Whether one is seeking an epicurean adventure or craving a familiar favorite, Japantown delivers. Enjoy sweet and savory delectable delights from sushi and ramen to mochi rice cakes and macha green tea desserts. Sit down to fine dining in one of many stylish restaurants or grab a bite on the run at a fun food stand.
Several restaurants serve Japan’s most famous dish then there are those that serve sushi exclusively. Michelin Star, An Sushi offers gourmet dishes in a comfortable atmosphere. They serve selections of local and imported seasonal items with sake to match their dishes. Izumi Kaiten Sushi and Tenroku are popular conveyor belt sushi bars and Hikari Sushi & Bar serves dishes via a miniature bulletin train. Those seeking traditional sushi will find Sasa and Takara Restaurant to their liking.
Omakasa, where the menu is chosen by the chef, might be considered the ultimate dining experience. Oma San Francisco Station, a Michelin Star restaurant, offers a menu of exotic and premium seafood, with sushi, wine, and sake. Shabu-shabu is a fun group meal, especially for meat eaters. Diners cook thin slices of beef, chicken, or pork with vegetables and noodles at the table to dip in a variety of savory sauces. Priding itself as the “home of shabu-shabu,” Mums, at Kimpton Buchanan Hotel, serves several all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu meals, including vegetarian options.
Essentially a Japanese tavern where people can linger, Izakaya is about creating small dishes to compliment alcoholic beverages. Izakaya Kou provides a modern gathering place with Japanese fusion tapas and unique beverages. For “bar snacks,” the menu is extensive with sushi and sashimi, as well as Japanese and Korean dishes, including skewered meats, deep fried vegetables, even wild, organic mushroom miso soup. The drink menu includes sake, shochu, wine, beer, and cocktails, even non-alcoholic drinks. The restaurant has private tatami rooms for up to 35 people.
Comfort food in the way of noodles can be found at many restaurants whether you want Japanese buckwheat soba, thin somen in a delicate sauce, udon in array of broths, or fried yaki soba. Ramen may be originally Chinese, but the Japanese have elevated the hearty noodle dish to another level. Line up early for ramen at Marufuku where the noodles are handmade. Proudly serving authentic Hakata-style tonkatsu ramen, the broth is cooked for over 20 hours! Other specialty ramen spots include Hinodeya Ramen, Oji, Yamadaya Ramen, Suzu Noodle House, and Waraku.
Mifue Don has been serving up noodle dishes for 40 years and they’re also known for their okonomiyaki. The savory pancakes made with cabbage, meat, and vegetables, topped with a sweet savory okonomi-sauce and Japanese mayonnaise is between a snack and meal. Yama-chan also serves okonomiyaki, along with takoyaki, a bite-size savory octopus donut (better than it sounds), and other popular Japanese street food.
For more small bites, the charming coffee shop, Tan Tan serves takoyaki, as well as gyoza, savory dumplings that are the Japanese version of Chinese potstickers, along with a variety of teas and coffee. YakiniQ Café has the ever-popular spam musubi, unique drinks such as yuzu honey tea, and a scrumptious selection of sweets. Andersen Bakery serves European pastries, but it is the go-to bakery for Japanese white bread. A long-time staple in Japan, shokupan is rapidly gaining attention stateside for its thick, fluffy texture and slightly sweet taste. Murata’s Café Hana is an Asian influenced coffee bar, that brews up some very innovative drinks and desserts. Perhaps their signature treat is the Geisha Float made of green-tea ice cream, topped with sweet adzuki bean. Mochill Mochi Donut, has … mochi donuts in a variety of flavors, including macha.
For more traditional mochi, Benkyodo has been making the confection since 1906. One of the original businesses in Japantown, Benkyodo is still family owned and operated. The manju (a bite-size cake with sweet bean filling) and mochi are handmade daily. In addition to traditional flavors, there is seasonal strawberry, and even peanut butter manju. Locals put in orders in December for the special New Year’s kagami-mochi. Another family owned business, Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop, is known for their coffee crunch cake and strawberry shortcake, but they also bake a variety of sweets, including arare cookies! Made with savory rice crackers, the salty sweet blend is an unusual tasty treat. And, for sweet gifts, Nippon-ya has it wrapped up, literally. They have gift boxes of mochi, candy, cookies, cake, tea, from all over Japan.
For a very different taste of Japan, On the Bridge serves Japanese western dishes, such as pasta and pilaf, as well do-it-yourself curries where one can choose their own ingredients. And, the are shelves of manga (Japanese comic books) to read with your meal.
In addition to restaurants Japantown’s two Japanese grocery stores, Super Mira Super Market and Nijiya Market have fresh ready to eat snacks and full meals to go. Nijiya has a full deli stocked daily with sushi and onigiri (rice balls), tempura and teriyaki bento, and a variety of side dishes. In addition to sushi, Super Mira offers hot dishes, including donburi and curry rice. Both markets sell seaweed salads and the distinctive Japanese potato salad along with a variety of teas and Japanese soft drinks.
There are many restaurants and cafés in the neighborhood, and it would take a while to taste all Japantown has to offer, but it would be time well spent. You just may want to pace yourself.