At Eiji, the snug Japanese restaurant in the Castro, we always feel as if we’ve gathered around a good friend’s kitchen table—and that friend happens to make the best sushi rolls, delicate ankake tofu, and lightly soy-glazed tuna belly. The theme at this charming, somewhat pastoral spot is light, bright, and simple: A juicy halved cherry tomato to cap off the pickly ceviche roll, single shiso leaves to liven up slices of the spicy tuna poke roll, and a punchy and citrusy vinegar to marinate an intensely crunchy cucumber sunomono. When your server eventually drops off the dessert menu, never pass on the perfectly chewy mochi with whole fresh strawberry and sweet red bean paste—you wouldn’t want to offend the host, after all.
Tuna Belly Steak
Like everything here, the grilled tuna belly steak is straightforward yet delicate. It’s lightly coated in a soy-ginger glaze, and generously portioned for the price—$11 for five big tuna pieces and some greens. Split with another person or risk filling up before you’ve made it to the rolls and other great small plates.
Homemade Ankake Tofu
The delicate ankake tofu is homemade, topped with thick starchy brown sauce, and arrives steaming hot. If you want a comfort dish, and one you should use as a heater to forget about the unrelenting afternoon fog, order this.
You’ll find cucumber sunomono at many Japanese spots around the city, but Eiji’s is the most refreshing. It’s citrusy and bright, and sesame seeds add a nice added crunch. This is a must order.
Hamachi, lettuce, onions, and pickles combine to create one of our favorite rolls. This is one of the more pleasantly surprising ones on the list, and it’s topped with sea salt and juicy cherry tomatoes.
Eggplant Miso Walnut
This dish looks like a decadent miniature cake, and one that’s made up of super soft eggplant with wonderfully charred skin. On top of this savory dish is creamy miso and walnut sauce that’s sweet and kind of cinnamon-y. This must be on the table.
Handmade Strawberry Mochi
The perfect mochi and red bean paste combined with the tart, juicy strawberry makes this bite-sized dessert a must-order. Two teeny tiny wooden folks come on the side, but, really, just grab it with your hands and pop it into your mouth.