Comparing Some of the Best Sushi in Tokyo

I’m fortunate to have just experienced some of the best sushi in Tokyo. Over the course of 3 days in Tokyo we had three amazing sushi experiences, each one very different, and planned based on my expectation that each would surpass the previous one.

We started with a good, recommended ‘local’ sushi restaurant for dinner in Ginza that the Park Hyatt’s concierge recommended. Looking it up it gets glowing reviews — but Americans going there all seem to get the recommendation from the Park Hyatt.

That was the only dinner out of the three meals. The next two would be lunches. First was Jiro Roppongi, Jiro’s son’s place (Jiro himself still works in the Ginza restaurant, but only at dinner). I expected that it would be a spectacle, perhaps a bit of a tourist trap though still with great sushi, and I approached it with some trepidation because of the chef’s famous temper.

And finally Sushi Masuda, another of Jiro’s students who has earned two Michelin stars and is a real up and coming star in Tokyo. It makes many top 10 lists, which is impressive in a city with 12 Michelin 3 star restaurants and 56 with 2 stars.

Sushi Harumi in Ginza

This is a neighborhood place. The chef speaks very little English but one of his apprentices speaks some. It’s also difficult to find, as many restaurants in Tokyo are, since there’s not very much signage however Google Maps was accurate for the location and it’s on the fourth floor of the building, turn right out of the elevator and trust that you’re there.

The meal was 10,000 JPY or ~ US$90 per person, and it’s a real treat. We had a 7 p.m. booking and there were two couples in the restaurant nearing the end of their meal, no one else came in during our dinner but it was a Wednesday night.

We picked a sake, there were three choices and each was ~ US$9.

After a hot towel the meal began. There were a variety of cooked and composed dishes before we moved onto the sushi.

All of his fish was excellent. Here’s just a sample.

Perhaps most interesting was his shrimp, unlike any other shrimp I’ve had. It was comprised of several long thin shrimp.

japanese glass shrimp

I remarked to the chef that I hadn’t had anything like it before and he brought out his book of fish to show me that it’s Japanese glass shrimp.

Here was his uni course.

The chef makes origami and he gave one to my wife. (I didn’t see him do this for the other diners.)

We finished our meal with fruit and gave tremendous thanks for the evening before heading back downstairs and hailing a cab on the street in front of the restaurant.

Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi Hills

That Jiro is 94 years old and only comes to his restaurant in Ginza at dinner now. His son’s restaurant is in Roppongi Hills. I had a lunch open and wanted to experience the son’s sushi.

Jiro Ono’s son Takashi is famously temperamental, but he isn’t nearly as serious as his father. He even told stories about growing up with his father, apprenticing from the age of 18. That’s when Jiro stopped being ‘father’ and became ‘master’ at least at work.

They view meals differently. Takashi is outgoing, to an America much more so than he used to be because he’s only learned English over the past two years. In contrast he says his father doesn’t believe a meal is time for drinking or talking. A meal is meant to concentrate on the food.

Of course Takashi learned to speak English because so much of his clientele are now toursts, after the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I feel bad for his father, actually, who takes sushi seriously and wants his customers to take it seriously too. Now he too gets almost exclusively tourists — who do not know how to approach sushi.

I’m reminded of the scene in Billions at Sushi Nakazawa in New York — chef Daisuke Nakazawa apprenticed under Jiro Ono, and makes the tamago cake in Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Tourists largely populate the son’s place in Roppongi Hills as well. Takashi Ono famously accepted the apology of Chinese tourists who wanted their fish cooked. On our visit the other guests were,

  • There was an Israeli honeymooning couple. She stopped eating halfway through the meal declaring herself ‘full’.
  • A San Francisco man
  • And a husband and wife who arrived late. She didn’t sit at the sushi counter, only he was going to be eating. And she never took off her baseball cap.

Again sake was ~ US$9. There wasn’t a selection. Just ‘sake, hot or cold’.

You can choose to do just sushi or sushi and sashimi. Everyone was doing both except for the man from San Francisco, my own view was that I wanted the broadest sense possible of the man’s fish. Sushi only is 19,000 JPY (US$173) and sushi and sashimi is 25,000 JPY ($228).

So that already means that more than one track is being presented at the same time. And with a couple arriving late, that meant a third track. I was impressed by how well Takashi Ono managed it, although his intensity was taken out on his apprentices who are also his first and second sons.

The sashimi was presented and guests are instructed to use soy sauce as it isn’t already sauced, and instructed along the way how to eat each dish.

One thing that struck me about the sushi is that the pieces of fish were larger than I’m used to.

We actually had three different pieces of tuna, from different parts of the fish, with gradations of fattiness. It was incredible.

I was impressed by his yellow uni, I’m much more used to getting an orange uni, the yellow is higher quality but doesn’t last as long so a restaurant doing lesser volume won’t use it.

Surprisingly the tamago cake was disappointing, it had almost no density to it at all.

The chef, hearing I was from Texas, had to show me his Texas memorabilia. He also had a Longhorns shirt. He didn’t take photos with any other guests that day, I think we were the only ones who didn’t offend him.

best sushi in tokyo

Sushi Masuda in Omotesando

My last sushi meal in Tokyo would be at Sushi Masuda, and this was the most refined of the three experiences. Like Jiro Roppongi, Masuda has two Michelin stars. He also charges the most of the three at 28,000 JPY or US$255 per person.

Unlike Jiro Roppongi, the restaurant is a beautiful space. Unlike Sushi Harumi, it’s not in an ugly building or on an ugly floor. Instead it’s a beautifully decorated space. That appeals to me as an American but of course in Japan the best food can be devoid of unnecessary elements like its surroundings.

We were five minutes early for our booking at noon, the first ones there, and the chef was preparing for our service.

Our lunch began with a variety of sashimi and cooked dishes before moving on to sushi. The most striking for me was the squid, with its ink fully intact.

The chef was both serious and friendly. His technique was advanced, but he was also a gracious host, talking with us about where we’d eaten, what we were enjoying in Tokyo, and happily talking about his experiences elsewhere. His English is good (the Chinese guest beside us spoke English but not Japanese).

His fish was excellent, and as Jiro Roppongi he served larger portions of fish than I’m used to in each bite. And the best roll I’ve ever eaten.

The uni here was even better than at our lunch the previous day with Takashi Ono.

The tamago was perfect.

While this was the most expensive of the three meals, it felt appropriately priced.

I’m Both Spoiled By the Some of the Best Sushi in Tokyo and Suffering Withdrawal

I’m not going to argue that any of these places is the best sushi in Tokyo. That would be silly. But I think it’s a great survey of some of the best sushi in Tokyo.

One visit isn’t enough to fully understand a restaurant of a chef, just to get a sample of what they’re about. I’d gladly return to any of these places, though much more likely Harumi and Masuda than Jiro Roppongi.

Unquestionably Sushi Masuda was more refined than Jiro Roppongi. It was an incredible meal well deserving of its two Michelin stars. Sushi Harumi was excellent as well, not at the level of ingredients of the other two restaurants, it was a much less expensive meal and he didn’t have the fish quality. He served orange rather than yellow uni. But there was tremendous skill on display and his shrimp dishes was one of the most interesting I’ve tried. I still dream of Masuda’s squid.

It’s hard to eat mediocre sushi after experiencing it at the level of some of the best sushi in Tokyo. There’s made to order sushi in the Japan Airlines first class lounge at Tokyo Narita. The fish there is fine. But the thing that differentiates, and really makes the sushi there (and most places, but that’s the sushi I had next) bland is the rice. The right rice can make or break the experience.

Overall my Tokyo meals made me appreciate the amazing sushi experience I have at home in Austin at Kyōten Sushiko. Unfortunately chef Otto Phan is leaving Austin to open a new omakase restaurant in Chicago. His Austin location will remain open with a new chef. Great for those of you in Chicago once his new Logan Square venue launches late in summer.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. That looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ll be in Tokyo for 3 nights in mid October and, only having the lowest Hyatt status from having their credit card, decided the my best points value proposition on this trip would be to stay in a Club Room at the Hyatt Regency (the Club rooms there have recently been refurbished). These restaurants being somewhat out of my budget range, I’m hoping to find some good sushi experiences within an easy walk from the hotel. Any suggestions?

  2. “The chef makes origami and he gave one to my wife. (I didn’t see him do this for the other diners.)”
    “He didn’t take photos with any other guests that day, I think we were the only ones who didn’t offend him.”

    It’s because of your status with Hyatt.

  3. Very helpful post, Gary. I’m going to Tokyo for a honeymoon in a month. We’d love to try these spots if we can. What did you not do that all the other guests did to offend the chef? We want to be respectful!

  4. Im in Bangkok now (was in Tokyo last week) and there are surprisingly some absolutely amazing Omakase experiences in Bangkok that beat thew top end places in I went to in Japan.

    Underneath the Grand Hyatt Erawan – Sushi Ginza Ichi – best sushi I have ever had.

  5. Just a reminder for your readers that it’s good etiquette to ask the chef if it is ok to take pictures of the food. Most will not have a problem but it is still a courtesy to ask permission

  6. @andy I did ask in each case, Harumi was flattered while the other two get enough Americans they assume it I think. But agreed for sure.

  7. Also it’s good etiquette to ask the chef if you can poop the sushi afterwards. Most will not have a problem but it’s still courteous to ask permission.

  8. Thanks for the summary and review! We happened to just return from 2 weeks in Japan, during which we started with 3 nights in Tokyo. We had dinner at 3* Sushi Yoshitake–easily the best sushi I’ve ever had, including crazy good yellow uni and the first oyster I ever liked, let alone loved. We also had lunch at 2* Sushi Sawada–extremely good sushi, even better uni but overall not quite as complex or quite as savory as at Yoshitake, but in a slightly more polished setting. Yoshitake is actually friendlier, but speak very little English–we had some fun there with him and his apprentices despite the language barrier. Sawada is a very stern man, but he still seemed to respect that we showed him and his food respect; his wife spoke a little English and was much warmer. But both experiences make us realize what we don’t get in Orange County!

  9. Great write-ups and much appreciated original content. The comments are also already quite helpful, as I just booked an AA award to Bangkok, with the return via Tokyo on JAL. I made sure to get a long layover so we can spend a nice evening/night in Tokyo before returning to DFW the next afternoon. The recommendation in Bangkok as well as tips in Tokyo will be quite helpful!

  10. Hi Gary. For the last 3 days pictures are loading very slowly. This is happening across devices and internet providers.

  11. Thanks for the thorough reviews. I’m curious to know how the quality of the nigiri/fish compares to your best experiences in the US. I’ve had exceptional sushi recently in Las Vegas at both Yui and Kabuto, and the pictures remind me of what is served there. I’ve also had unbelievable sushi at the top places in NYC. Going to Tokyo in September myself and greatly looking forward to the food

  12. Nice to relive some of my Japan trip through your pictures. All looks great, but what prices! I guess this is why I waited in line at Tsukiji, although the best sushi I had was actually in Osaka, where an omakase lunch at a 1 star restaurant was only $50 per person.

  13. Hi Gary;

    We’re the meals/prices the same at dinner as at lunch for a given place?

    Thanks for a great review. Exactly what I plan to do in the future. (Except I’ll do dinners)

  14. @Mike – there was some fish I hadn’t had before in the US (like the Japanese glass shrimp at Harumi), and the fish at both Masuda and Jiro was OUTSTANDING quality, though I’ve had some amazingly high quality fish in the US too. The uni at Masuda was better quality than any I’ve had anywhere.

  15. Some of the best content on any of the main travel blogs in months. Very good to see actual information on destinations instead of credit card offers, debates about programs, etc. Great work, I love sushi and will use this post in the future.

  16. Cannot tell you how much I loved this post, even though I may have drooled while riding public transport. Great write ups and amazing pictures which capture the art and skill of true sushi.

    As to withdrawal, I’m with you. I can’t even look at the Whole Foods sushi selection anymore.

  17. This is so well-timed. We will be in Tokyo at the end of July, and I was just doing research on restaurants and reservations yesterday. AmEx concierge was able to score us a reservation at 3* Kanda (non-sushi) but had a long list of restaurants that have preemptively refused to take reservations from AmEx (including Sushi Saito and Sushi Yoshitake — the other two 3* sushi spots besides Jiro). We’re staying at the Ritz, so I’m going to see if their concierge can get us a reservation, but I’m also curious how Gary scored his.

  18. Roppongi is a cesspool. Feels like a place tourists go because they just can’t handle japan.

  19. The fish in the JAL NRT F lounge was good, but the egg when I had it was frickin amazing.

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