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Food & Drink

Welcome to the San Francisco Standard’s Sushi Week

Get ready for a seven-day deep-dive into San Francisco's sushi awakening.

A chef is preparing sushi at a wooden counter with various bowls and dishes nearby. The words "Sushi Week" and a sushi graphic are overlaid on the image.
Chef Akifusa Tonai prepares nigiri at Omakase in San Francisco. | Source: Illustration: Clark Miller; Photo: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

On any given night in our fair city, diners from the East Cut to the Outer Richmond are worshipping at the Japanese altar of fish—rolling their eyes to the heavens over perfect preparations of nigiri and its supporting cast of dishes at a level previously unknown to San Francisco. 

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It goes without saying that this isn’t the soy sauce-drenched sushi this food editor used to eat post-college—some kind of We Be iteration. It’s not even in the class of Ebisu or Kabuto, the sushi restaurants that used to be the benchmark that, long ago, made me feel like a grownup.

Today, the Kikkoman dispenser has been tossed out the window. Pickled ginger, if it is offered at all, is not dyed hot pink. Wasabi is sweet and freshly grated, not made from a just-add-water powder. As for the two words, California roll? Well, let’s not even go there.

I am talking chiefly about the Big O, or omakase, which in Japanese translates loosely to “I leave it up to you” and in San Francisco materializes as cheffy, highly curated, elegant prix-fixe menus that pluck from the entirety of our oceans, toggling between raw and cooked, delicate and rich, and ultimately segueing into an onslaught of gorgeous nigiri featuring fish flown in fresh from the Toyosu market in Tokyo. There is gold leaf. There is caviar. There is opulence and swagger.

So what’s a food lover to do when faced with such a sea change—such a luxury of choice? I say, swim with the fishes.

First—we made the obvious choice to blow The Standard’s dining budget and research as many omakase restaurants as humanly possible. This entailed eating an egregious amount of Bluefin tuna, boldly featured on menus everywhere. So, of course, we then had to investigate the sustainable ethics of our Bluefin consumption. (We might be going to a watery hell, it turns out.) Karma was reversed by featuring one chef who crafts an amazing—and entirely vegan!—omakase.

We got up early to do a ride-along with a former sushi chef, a real character of a guy who now helps the city’s best restaurants get their fish from Tokyo’s Toyosu market via WhatsApp. And we spent a Saturday shooting a video at Hashiri, following an Edomae master as he demonstrated the making of tamago; despite being an egg omelet, it is considered to be a true test of a high-level sushi chef.

Finally—because we understand dining at omakase restaurants is an elite sport—we asked ten of the city’s top chefs for their picks for sushi when they just want to keep it cheap and cheerful. Hopefully, our research will help you make a perfect selection, no matter your budget.

So stay tuned to this page. Every day this week, The Standard will be dry-aging, curing, and marinating on our observations. Sushi may not be with us forever, but, for this week at least, it’s all you can eat.  

Follow me: @saradeseran_food