The Best Sushi Restaurants in Seattle

The raw truth about Seattle’s best sushi bars
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

BALLARD
Billy Beach Sushi & Bar    
Happy hour reigns supreme at the “Beach,” off Market Street. Here a discounted menu runs until 8 p.m. in the bar and 7 p.m. in the restaurant every day, and Sundays boast an all-day happy hour, with rolls in the $5–$6 range and nigiri samplers from $7 to $14. These prices, along with drink specials on sake, wine, cider and Sapporo beer ($5), make this a popular spot. Expect to find creative items here, served in large portions, such as edamame hummus rolled with sweet potato and avocado for a vegetarian roll ($13), and apple slices paired with snow crab, avocado and a balsamic reduction in The Emerald roll ($13). The modern-meets-Asian interior seats a few dozen people (18 seats at the bar), and they don’t take reservations, but calling 20–30 minutes in advance may get your name added to the waiting list, if there is one. For warmer days, there is a handful of tables outside—but no sand. “Beach” is simply the chef’s last name. 5463 Leary Ave. NW; 206.257.4616; billybeachsushi.com

Sam’s Sushi Bar & Grill   
 
With a lack of pretension, Sam’s has been serving sushi to the neighborhood in its nondescript, petite semi-subterranean dining room for more than 10 years—long before the influx of hip restaurants to the ’hood. You won’t find anything elegant here; this is methodically made sushi at its finest. Popular for its full meals, Sam’s menu is dotted with bento boxes for lunch ($11.95–$12.95) and combination plates (with miso soup, $13.95–$21) for dinner. The nigiri options are brief and contain the usual suspects (salmon, tuna, albacore, hamachi, ebi), while the principal menu contains a long list of rolls ranging from basic (a California roll) to bombastic (the King Kong Roll, with barbecued eel, crab meat, tempura shrimp, topped with tobiko and eel sauce). 5506 22nd Ave. NW; 206.783.2262; samssushigrill.com

BELLTOWN

Shiro’s Sushi     
While original owner Shiro Kashiba no longer works here (we all await news of his new place), his namesake restaurant carries on with a skilled team of sushi chefs showcasing some of Seattle’s best sushi. The quality of fish here is superb, and the pedigree of chefs is impressive—all were either born, trained or have worked in Japan. Plan to splurge here, and invest time in the omakase menu ($65–$75/person), served in several courses. The à la carte menu offers a selection of fried items, such as soft-shell crab in ponzu (a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, lemon juice or rice wine vinegar and mirin or sake, $8.50), and an elegant vegetable tempura ($10), which is light, delicate and feels special here, even though it’s a humble dish. While all the fish is super fresh—quite a feat given the volume of customers—the sushi and sashimi are traditionally made; fusion-style rolls aren’t on the menu. Try the Tuna Festival ($23.75), a five-piece vertical tasting of (farmed) bluefin tuna that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Truly, there are no “best” dishes here; everything the kitchen puts out is exceptional. The small room seats 11 at the sushi bar, with more seating at densely packed tables, which are continuously occupied most nights. It’s not uncommon to see people queuing up out front before the doors open, so reservations are highly recommended. 2401 Second Ave.; 206.443.9844; shiros.com

CAPITOL HILL
Liberty Bar     
A solitary chef cranks out a high volume of delicious sushi from a tiny corner station in the old-school neighborhood-bar setting of this Capitol Hill hipster spot. With the smaller setup comes an abbreviated menu that keeps things simple: You’ll find a mix of traditional nigiri (tuna, albacore, salmon; $4 for two pieces) and several basic rolls, such as the Sonic Boom, with tuna, spicy mayo, radish sprouts and avocado, $8. The sushi is decent and filling, and there’s a bonus: The bar excels at craft cocktails. All served in a cozy, relaxed bar with plush couches, bar seating and a few high tables, the scene encourages lingering for hours. 517 15th Ave. E; 206.323.9898; libertybars.com

Liberty’s trifecta: $8 sushi, tasty cocktails and a hip place to hang out; Photo: Sarah Pitts Robinson

Momiji      
People love Momiji for its shiny interiors and hopping scene, but sushi purists are better off skipping this Capitol Hill haunt. The dining room looks out onto a Japanese-style courtyard garden, but the menu leans far away from traditional Japanese sushi and into broader interpretations. Rolls are the star here, often arriving in wide wraps of ingredient-packed nori. The quirkily named Moonraker ($18) comes packed with yellowtail, snow crab and tobiko covered in a jalapeño-spiked sauce and truffle oil—bringing new meaning to the word “fusion.” Other rolls are accented with eccentric combinations, such as salsa verde and seared New York steak ($25), making it easy for people who fear raw fish to try “sushi.” 1522 12th Ave.; 206.457.4068; momijiseattle.com


CHINATOWN–INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT  
Maneki 
    
More than 100 years old and with a huge menu, Maneki is a classic among sushi lovers. Items are reasonably priced (simple rolls or two pieces of nigiri from $4 to a meal of sushi, tempura and chicken on a tray for $13), and the drinks are stiff, making this historical restaurant a must. This mainstay has long wait times, a curt host, tatami rooms (private rooms made of rice paper screens and wood flooring) to reserve and a menu full of Japanese classics. Sushi can be spot on and delicious or a bit ho-hum. Choose from a long list of fresh fish, such as the toothsome amberjack or sweet, fleshy spot prawn, or branch out with rich and briny sea urchin or mellow-tasting, white-fleshed flounder. For hot dishes, the broiled miso cod collar is always a winner; caramelized sugars char over fatty collar meat, making for a perfect bite. All in all, Maneki is a lively, affordable experience. 304 Sixth Ave. S; 206.622.2631; manekirestaurant.com

Tsukushinbo   
   
Until now, this was one of Seattle’s hidden gems. On the quieter side of the International District, just around the corner from Maneki, in what is considered Japantown, this small, unpretentious restaurant packs people around a handful of tables and eight seats at the sushi bar. Traditional items such as rolls (from $4 to $13) and nigiri are done well, as is an excellent, crispy karaage (marinated and deep-fried chicken). Check the blackboard for specials, although most are written in Japanese and will need to be translated by the server, and keep your eyes open for the eggplant served in dashi broth with grated turnip. The warm broth is salty-sweet, and the eggplant, meaty, tender and rich. Closed Sat.–Mon. 515 S Main St.; 206.467.4004 


EASTLAKE

Sushi Kappo Tamura      
On the north end of Eastlake, just before the I-5 overpass, sits a sushi restaurant that’s pricier and prettier than most sushi restaurants. It’s owned by chef Taichi Kitamura (formerly of Shiro’s and Chiso Sushi in Fremont), who recently bested celeb chef Bobby Flay (by cooking Kurobuta pork pot stickers and sea urchin sauce) on the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay. Here, Kitamura focuses on sustainable fish served in a sleek, blond-wood dining room that is at once elegant and approachable, with a menu priced to match. Rolls and sushi ($4–$22), served in petite but satisfying portions, are accented with greens and herbs from the rooftop garden. Belly up to the sushi bar, where you can banter with the chef over the house omakase ($100/person) and sample ambitious items, such as his winning sea urchin sauce. 2968 Eastlake Ave. E; 206.547.0937; sushikappotamura.com

GREEN LAKE/TANGLETOWN
Kisaku Sushi       
A great lunch option, this time-honored outpost in Tangletown offers a five-piece combination plate plus California roll and soup for less than $10. (Dinner runs a bit steeper.) With polished—white tablecloths—yet casual decor and service, the menu features bento boxes, noodles and teriyaki, along with sushi made with seasonal fish that can be traditional favorites or veer toward adventurous. Spot prawns are a must in summer, as is shirako (cod sperm sacs with a custard-like texture similar to uni) in winter. Kisaku chef and owner Ryuichi Nakano honed his skills in the kitchen at I Love Sushi before opening this neighborhood haunt, where special sushi items are served on platters with shallow pools of ponzu or on wide Asian soup spoons meant for slurping, one big mouthful at a time. 2101 N 55th St.; 206.545.9050; kisaku.com  


KIRKLAND
Oto Sushi        
Just around the corner from Juanita Beach Park, this simple sushi locale offers a long list of fish that rivals many sushi spots in Seattle. Decor is minimal, the room is small, and menus are presented as wrinkled pieces of paper, all of which make Oto a great stop for a casual meal out. Plates come artfully presented and adorned with typical accompaniments (such as noodles of daikon, radish sprouts, shiso and pickled ginger) and creamy sauces drizzled beautifully across the plate. Choose from more than 60 rolls and 40 options for nigiri or sashimi, or create your own roll and earn a spot on the “Customer-Special Roll” menu—a short list of rolls created and named by diners. Adventurous eaters can try the Marina Roll ($13.95), composed of raw salmon rolled with roe, crispy yam, avocado, and macadamia nuts, while traditionalists will appreciate the sashimi menu, which offers thin slices of raw fish ($9–$17) served with jalapeño and a spicy garlic sauce. While rolls and other menu items break from the norm and can seem busy, nothing feels overwrought on the plate. 11628 97th Lane NE; 425.825.8899; otosushiusa.com


LAKE CITY  
Toyoda Sushi 
        
While there is nothing special about the look of this sushi joint—Formica tables, a sushi bar and a few rice paper screens—denizens of Seattle’s Northeastern neighborhoods love Toyoda’s traditional dishes and pairings (you won’t find fancy, complicated rolls here). Sushi can be ordered as hosomaki (seasoned rice wrapped in seaweed), uramaki (seaweed wrapped with rice) or temaki (a cone-shaped piece of seaweed stuffed with rice and sushi) and is reasonably priced, $5.50–$9.95. Rolls cost slightly more, and the menu is stacked with the same items you’ll find elsewhere, although a new concept shines through here and there. Try the special spicy tuna roll ($10.95), a lightly fried coil of spicy ahi tuna served with ponzu. Sushi here is simple, tasty, and offered in a non-intimidating, gracious environment. Closed Mon.–Tue. 12543 Lake City Way NE; 206.367.7972; Facebook: “Toyoda Sushi Restaurant”


MADISON VALLEY   
Nishino    
     
Turning 20 in October, Nishino shows no signs of its age with the exception of the ’90s decor, which can feel stuffy. Chef and owner Tatsu Nishino still cooks at the sushi bar once in a while, while his adept staff runs the show most nights, offering updated Japanese cooking and stellar sushi. While the offerings rotate regularly, try the amaebi ceviche—small bits of sweet, raw shrimp in a salad of avocado, orange and cucumber with citrus sauce. And the omakase ($70–$85) is some of the best Seattle has to offer. Nishino excels in the simple purity of perfectly cooked and seasoned rice, fresh fish and elegantly presented dishes, all served on white linen and with a polished level of service—a perfect spot for celebrating. 3130 E Madison St.; 206.322.5800; nishinorestaurant.com


QUEEN ANNE    
Shiki Japanese Restaurant    
      
This casual hole-in-the-wall sushi joint is easy to overlook, being that it’s tucked into the northernmost corner of Lower Queen Anne, and its small front window is often shrouded by rice paper blinds, keeping the dining room dimly lit. Low ceilings further quiet the space, and it can feel like a library. What it lacks in decor, it makes up for in flavor. Serving sushi since 2001, this family-run establishment is a well-oiled machine, with sushi chef Kenji Yamamoto at the helm, and his wife, Etsuko, as a friendly, knowledgeable server. Yamamoto hails from the original crew at Shiro’s and is one of few chefs in the world who is licensed and trained to serve fugu— poisonous blowfish—available in several iterations (hot pot or sushi style) in the winter. This man has serious knife skills and knows his fish. Expect a sushi dinner (nine pieces of nigiri, half a California roll and a tuna roll) to run about $25. 4 W Roy St.; 206.281.1352; shikijapaneserestaurant.com

SOUTH LAKE UNION     
I Love Sushi  
         
This always-hopping lakefront location is an excellent place for sushi novices to get their feet wet with a large selection of flavorful rolls. It’s easy to ease into raw fish when it’s surrounded by other ingredients. While there is a handful of wacky combinations (the Tropical Roll pairs salmon and fish roe with strawberry, mango and avocado; $10.50), stick to simpler fare, such as the elegant Crunchy Roll (white-rice-enrobed spicy tuna, roe, crisp tempura shards and avocado; $9.50). The nigiri, too, is excellent. Amaebi (raw, sweet shrimp) is indeed sweet, and creamy, served alongside whole fried shrimp heads—yes, you eat the entire head—and a short list of tuna belly can sometimes be found as a special on the chalkboard. Low ceilings and dim lighting can be a bit off-putting during the day, but if the weather cooperates, head outdoors to a protected patio and soak up some rays while checking out the yachts moored across the walkway. 1001 Fairview Ave. N; 206.625.9604; ilovesushiseattle.com


WEST SEATTLE      
Mashiko Seattle Sushi Bar & Japanese Restaurant
           
Chef and owner Hajime Sato, an opinionated chef who works behind the sushi bar most nights, gained notoriety for owning one of the only sushi joints in Seattle to serve 100 percent sustainable seafood, with his original menu (1994) making the transition to a fully sustainable shop in 2009. You won’t find any bluefin tuna or unagi here. Instead, you’ll have an opportunity to try catfish, sardines and ikura—local salmon roe that is cured in-house. The menu is peppered with nontraditional sushi consisting of wild combinations, such as a recent sashimi offering of scallop and crab with prosciutto ($11). The room is small, and the loud music bounces off the walls, so steer clear on a first date, but go if you’re up for trying something new, eco-conscious and inventive. 4725 California Ave. SW; 206.935.4339; mashikorestaurant.com