Our travel editor shares his musings on where to find the best sushi in San Francisco, a city famous for its plethora of cuisines.
Where to go for sushi in San Francisco can be a daunting task, beckoning users down the considerably-sized rabbit hole of Google map searches, Yelp reviews, and various food blogs. SF prices ensure that it’s not an inconsequential decision; any restaurant meal in the Bay Area usually comes with a considerable price tag, often well-worth-it, but not without table stakes. However, at the end of the day, the point is having a nice meal, and a spreadsheet analysis should not be required (though reading local restaurant reviews can be fun, especially when you’re in line for a sandwich at Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St) or ice cream at Bi Rite (3692 18th St)).
There are a couple of ways to go about this, though the below entry falls embarrassingly short of comprehensive:
Okay, so right off the bat, this recommendation is a tremendous cop-out for a post on sushi, but to be fair, finding value for money in SF is an exercise in creativity, and great sushi is expensive (it’s not just the pricing power of restaurants, but also the quality of primary ingredients, many lovingly transported in the cargo hold of widebodies freshly arrived from Haneda Airport, around the corner from Tsukiji). Try a lunch menu (or a takeaway bento) at Rintaro (82 14th St), an authentic Japanese izakaya in the Mission, with top-quality tonkatsu pork cutlets crusted in panko, crispy gyoza, fluffy white rice, and pickled vegetables. You won’t even miss the sushi. They do have a tasty sushi-and-rice-bowl ‘chirashi’ option on the lunch menu, but the tonkatsu is the star.
In this category, you’re definitely spoilt for choice in modern-day SF, though if you plan to try them with any frequency, you may try to build an internet company and engineer a lucrative exit to secure funding. Wako (211 Clement St) is a fantastic place to start, a Michelin-starred entry with a delicious tasting menu or two, top quality sushi, and authentically great Japanese service. Eat at the bar. Frankly, it’s worth the extra cash versus the typical popular neighbourhood place, which can’t match the quality and may cost half as much or more. Other noteworthy entries in this category are Kusakabe (584 Washington St) and Ju-Ni (1335 Fulton St), among many others. Though if you’re considering visiting more than one, seriously consider redirecting those funds to hop across the Pacific to Tokyo, where values are easier to find for all budgets.
Here there are a variety of options, beginning with the low-key. The unpretentiously named Sushi Zone (1815 Market St #5) delivers on nice rolls, friendly service, and a laid-back atmosphere for what are reasonable prices for SF and for sushi in general. This is a good destination for hand rolls, which are not as demanding of raw ingredients as nigiri tasting menus. Slightly more upmarket but still neighbourhoody is Tsubasa (429 Gough St), a friendly sushi spot in Hayes Valley with a bar wrapping around.
Pick up a bottle of sake at True Sake (560 Hayes St), a specialty sake shop with a wide selection, and some authentic Japanese snacks in Japantown, at a destination like Nijiya market (1737 Post St #333), or even non-Japanese snacks at Bi Rite Grocery (3639 18th St or 550 Divisadero St), and head to one of SF’s beautiful parks on a sunny day to enjoy your spoils on a blanket. More cheating, but it’s impossible to talk about SF without recommending hanging out in its amazing parks, which are really the city’s best value.
And there’s always a road trip to Santa Barbara for the sea urchin.