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Omakase, which loosely translates to, “I will leave it up to you,” is an elaborate multi-course meal that many consider the ultimate Japanese dining experience. Choosing omakase means you entrust the chef to create a selection of dishes designed specifically to suit your individual palate. Add in the freshest fish, often flown in from Japan, and it’s little surprise that omakase can be one of the most expensive ways to eat out. It can also be incredibly time-consuming with meals often stretching well past the two-hour mark.
If you’re going to invest that much time and money in a single meal, you can’t just go to any old sushi bar. These nine spots stand apart from the rest, offering exceptional interpretations of the Japanese take on the tasting menu.
1. Sushi Nakazawa, New York
If you’ve seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the 2011 documentary about Tokyo-based sushi chef Jiro Ono, and have your own sushi dreams, the closest you can get without a passport is Sushi Nakazawa in downtown Manhattan. Chef Daisuke Nakazawa was an apprentice in the film and is remembered for crying when he finally mastered an egg custard. You can spend more on omakase, especially in New York, but Nakazawa is considered one of the most exquisite experiences and the restaurant is among only a handful that can claim four stars from The New York Times. Perhaps best of all, Nakazawa’s egg custard remains on the menu. ($120 to $150)
Photo Credit: Evan Sung
2. Robin, San Francisco
Recently opened Robin is one of the most stylish places to enjoy omakase, but what really makes this high-design Hayes Valley sushi spot so special is chef-owner Adam Tortosa’s commitment to sustainable, locally sourced fish. Tortosa imports some seafood from Japan, but he does much of his shopping nearby, picking up shrimp in San Diego, uni in Santa Barbara, and amberjack in Baja. The local theme extends to the space, which features a sushi bar created by Bay Area craftsman Terra Amico, original pieces by San Francisco-based artist Ferris Plock, and a custom mosaic from FireClay Tile, another area favorite. ($79 to $179)
Photo Credit: Albert Law, Pork Belly Studios
3. Himitsu, Washington DC
They don’t officially call it omakase, but D.C.’s Himitsu will happily customize each course and every pairing—they’ll even accommodate dietary restrictions, including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. Owners Kevin Tien, the executive chef, and Carlie Steiner, the beverage director, describe Himitsu as Japanese inspired with influences from Latin America and Southeast Asia. That means that alongside sashimi and nigiri, they offer dishes made with the likes of cotija cheese, crema, Thai chili, and coconut milk. Steiner’s drink list is equally unconventional, leaning heavy on sherry and featuring cocktails rooted in New Orleans, Bolivia, and the Basque Country. (Starting at $100)
Photo Credit: Farrah Skeiky
4. Otoko, Austin
When it comes to intimate dining experiences, few places compare to Otoko, chef Yoshi Okai’s 12-seat, omakase-only restaurant inside Austin’s South Congress Hotel. The lucky few that snag a seat—tickets are available online—are treated to what Otoko calls a blend of Tokyo-style sushi and Kyoto-style kaiseki. While traditional kaiseki involves a specific set of courses, Okai takes a looser approach, and has been known to use unexpected ingredients like frozen tomato, Texas peaches, black truffle oil, pine nuts, and Spanish olive oil. For the full Otoko experience, stop by Watertrade, the small, sleek cocktail bar next door, either before or after dinner. ($150 to $200)
Photo Credit: Kate Le Sueur
5. O Ya, Boston
Boston’s O Ya has been around for quite some time—it opened in 2007, was named the best new restaurant in the country by The New York Times a year later, and even branched out to New York City in 2015—but it’s still hailed as one of the country’s best places to enjoy omakase. Chef-owner Tim Cushman, a former restaurant consultant who fell hard for Japanese cooking, has a talent for creative combinations, such as the one nearly every critic calls out—foie gras nigiri with balsamic chocolate kabayaki and raisin cocoa pulp. Caviar, truffles, and gold leaf also show up on the menu, so opulence is pretty much a guarantee. ($185 to $245)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of O Ya
6. Nodoguro, Portland, OR
Originally launched as a pop-up in 2014, Portland’s Nodoguro is now an omakase-only restaurant with online ticketing. Chef Ryan Roadhouse’s resume includes top sushi spots around the country, plus a stint living and working in Japan, but it’s his creative, almost whimsical approach that’s earned him accolades (along with a nod from celebrity foodie Questlove). In addition to 19- and 25-course menus—called “hardcore” and “supahardcore,” respectively—Roadhouse is best known for his 13-course omakase menus, which are built around themes as varied as temple food, McDonald's, novelist Haruki Murakami, smoke, and even Twin Peaks. He calls it “kaiseki without the rules.” ($115 to $175)
Photo Credit: Alana Hamilton
7. Omakase Dinners at Ramen-San, Chicago
The mystery inherent in omakase is taken to new heights at Ramen-San, a Japanese noodle spot in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Each month, the restaurant hosts a one-time only omakase dinner, and reveals very few details in advance. Past events have focused on specific ingredients—crab, for example—while others have been collaborations with area chefs and restaurants, such as the dinner they created with The Budlong, a local spot that makes Nashville-style hot chicken. Seating is limited—this is another ticket-only situation—but once you snag a seat, the rest is up to the chef. Ramen-San offers one of the least traditional takes on omakase; it’s also one of the most affordable. ($45 to $125)
Photo Credit: Zoe Rain
8. Masa, New York
Masa Takayami’s serene, temple-like restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is one of the most expensive restaurants in the country. Even those who can afford that kind of luxury may be unwilling to spend $595 on dinner (service is included; drinks and an optional beef course with shaved truffles are extra). But Takayami is a legend, and dining at Masa is about more than just the food—it’s an experience. Though tucked inside the bustling Time Warner Center in the middle of the city that never sleeps, Masa is quiet and calm, like the eye of a storm, with nothing to distract you from a masterful meal. ($595)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Masa
9. Q Sushi, Los Angeles
In a town like LA, where there are an abundance of omakase options and what seems like a sushi restaurant on every corner, competition is steep. Q Sushi in downtown LA isn’t particularly flashy or over the top. In fact, chef Hiroyuki Naruke, known as chef Hiro, works in the Edo style, which dates back to 19th century Tokyo, and is known for its simplicity. Hiro’s talents lie in the attention he gives to his ingredients. He spent decades perfecting the balance of his sushi rice and uses techniques like aging, curing, and even temperature adjustments to maximize flavor. ($165 to $250)
Photo Credit: Carl Larsen
Main Photo: Briana Balducci
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