Maneki opened in 1904. So, it’s older than pogo sticks, Brillo pads, and the Model-T. It’s also the longest-running Japanese restaurant in Seattle, let alone in the International District. Over 115 years later, it’s still packed. You’d expect the crowds to come just for the history, but they’re here for the excellent and reasonably-priced food. You’ll walk away from a meal at Maneki feeling like you should have paid more for such high-end sushi.
We highly recommend making a reservation, otherwise, you’ll likely have to wait until after 9:30pm to sit down—a handwritten note next to the host stand shows when the next table is available. The main dining room is consistently crowded, but the best way to experience Maneki is in a private tatami room in the back. After you kick your shoes off, kneel down on your personal pillow, and get the sake flowing, everything else seems to fade away. It’s just you, people you hopefully like, and this quiet room that’s closed off from the rest of the restaurant where someone periodically stops by to give you raw fish and beer.
If you’re at Maneki for just one thing, it’s for the stellar sushi. From yellowtail to tuna, the outstanding nigiri here makes it easy to understand why this restaurant is so busy. Pay close attention to the daily fish specials, which might include four different types of wild salmon, or a negitoro topped with chopped fatty bluefin tuna and scallions. The firm cuts, like albacore, are perfectly chewy, and the softer pieces, like local king salmon and chu-toro, practically disintegrate in your mouth. The sushi here is on-par with the best spots in town, only you’re paying a fraction of the price and don’t have to get dressed up—it almost feels like they forgot to raise prices somewhere between 1904 and today.
Besides sushi, the classic Japanese menu here is pretty extensive—you’ll find fried appetizers, noodles, dumplings, teriyaki, and tempura. If you’re going to order anything else besides sushi, go with some gyoza, the crispy takoyaki balls stuffed with octopus, or the salted mackerel (Saba Ichiya Boshi)—which we think is better than the much-hyped black cod collar miso.
This food is best shared among friends while drinking Sapporo in socks, just like a similar group might have done here in the early 20th century. Leave it to a restaurant that has 24 years on Penicillin. They’ve still got it, and it’s better than ever.
It might surprise you when you bite into these fried salmon bites and they’re cold, but it’s on purpose. The vinegar coating cuts through the oil perfectly, and the shaved onion slaw on top keeps things interesting. Have these with some sake, and be nice when it comes time to fight over the last nugget.
Sometimes, you lie awake at night, wondering about things like unrequited love, or whether or not you shut the lid on your compost bucket. We lie awake thinking about these perfect crispy balls stuffed with octopus and topped with bonito flakes.
Saba Ichiya Boshi
This is just a couple hunks of mackerel, skin and all, cooked and rubbed with salt. But somehow, it’s the best non-sushi thing here. Squeeze some lemon on top, watch out for bones, and have a good time.
Black Cod Collar Miso
Everybody we talk to loves the cod collar here, and we understand—it’s an excellent, juicy, sake-marinated cut of fish. The Saba Ichiya Boshi is just better.
King Salmon Nigiri
If you’re lucky enough to stop in on a night when four types of salmon are available, nothing beats king (except for an ace, but there’s no such thing as ace salmon).
Blue Fin Toro Nigiri
The medium fatty tuna here is so tender and flavorful you don’t even need to dip it in soy sauce.
They sometimes serve a negitoro special. It’s a pile of sushi rice, some minced fatty tuna, raw scallions, and a belt of seaweed to keep it all together. Use a slice of pickled ginger as a soy sauce paintbrush.
Spicy Tuna Roll
We know what you’re thinking—all spicy tuna rolls are the same. They have a little kick, but saying they’re really spicy is kind of a stretch. However, Maneki’s version actually has heat—and we order it all the time.