along with a complementary selection of more California-inspired small dishes and sake- and tea-pairing add-ons. Forget just having dinner: The Shota is really more of a dining "experience.”
Another sushi restaurant revered for its omakasè offerings, Oma packs in sushi-lovers who come for its reasonable prices and quality fish. You can choose from prix-fixe menus that match both your appetite and budget at this tiny counter space in Japantown's Japan Center West shopping mall. There's even a secret fixed-price selection of daily “exotic” seafood that's available by reservation-only.
A fixture in San Francisco's Inner Sunset neighborhood for more than 30 years, family-run Ebisu has long been known for its fresh, globally-sourced seafood as well as its daily chalkboard specials. It's an intimate space with both counter service and tables — all which are first-come, first-serve. Along with nigiri sushi, this favorite among SF locals features an extensive menu with teriyaki dishes, tempura, and specialty rolls.
Located in the Mission, Cha-Ya boasts a 100% vegan menu that bases its culinary offerings on Shojin Ryori, or traditional Japanese Buddhist cuisine. Cha-Ya's substantial offerings includes everything from sushi rolls to noodle dishes, many which incorporate healthy ingredients like seaweed, sesame seeds, and soybean curd. The interior is simple, but it's really Cha-Ya's unique take on sushi (think seasoned seaweed and stuffed tofu pouch, and rolls made of sour plum cucumber and pickled daikon) that draws fans.
Although this cozy Castro neighborhood spot specializes in housemade tofu, Eiji's varied Japanese menu also includes an assortment of fresh nigiri sushi and daily specials. It's a laid-back space with a traditional feel, where customers pack in together among close-knit tables and shōji wall screens. Don't miss the green tea and vanilla ice cream dessert wrapped in cinnamon-coated mochi.
Pabu falls under the Michael Mina umbrella of delicious restaurant offerings, and this sleek, upscale, and oh-so-spacious modern izakaya and sushi bar doesn't disappoint: featuring everything from small plates of seasonally-inspired sashimi to a main-dining-room nigiri tasting menu. Chef Tominaga provides an extensive menu utilizing fish flown in from around the globe, including from Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Market. The space itself is a work of art, with an interior that includes elements of air and earth — such as Douglas fir booths and an indoor atrium that offers a semi-private dining space. There's even a Master of Sake on hand to help pair sake, whisky, and other such beverages accordingly.
A casual space in the Mission that opened in the fall of 2018, Sake Bomb is known for its cozy atmosphere and high-quality menu offerings, which includes specialty rolls like the Snow White — a combination of topped snow crab, shrimp tempura, and cucumber — nigiri that ranges from uni to unagi, and even oysters on the half-shell. The restaurant's spicy hand-rolls are especially enticing, as are its teriyaki offerings.
Michelin-starred Hashiri serves up premium sushi utilizing hyper-seasonal ingredients, in an ambiance that combines elements of Japanese culture and modern San Francisco to entice all five senses. There's even a changing display of the seasons projected onto the restaurant's ceiling canopy screens. This high-end eatery got its start in Tokyo, with its San Francisco location opening in spring 2016. Hashiri's monthly tasting menus highlight Japan's top culinary offerings, including fish flown in from a private Tsukiji market purveyor, and take those able to splurge on a “culinary journey” through a multi-course world of edomae sushi, with everything from aged Japanese whisky to distilled shōchū to share.
Tucked away on the ever-changing stretch of Divisadero Corridor between the Haight-Ashbury and Lower Haight, the tiny and modern Ijji serves up a nightly prix-fixe omakasè dinner that includes appetizers and nigiri that change with the seasons. Sake pairings are available for an extra cost, as is a selection of la cart nigiri that can be added to your original set-price meal.
Couples loves this cozy corner spot in the Outer Richmond that dishes out fresh cuts of sashimi, nigiri sushi, and rolls ranging from traditional to full-on fusion. Favorites include the Tokyo Cowboy, a roll filled with tempura scallion, shiitake, and seared filet mignon; and the creamy scallop roll: with avocado, soy paper, inari and scallop salad. Daigo takes both reservations and walk-ins, and although the ambiance is simple the seating is typically quick.
Stumbling upon Sushi Time is like finding a secret gem in the middle of a bustling city. Hidden away in a small shopping strip off Market Street in the Castro neighborhood, Sushi Time is a fun, quirky dining experience in an eatery that resembles a train observation car — complete with large, curved-glass windows and just a handful of tables and seats. It's got all the feels of being in Tokyo, with its pod-sized space and a menu of kitschy eats — items like the Teddy Bear Roll, filled with cream cheese and cucumber and wrapped in barbecue eel; and the Barbie Roll: crab, avo, and salmon surrounded by sliced lemon. Sake and beer are also on-hand for a little imbibing.
Part of the larger Omakase Restaurant Group (ORG), along with its neighboring Michelin-starred sister restaurant Omakase, Okane showcases both classic nigiri and innovative rolls, as well as a larger selection of sharable Japanese comfort food. Pair an okane handroll of salmon skin, uni, ikura, and shiso leaf with Japan's own Coedo Pilsner, or an eight-piece chef's selection of sashimi with a bottle of wine. Both Okane and Omakase get fish flown in directly from Tokyo's world-renowned Tsukiji Fish Market, though the former is much more casual and budget-friendly. For a special, one-of-a-kind experience, head next-door.
A fixture along Polk Street in the city's Nob Hill neighborhood, Nara is both sushi bar and restaurant with a modern, industrial-feel. Rolls are artfully named (the monikers include “Blaze of Glory” and “Haight Me”) and come served on narrow wooden boards that easily complement the eatery's wood-plank walls and tables. With a friendly, attentive staff and some tasty happy hour specials, it's hard to go wrong with this local favorite.