The Best Restaurants In Japantown guide image

photo credit: Haley Heramb

SFGuide

The Best Restaurants In Japantown

Where to get sushi, ramen, matcha ice cream, and more.

Japantown is only made up of a few blocks, but it's packed with so much to do and eat that it would take multiple days and a detailed spreadsheet to check out all of the stores, cafes, and restaurants. So the next time you find yourself spending an afternoon wandering the aisles of Daiso or shopping for shiba inu tea cups, use this guide for when you inevitably get hungry. From an omakase counter tucked at the end of a Japan Center hallway to a lively Korean spot with cheesy kalbijjim, here’s where to go.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Julia Chen

Sasa review image
8.4

Sasa

$$$$

22 Peace Plz Ste 530, San Francisco
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The Japanese restaurant on the second floor of the Japan Center East Mall has something for everyone, whether you’re dropping in for lunch or a date night reservation you made a week ago. There’s 14-course omakase if you’re through making decisions for the day, chef’s choice sashimi that comes in an adorable wooden box, and mini uni and ikura-topped donburi perfect for solo servings. Despite the casual energy of this place, everything on the menu matches the quality of fancier omakase and sushi spots across the city—which is why we return for weeknight hangs and day-off lunches, even if we’re not in the neighborhood shopping for colorful pens and Hi-Chews.

Once-in-a-lifetime omakase may require you to throw down the equivalent of three round-trip, cross-country plane tickets. Not the case at An Japanese Restaurant. This high-end sushi spot located in a secluded corner of the Japan Center offers various set menus ranging between $75-$110 per person, and includes a wonderful mix of exceptional raw fish, mushroom chawanmushi, miso soup, and flaky miso marinated black cod. Everything—like the a la carte sushi rolls and nigiri—is light and simple, allowing the fish flavors to shine. The place is about the size of two elevators, so you can sit at the six-seat counter in relaxed silence, or enjoy easy going conversation with the chef about how deep black bass can swim. Either way, make a reservation via text message to eat here.

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Dinner at Nari always includes fancy Thai dishes that are heavy on spice, and so good you won’t mind your nose running all night. The squid and pork jowl appetizer is an explosion of sticky-sweet umami. Cubes of fried branzino are dotted with chilis that build lingering heat. And pandan and Thai tea-infused cocktails are there for you when you need to cool off. Getting into everything in a place that looks like a monstera lover's dream is simply an added bonus. Save this spot located inside the Hotel Kabuki for special nights, or times you want to bust out the chic turtleneck sweater that’s been collecting dust in your closet. For an all-out splurge, the $115 tasting menu is basically a non-stop parade of most of the menu’s greatest hits.  

Oma SF Station is located at the end of a stark hallway inside the Japan Center, and its casual location is part of the appeal. Throughout the night at this omakase spot, you’ll hear ambient mall chatter while making small talk with the chefs across the bar. The approachable energy extends to the food. There are three omakase options ($95, $125, and $165), each with an increasing number of courses—so you can choose how much you want to spend on nigiri and small plates, like miso black cod or unagi with tamago. Whatever route you go, expect the high-quality fish to keep you coming back. 

The SF-based chain (which now has seven other locations across the country) nails the art of a perfect bowl of Hakata-style ramen. So it’s not hard to see why this casual spot attracts hordes of noodle soup enthusiasts nightly. The rich, creamy broth hits you like an intensely porky flavor bomb after your first sip. The thin noodles are cooked to bouncy perfection every time, and the tender chashu pork belly almost dissolves in your mouth. We’ll come up with any excuse to get here for Friday night dates, midweek lunches, and group dinners with friends who don’t mind waiting an hour in line to get their hands on this flawless ramen. 

You go to On The Bridge for comforting specials that mix Japanese flavors with Western influences. Think big plates of curry rice and shrimp roe spaghetti, omu-rice, pizzas, and Japanese-style hamburgers. Eccentricity also abounds at this cafe-style Japan Center restaurant that’s been a neighborhood staple for several decades. Sit at the long wooden bar surrounded by plushies, sherbert-colored chairs, and bookshelves filled with every manga imaginable. Of course, unwinding with something from the encyclopedia-long beer and sake menu isn’t a bad idea either. Basically, land here to end good days, hide from the fact that Mercury is in retrograde, or anytime you don't feel like waiting in line at nearby Marufuku. 

Walk anywhere within a two-block radius of the Japan Center and you’re bound to see at least five people with a cup of matcha soft serve in their hands. That’s because these sweet treats coming out of Matcha Cafe Maiko are delicious—and the soft serve is so thick you could hold a cup of it upside down and it wouldn’t fall out. Whenever we’re at this counter-service dessert spot inside of the mall, we go for the sundae with a gorgeous swirl of creamy soft serve drizzled with housemade kuromitsu syrup and topped with boba. The matcha drinks, shaved ice, and frappes are worth your attention, too. 

If you’re looking for a bowl of noodles that won’t put you to sleep immediately after, head to Hinodeya. The casual ramen spot specializes in dashi-based soups that are light yet packed with flavor. Our go-to is the garlicky version loaded with tender clams, but you also can’t go wrong with the spicy one with chashu and chili oil, or the vegan ramen that’s topped with inari, kale, and acorn squash. Whatever you order, your bowl will be sparkling clean within ten minutes flat. This walk-in only spot usually has a line, so prepare to take a few laps around Peace Plaza while you wait.

When the large hot stone bowl of kalbijjim arrives, your server will take approximately 53 seconds to erratically blowtorch the shredded cheese on top until it resembles a gooey mound of fire-roasted marshmallow. The bubbling braised beef dish that's achieved nano-influencer levels of power (and social media notoriety) is also worth the hype. There are, of course, other reasons to head to the beef-centric Korean restaurant on Post Street—excellent kalbitang with chunks of tender beef, lots of soju, and a buzzy atmosphere that's perfect for groups await, after you've braved the inevitable line.

One way to instantly feel good is to just walk up to Mochill Mochidonut. At this mall kiosk, ring-shaped mochi donuts that come in an assortment of fun colors and glazes are the name of the game. Rich dark chocolate, matcha oreo, black sesame, even one with puffy Fruity Pebbles on top will beckon you from behind the small glass case. But aside from looking like something we want to dedicate an entire scrapbook to, these donuts taste incredible. They’re super chewy and taste about as close to literal sunshine as you can get.

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