For Eater: Where to Eat Japanese Food in Seattle

Scallop and sea urchin as part of a sushi meal at Kisaku

Scallop and sea urchin as part of a sushi meal at Kisaku

Most people think of Japanese food as sushi and ramen, though in reality few Japanese people prepare these dishes at home. They’re the specialty of restaurants, and Seattle’s got its fair share of both.

Eater has selected the cream of the crop of sushi restaurants, as well as the best of the ramen boom. As for noodles, there are also soba and udon recommendations. And for good measure, yoshoku, izakaya, and general Japanese food restaurants are included, along with a whimsical choice for Western-style sandwiches with a Japanese twist.

1. Cutting Board

You order at the counter at this homey restaurant, and while some (read: Westerners) opt for the wildly crazy sushi rolls, what’s best is yoshoku: dishes developed in Japan that integrate Western influences but still appeal to Japanese customers. Here you’ll find hambaagu, omu-rice, Napolitan spaghetti, and a slew of katsu-kare (katsu curry) options that combine deep-fried breaded items with curry rice. Top pick: Japanese-style beef curry with tonkatsu.

2. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Competition is fierce as the ramen boom continues in the Seattle area, but the best dedicated ramen shop is this Japanese import. Note, though, that Santouka serves only tonkotsu broth, full of creamy, porky flavor due to its extended cooking time. The shio ramen has just the right level of salt seasoning to let the pork flavor of the broth shine, and it’s the only ramen served with pickled plum. Tsukemen is also a fine summer choice.

3. Issian Stone Grill

This izakaya is a perfect place for a group to enjoy drinks, share small plates, and engage in spirited conversation. Dishes include stone grilled-enoki mushrooms, grilled mackerel, grilled tuna collar, a variety of yakitori, fried chicken cartilage, kushi katsu (fried tonkatsu on a stick), and even French fries with wasabi mayonnaise. And, per Japanese custom, to fill the stomach at the end of the meal, order grilled onigiri (rice balls), which are miso-glazed and delicious.

4. Katsu Burger

After a short closure, Katsu Burger is back, offering the original menu of panko-breaded, deep-fried meats for their burgers. While beef and chicken (there’s also tofu) are options, pork is classic for katsu, fantastic with mayo and tonkatsu sauce along with the standard toppings of cabbage, tomato, red onions, and pickles. Add nori fries and a green tea milkshake to round out an East-meets-West fast food meal that’s actually made to order.

5. Kisaku Sushi

Located in Tangletown, this true neighborhood restaurant is a popular destination both lunch and dinner for reasonably priced sushi. Order omakase, and chef Ryuichi Nakano will evaluate how adventurous and serve you a fine selection of seafood. Regardless of what you order, consider requesting hotate kombu jime (kelp-marinated scallop); the marination process takes time but results in an umami boost that heightens the sweetness of the scallop into something special.

6. Maneki

There’s a reason a restaurant sticks around for 110 years. Maneki has been a mainstay in the International District since 1904, and shows no sign of slowing down. If it’s crowded, start with a seat in the spirited bar area. You’ll find a sushi counter in the back, and tatami rooms for small group gatherings. The menu is comprehensive, with Japanese classics from agedashi tofu to takoyaki and soba to sushi.

7. Mashiko

At this West Seattle sushi restaurant, Hajime Sato serves you seafood with a side of education—but only if you want it. His mission is sustainability, so you won’t find bluefin tuna or unagi (eel) here. Instead, you’ll likely make new discoveries in seafood, much of it local, and all of it delicious. Ingredient combinations are interesting; for example, you might get geoduck and scallop ceviche with Asian pear, shirako with cucumbers, and white king salmon tartare topped with a quail egg.

8. Miyabi 45th

The star of the new “Nihonmachi” strip of 45th Street in Wallingford, this place is known for soba noodles made from scratch—rare to find in any U.S. city. Preparations run from basic to complex (some served with oysters, pork belly, and duck breast), with chef Mutsuko Soma’s love for buckwheat showing in other dishes like agedashi soba tofu. Don’t overlook starters like foie gras tofu and uni shots to go with your drink order, and note the new Onibaba Ramen pop-up, serving some of Seattle’s best ramen.

9. Sushi Kappo Tamura

The upscale and yet casual Sushi Kappo Tamura in Eastlake is one of Seattle’s finest sushi restaurants, but also an ideal place for ippins—small plates, both hot and cold, that you typically eat before ordering sushi. Taichi Kitamura takes pride in this interesting part of the menu, where you might find greens from the rooftop garden for salads and vegetables for tempura. The ippins get more sophisticated with seafood preparations like kinki no yakimono (grilled rockfish) and kinmedai no nitsuke (simmered golden-eye snapper).

10. Tsukushinbo

This easy-to-miss place in the historic Nihonmachi part of the International District is reminiscent of restaurants in Japan. There’s a wrap-around sushi bar with eight seats, along with a small scattering of tables. Check the blackboard for items like the “Ika Special” (squid simmered in its own guts) and other plates that pair well with sake and beer. Tsukushinbo is also popular for its Friday-only lunch ramen—a carbo-heavy bargain that includes gyoza and rice with the shoyu ramen.

11. UDON

As in Japan, grab a tray and slide along the line, cafeteria-style, to place your noodle order. After getting your bowl, choose some deep-fried delights at the indicated à la carte price. (Recommended: the tempura chikuwa, which is fishcake in the shape of a tube.) UDon is the first to serve house-made udon noodles in Seattle, with the cold preparations showing off the chewiness of the firm, al dente udon best. You can watch the noodle-making process while you wait to order.

Originally published on Eater Seattle 10/15/14.