Best Japanese restaurants in Chicago: Sushi, ramen and more
Pick up the chopsticks and dig into maki, sashimi and other dishes at Chicago’s best Japanese restaurants.
The days of suffering through wan sushi rolls are over—a recent influx of terrific Japanese restaurants has elevated the cuisine in Chicago. Whether it’s a raucous ramen joint like Slurping Turtle, an affordable prix fixe maki menu at BYOB Kai Zan, elegant sashimi and noodles at Takashi, pristine sushi at jewel box Masaki or skewered vegetables and meats at Yusho and Sumi Robata Bar you’re craving, it’s not hard to find your next great Japanese meal.
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Arami Chef B.K. Park may be gone, but Arami forges on with dishes like togarashi-dusted seared tuna perched on a seaweed-and-kelp-noodle salad and four types of noodle bowls (including the immensely satisfying “Arami ramen,” a meat-laden pork-based broth). Of course, the atmosphere in the earthy, cozy dining room is still warm and pleasant, too. 1829 W Chicago Ave (312-243-1535, aramichicago.com). Dinner (closed Mon). Average nigiri: $4.
Kai Zan Brothers Melvin and Carlo Vizconde are masters of maki, and this 22-seat Humboldt Park gem is their domain. From simple fried tofu makimono through elaborate sushi twists like a scallop wrapped in salmon, these are the rolls you wish every neighborhood sushi spot were making. Omakase tasting menus (starting at $50) are our favorite way to cruise the menu, but whatever route you choose, just don’t show up on a weekend without a reservation. With just 22 seats, the only dilemma is not getting in. 2557 W Chicago Ave (773-278-5776, eatatkaizan.com). Dinner (closed Wed). Average sushi roll: $8.
Katsu The best raw fish in town is at this small, unassuming West Rogers Park hideaway. Here you’ll find incredibly fresh, melt-in-your-mouth, superpremium yellowtail, bluefin, mackerel and fatty tuna. Beyond the raw, Katsu’s crew has skills on the grill, turning out a tasty marinated duck breast and a crispy yellowtail collar (great with a dab of shaved, pickled daikon; a sprinkle of sea salt; and a squirt of lemon). 2651 W Peterson Ave (773-784-3383). Dinner (closed Mon, Tue). Average nigiri: $6.
Masaki This magical little restaurant, bejeweled in purples and blacks and golds, is built to make people feel special. It does so by way of its opulent decor, its impeccable service and its devotion to Japanese cuisine. The restaurant’s linchpin is a trio of high-end prix-fixe menus: They’re denoted as two-course ($38 for lunch, $68 for dinner), three-course ($46, lunch only) and five-course ($115 dinner only), ranging from artful sushi arrangements to a duo of seared and raw Wagyu beef. Request pairings or splurge on a noteworthy sake: Masaki is a marvelous restaurant, as long as someone else is footing the bill. 990 Mies van der Rohe Way (312-280-9100, masakichicago.com). Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner, Two-course tasting dinner menu: $68.
Slurping Turtle Takashi Yagihashi’s foray into River North is the chef’s attempt to capture the taste of his noodle-slurping childhood in Japan. Based on the highlights of the menu—hamachi tartare in delicate little taro-root tacos, tan tan men ramen weighted with herb-packed pork meatballs, fried ramen noodles you toss with a dollop of spicy mustard for a dish called Chiyan Pon, and joyful desserts like softball-sized cream puffs—Yagihashi may have had the best childhood ever. 116 W Hubbard St (312-464-0466, slurpingturtle.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $13.
Sumi Robata Bar At the heart of Gene Kato's Japanese spot is a traditional charcoal grill, on which he cooks pitch-perfect skewers of protein such as juicy cubes of skirt steak, tender hunks of salmon, and craveable, miso-marinated lamb ribs. Appetizers are really the same size as the skewers and offer the complexity of entrees (tiny squares of tuna topped with avocado and crispy shallots, a sweet and earthy shaved burdock root salad). Fried chicken, Japanese sliders and chocolate-filled doughnuts all make an appearance, and they're all robust and satisfying. But ultimately this is a place where subtle, quiet foods win. 702 N Wells St (312-988-7864, sumirobatabar.com). Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $15.
Takashi With this restaurant, vetted chef Takashi Yagihashi has created a veritable Zen den showcasing food that deftly combines his Japanese heritage with French training and American ingredients. Subtle flavors balance delicate and beautiful presentation, and Yagihashi’s frequent use of local seasonal produce means sunny summer rolls with shrimp, carpaccio of bigeye tuna, and potato-crusted salmon; likewise, winter ushers in a shrimp roll or pork belly with steamed bun. 1952 N Damen Ave (773-772-6170, takashichicago.com). Dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $27.
Yusho Matthias Merges left his post as Charlie Trotter’s executive chef to open this casual, late-night yakitori-and-cocktails joint. The room has an energetic design that makes you want to drink, which isn’t a problem with cocktails this superb. Still, save some room for the Japanese-inspired food: juicy chicken wings, thinly sliced beef tongue, sumptuous tofu, beautiful mushrooms topped with a poached egg. Dishes rotate, but never disappoint. 2853 N Kedzie Ave (773-904-8558, yusho-chicago.com). Lunch (Sun), dinner (Closed Tue). Average small plate: $8.