The days of the California roll are numbered. Do you really want to eat a run-of-the-mill maki roll stuffed with flimsy strands of tasteless cucumber, dried-out imitation crab, and mushy avocado? Ordering one at any respectable sushi restaurant is like asking for buttered pasta at a four-star Italian restaurant.
Today, the American palate is more sophisticated than ever, and as a result, sushi’s popularity continues to soar. Ingredients once considered too hard to find are now commonplace at sushi restaurants from Manhattan to Minneapolis. Just one peek at the recent documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which follows one of the most respected sushi masters, and it’s clear why diners love eating everything from raw clams to rice topped with precious caviar. Sushi is not only healthy, it’s also the cuisine of choice for Hollywood celebrities. Our selection of seafood has never been better.
But it wasn’t always this way, says Tim Zagat, who with his wife, Nina, founded the Zagat Restaurant Survey back in the 1980s. What was once considered exotic is now everyday fare for even young children. Zagat included the ratings of 34 Japanese restaurants across the country in 1990, but today there are 221 in that category.
“The idea of eating raw fish? Most people thought that would be a fraternity prank,” says Zagat. “Now there’s a sushi bar on every corner.”
At Brushstroke in New York City, chef David Bouley collaborated with the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan, to create tasting menus that let diners experience a range of flavors. One moment you may take bites from a chirashi bowl, a mound of rice topped with shimmering pieces of sashimi, and the next you’ll dip a tender lobster tail into white miso sauce.
Our list of the best sushi restaurants includes a range of options. In Atlanta, the popular spot Tomo serves simple Japanese snapper with shiso and a squeeze of lemon, or for those who aren’t purists, a popular spicy scallop roll is a must order. Another favorite of ours includes Urasawa in Los Angeles, where the dining experience is equal parts theater and art.
While the price tag can be steep to experience some of the country’s best sushi, as much as $500 for dinner, our list below is aimed at all budgets, with each experience worth the trip.