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New York may lack an official Little Tokyo like Los Angeles and San Francisco, yet Gotham is ground zero for some of the best Japanese food in the country—including sushi. In fact, as of late, even beloved West Coast faves (the affordable and consistent Sugarfish, hand roll specialist KazuNori, and upscale Sushi Zo) opened locations here, and some of Japan’s finest sushi chefs have chosen downtown Manhattan as home for their own venues while making use of both uniquely East Coast-Atlantic Ocean seafood and imported, impeccably sourced Japanese catches.

Ready to rock some seriously delicious sushi? First, a few dos and don’ts: don’t rub your chopsticks together at higher-end tables since it implies they have splinters and is considered an insult; if dining at the sushi counter, don’t squander much time snapping photos of your nigiri—it’s best popped into the mouth right away to preserve the delicately balanced temperatures of the rice and fish; and do yourself and fellow diners a favor by skipping the cologne or perfume so nothing interferes with the meal’s complex scents and umami.

That out of the way, here are six of downtown’s most superb sushi spots.

Sushi Nakazawa

In 2011, documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi chef Daisuke Nakazawa is seen perfecting his craft under the demanding, meticulous tutelage of Jiro Ono at Tokyo’s three-Michelin-starred Sukibayashi Jiro. Nakazawa brought those impeccably honed skills and standards to NYC in 2013, when he opened a first West Village namesake sushi-ya of his own (pictured), earning a four-star NY Times rave. Five years later, a (low-key) rock star in his own right, Nakazawa serves up bona fide omakase bargains at $150 and $120, for counter and dining room seating, respectively. Included in the 20-piece service is a choice of hand roll and, of course, Nakazawa’s divine famed tamago egg custard. 

23 Commerce St, New York, NY 10014; T. (212) 924-2212

Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya

There’s more than a dash of theatricality to the signature dishes at this slick, buzzy, spacious Lower East Side favorite, which also boasts an outdoor deck (and locations in a handful of cities across the country, including a fast-casual counter at Brookfield Place’s bustling food court). The a la carte menu is expansive, and some of the most Instagram-worthy, delicious sushi and sashimi items include kanpachi usuzukuri (thin-sliced amberjack with a yuzu pepper sauce) an aji mackerel carved and presented whole (its carcass is deep fried for a “two ways” second helping afterward), and a live sea scallop. Executive sushi chef Kazutaka Iimori’s omakase runs $95 per person, while a small group can splurge on the $170 Blue Ribbon Special platter, which includes lobster and a gigantic scallop shell. “Our particular take allows patrons to enjoy the highest quality ingredients and dining experiences in an accessible and inviting atmosphere,” Iimori adds. “Additionally, we’re open well into the early hours for those taking full advantage of the city that never sleeps.”

187 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002; T. (212) 466-0404

Shoji at 69 Leonard

Possibly the most obvious element that sets Shoji at 69 Leonard apart from its high-end omakase peers is a Caucasian chef, Derek Wilcox. This talented gaijin, however, spent seven years at Kyoto’s three Michelin-starred Kikunoi. The cozy, light wood-toned 12-seat venue is also distinguished by its blend of sushi and kaiseki – technique-driven, high-end Japanese haute cuisine – and seasonal ingredients. As a result, there are no signature items in its ever-changing, 20-course $252 omakase (abridged and plus-sized versions are available for $190 and $295, respectively), although cross your fingers that his silky yet dairy-free, addictive corn soup is on tap when you visit. “Seasonality is the boss,” Wilcox says. “Quality ingredients are my boss. Nothing bad, nothing processed. Right now we don’t serve any farm-raised fish, but I can’t completely rule it out because if its raised with care and attention to the feed and care, like Wagyu beef is, I would consider using that.” In September 2018, Shoji earned a three-star NY Times review, so make reservations ASAP!

69 Leonard St, New York, NY 10013; T. (212) 404-4600

Omen Azen

Open since 1981, Soho’s Omen Azen is marked by a small red flag, which attracts an impressive roster of fashion and arts customers like Karl Lagerfeld and Patti Smith. Specializing in Kyoto-inspired, healthful food including homemade udon noodles and shabu-shabu, chef Norio Shinohara certainly delivers on beautifully presented yet reasonably priced sashimi. Availability allowing, the uni shot served in a scooped-out lemon half with shiso leaf, raw quail egg and optional caviar for an extra $5, is a decadent, luscious starter, while organic salmon figures into the mixed sashimi plates ($36.50/$39.50). Sashimi is also a component of Omen’s two seasonal tasting menus, entailing holistic, utterly delicious overviews of the chef’s oeuvre.

113 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012: T. (212) 925-8923

Sushi Zo

A Michelin-starred Los Angeles import, the omakase-only Zo opened a Greenwich Village location in late 2015 (a second branch, in Midtown East, followed in 2017), which has since earned its own Michelin-starred status. As with the LA original, Zo’s fish is consistently outstanding and drapes generously over the rice, while the vibe is laidback. Adventurous sushi-philes may also find that their $200 omakase includes a “challenging” item or two like shirako, white curd-like fish sperm—think of it as male caviar. Do it for Bourdain!

88 W 3rd St, New York, NY 10012: T. (646) 405-4826

Sushi Azabu

This list wouldn’t be complete without a hidden gem, and a Michelin-starred one at that. Sourcing most of its seafood from Tokyo’s sushi sourcing mecca, Tsukiji Fish Market, you’ll savor serious and creative delicacies via omakase ($170/$200) or a la carte: hello, foie gras and caviar steamed egg custard!

428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013: T. (212) 274-0428

Words Lawrence Ferber

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