Much as we love it, Lake Michigan isn’t the ocean. This inconvenient truth means that many of the best sushi restaurants in Chicago are expensive, and that many of the less expensive places have not-so-good fish. But luckily, those aren’t your only options. There are plenty of great casual neighborhood sushi spots around, if you know where to look. Here’s where to go when you want good sushi, but still want to be able to afford a taxi home - or keep saving up for that trip to the actual ocean.
This place definitely belongs in your sushi rotation. It’s a small, low-key restaurant in Albany Park, and its fish offerings vary depending on what’s been flown in that day. Order the omakase, which they’ll tailor based on your budget, starting at $50. If you’re into rolls, they have a few of those, too (the Omega maki with fried salmon and shrimp tempura is great), but we suggest going for the nigiri and sashimi instead. Make sure to try the tamago - it’s excellent.
Sometimes you don’t appreciate a place until it gets taken away from you. That was the case with Juno, which closed after a fire in 2014. Luckily for everyone who depended on it, it reopened eight months later, and the sushi is still great. It’s laid-back, and although (like most sushi places) it can get expensive, it doesn’t feel overpriced for what it is. Focus on the sashimi and nigiri, but make sure you try at least one of their smoked fish specials, presented tableside under a glass dome.
Your parents are visiting from Iowa and they want to see what you’ve been up to in the neighborhood. Check out Sai, a quiet sushi restaurant in Lincoln Park that’s been around for over 20 years. They have non-sushi options, like chicken/beef/fish teriyaki and noodle dishes, in addition to raw fish, and the friendly service and relaxed environment make it a great spot to hang out with Mom and Dad while they try guilt you into moving back home.
Indie Cafe is a Thai restaurant in Edgewater that also has an extensive sushi menu. It’s affordable, and they have you covered if you’re looking for creative rolls - like the Almond Monkey, with tempura shrimp, BBQ sauce, and raspberry sauce (among other things). Plus, there’s a great patio area that makes it ideal for lunches with friends or weeknight dates when it’s not 3 degrees outside.
Go to Butterfly when your college friends are visiting from out of town and you need an upbeat BYOB spot. There are three locations, all in the West Town/West Loop area, and all of them serve tasty rolls and decent Thai food. This is good for Gina, who doesn’t actually like sushi but likes vodka sodas.
You come to Sushi X for one thing - to eat sushi in a (BYOB) nightclub. There’s Japanese animation projected on the wall, and loud house music playing - so it’s not the best choice for a quiet date night, but it’s perfect for a group. The menu is fun, with a section called “Giant Robots” that has rolls like “sushi fruit” (salmon, tuna, hamachi, pineapple, melon, mango, coconut flakes, tempura, daikon, eel sauce, and cucumber). You can get regular rolls and nigiri too, which are fine, but not as enjoyable. It’s like a sushi house party.
If we had to pick one Chicago sushi place to eat at every day, it would be Mirai. There are two locations, but our favorite is at the bottom of a Hilton on Mies van der Rohe Way (the other is in Wicker Park). The food here is excellent, and while it’s not exactly cheap, it’s also not overpriced for what it is. Come here for date night, or by yourself for a meal at the sushi bar.
If you’re familiar with Sushi-san’s sister restaurant, Ramen-san, then you know exactly what to expect from this spot in River North. It’s nearly identical, with wooden tables, loud rap music, and a menu that’s a mix of traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes. Despite plenty of fusion options available (like a skippable bao hot dog), we recommend focusing on the nigiri and sashimi. This place has high-quality fish and is both reasonably affordable for the neighborhood and a fun place to go with a group.
There aren’t too many neighborhood-type spots on Rush St. in the Gold Coast, but we’ll always have Friends. We hope. From the outside, it just looks like a townhouse with a sushi sign out front. But inside, it feels like a retro vision of a futuristic lounge - filled with all-white furniture that would fit in on The Jetsons. The smallish space gets crowded on the weekend, so come here during the week for a more low-key night. You can’t go wrong ordering from the large selection of maki.
If you like creative nigiri, like yellowtail with sautéed banana pepper and Japanese black peppers, Macku has you covered. It’s their delicious signature sushi that makes this place stand out. And while the space itself is not too fancy, the elaborate food presentation will make you feel like you’re at a more upscale spot. Which is why you should eat here instead of carrying out - it just doesn’t look the same on your coffee table in front of the TV.
Sushi Dokku does a good job of catering to all needs, with everything from sashimi to signature nigiri to a shrimp tempura roll you might crave. The prices aren’t ridiculous, and it’s a good choice for a low-key lunch or dinner in the West Loop.
Before Tanoshii Sushi Mike’s popped up in the West Loop, it was a restaurant in Andersonville. And while both have great sushi, the original is our favorite location when we want something quiet. Try one of the chef’s choice rolls, which often come with a light truffle sauce that’s good without being overbearing. Don’t forget it’s BYOB.
Coast Sushi Bar
Coast is like that pair of jeans you loved so much that you refused to get rid of them, even when they were no longer even remotely your size. Like those magic jeans, this place is versatile, and works for just about any occasion - a date, a weeknight dinner, or a weekend group outing with your friends. The low prices, sleek interior, and BYOB policy are all reasons we like coming here.
The stretch of Clark between Fullerton and Belmont in Lincoln Park is full of casual spots that are affordable enough for college students, and Toro falls into this category. Because of its high quality sushi, small space, and no-reservations policy, this place is always crowded. Increase your chances of getting a table by coming with just one other person, not a group, and remember to BYOB.
Tsukiji Fish Market
If you’re going to name yourself after the famous Tokyo fish market, then you’d better have some pretty good sushi. And while Tsukiji (the restaurant) isn’t serving million-dollar tuna that’s been auctioned off in Japan, their nigiri and sashimi are worth your time. It’s a good option in Noble Square for sushi, and a taxi there is cheaper than a flight to Tokyo.
Don’t worry, people of Old Town, we won’t leave you hanging. While the majority of the neighborhood is full of different variations of the same sports bar, there’s also Kamehachi. It’s a solid sushi spot, nice enough for a weekend date night. The best strategy here is to go heavy on the signature rolls (the Crouching Tuna Hidden Crab is a fun one), and get at least one dragon roll for the table.
Looking for traditional rolls, simply prepared? That’s not Yuzu. Instead, come for the massive rolls and the over-the-top artwork that often accompanies them. For instance, A Dragon Roll with shrimp tempura, avocado, and unagi may sound fairly basic, but then it shows up next to a dragon drawn with brightly-colored spicy mayo. It’s dramatic, but it definitely looks cool, and it tastes great, too. All in all, Yuzu makes for a good time with a group.