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Food & Drink

The Big O: Where to score the greatest omakase in SF  

Over the past two months, the Standard dined at the best of the best of San Francisco sushi. These places will blow both mind and wallet.

A sushi chef, dressed in white, prepares an intricate dish at a wooden counter with sushi and various ingredients. The background shows bowls and kitchen shelves.
Chef Akifusa Tonai prepares sushi at Omakase, one of the top spots in San Francisco. | Source: Illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard: photo by Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Fish lovers, rejoice. San Francisco is in the midst of an omakase renaissance. Across the city, in every nook of every neighborhood, extraordinarily talented sushi chefs are stationed behind counters, collectively sharpening their carbon steel knives in preparation to slay—in the most exquisite way possible.

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It has not always been like this. With the exception of Sushi Ran—the Marin-based OG of omakase where many local, excellent sushi chefs were trained—only 10 years ago, our pickings were slim. If you wanted great sushi, you got on the I-5 and headed to LA. But, from Michelin-starred The Shota to Ken to the new location of Akiko’s, just the past few years have seen a surge of mesmerizing options.

Omakase, which loosely translates to a diner saying, “I leave it to you,” sounds easygoing—which it might have been in the Edomae period when this chef’s choice style of sushi was considered a form of fast food—but today it has evolved into highly curated prix-fixes. There is not just buttery, umami-rich fish. There are microscopic flowers. There is gold leaf. There is caviar. There is Wagyu beef.

A chef presents a wooden platter with assorted sushi, including a blue bowl with seaweed, a small portion of sliced pink fish, and a white bowl with pickled vegetables.
Chef Akifusa Tonai serves forth some of his elegant tasting menu at Omakase. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Of course, while our current options seem unlimited, our bank accounts are not. An omakase dinner is an investment. It’s a worthy outlay, we’d say, but you’re going to want to know which establishment is the one worth throwing down for. So The Standard did the work on your behalf. Over the past two months, we dined at what we’ve deemed the best of the best.

Perhaps because these places are very special-occasion, tables can be easier to procure than Nopa on a Tuesday, especially if you’re up an early bird special. That is, with a few exceptions: We were forced to omit the highly rated, 16-seater Ju-ni from this list because we couldn’t book a spot despite trying for a month. We also decided not to include the red-hot, 10-person Friends Only, opened by Ray Lee in 2022, because we blew everything on Lee’s sweeping new Akikos space instead (Standard contributor Omar Mamoon also dined at Friends Only back in the fall; you can watch the video here). Chisai Sushi Club, another excellent, and more casual option, is highlighted in another Sushi Week feature that’s actually not about fish.

Our big takeaway after our omakase marathon? In part because they’re often getting fish from the same high-quality distributor, the difference between one superstar restaurant’s nigiri is not all that different from another—they all knocked our socks off. You’d have to be a “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”-level master yourself to note a huge distinction. 

A person uses chopsticks to delicately slice raw tuna on a wooden cutting board. The tuna has a firm, pink texture, and a piece has already been cut.
Like butter: Fatty o-toro, the most flavorful and prized part of Bluefin tuna, being sliced for nigiri at Omakase. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

What separates one from the other is the chef’s personality, the restaurant’s vibe, and the cost of admission. Prices run from $135 a person to as much as $300—even more if you end up getting very tipsy off of sake served in fragile crystal stemware (we will not be naming names here). Luckily, should you want to scrimp a bit, most also serve the much thriftier option of beer. A less spendy lunch is also available at some like Akikos and a “petite omakase” with fewer courses is available weekdays at Kusakabe.  

Our takeaway: It turns out that selecting an omakase restaurant is a very personal choice. Which is why the following restaurants are not ranked; rather listed in order of year opened (newest to oldest). The only thing that we insist upon is that you reserve the chef’s counter, not a table. It guarantees the full sensory experience, some good culinary theater, plus maximum interaction with the person prepping your gizzard shad. So gather your savings. Because life is short and an omakase dinner, if even experienced just once, is a magnificent way to eat. 

The expense account one: Akiko’s

Ray Lee has been at it since 2009 when he transformed his father’s small counter restaurant into SF’s first omakase restaurant. Last year, Lee moved Akiko’s to an opulent space downtown. For an omakase spot it is big but truly beautiful: 4,000 square feet of rare white oak clads nearly every surface of the room, and the theatrical sushi bar is designed more as a center stage. Even without the fish, the design makes the price of entry almost worth it.

Omakase at Akikos in San Francisco
Akikos signature Shokupan, made with milk bread, fatty tuna and caviar, is an eye-catcher. | Source: Courtesy Joseph Weaver

In glass refrigerators with a regulated high humidity, rosy golden eye red snapper, hang primly from their tails like a rack of couture. They watch your every move—including the consumption of their compatriots, now smoked with cherry wood and seared, seasoned only with lemon and salt. A signature, luxurious canape made of toasted milk bread topped with a pale pink mash of fatty tuna, Golden Kaluga caviar and gold leaf is a perfect Instagram grab, but it’s the lobster that’s more memorable. One piece is lightly dusty in potato flour and fried and served with a piquant ramp sauce and another served in silky chawanmushi with a lobster-maitake sauce, snow crab and paper-thin shavings of summer truffle. 

Fishing aging at Akikos in San Francisco.
Glass-doored refrigeration showcases the gorgeous fish at Akikos. | Source: Courtesy Joseph Weaver

But like every one of these omakase spots, it is your attending sushi chef who will make your night. Japanese-born Shinsuke Hayashi warmly chatted with us about his time attending college in Tennessee, where he learned to love good, greasy food—a lovely reminder that despite the rather intimidating surroundings, even omakase chefs are human. —SD

📍Akikos, 430 Folsom St., East Cut
💰 $150 lunch; $250 dinner
New location opened: 2023

The one with the chatty chef: Ken

The vibe is surprisingly casual at this masterclass of a minimalist sushi counter, which has a total of seven seats. It is presided over by Hong Kong native Chi Hang Ngai—aka Chef Ken—a character who might gruffly order diners not to eat a certain freshly seared piece of fish in two bites. “If you do, you will only taste the burned side,” he warned on the night we were there. “And if you don’t like it, don’t complain.”

A chef uses a blowtorch to sear a row of sushi pieces arranged on a wooden tray, each topped with a thin slice of fish.
Ken is not the only restaurant that utilizes a blowtorch to give fish a smoky tinge. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

This all-knowing approach pervades throughout the meal. Before revealing what salty ingredient a dish of ikura-cured roe contained, Chef Ken made guests guess—seemingly for his amusement as much as ours. (It was umeboshi, or fermented plum.) Patrons will learn that golden eye snapper is cured with kombu, or kelp, both to draw out the moisture and let the natural umami notes settle in. Anything fresher than o-toro aged for two weeks might bring out the tuna’s metallic tang. 

An unusual standout was the kamameshi, or “kettle rice,” a dish known as Japanese paella punctuated with eel, burdock root, bamboo shoots and peppercorn. Chef Ken described it as something “he’d just dumped together.” —AK

📍 Ken, 252 Divisadero St., Lower Haight
💰 $225 per person
Opened: 2021

The decadent one: Omakase

Though it’s part of a larger restaurant group that includes the upscale steakhouse Niku and casual Dumpling Time, Omakase retains its status as one of the city’s best. The classic Japanese design and muted colors transport you from SoMa straight to Shibuya, but the menu satisfies the American desire for glamorous excess.

When we dined, the first course of a gooey bluefin tuna handroll wrapped in toasted nori as light as crèpe paper launched our palette directly into the stratosphere. Usually, something this heavy would appear way later in the sequence. A tuna flight was also served, allowing us a fun moment to contrast and compare. 

A chef in a white uniform and tall hat stands confidently with arms crossed in a warmly-lit, minimalist kitchen, with wooden countertops and shelves in the background.
Chef Akifusa Tonai is ready for an evening of service at Omakase in SoMa. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Yes, there were more subtle dishes—including nigiri draped with a delicate slice of wild-caught cherry trout, so named because it’s only available for a brief window before the cherry trees blossom in Hokkaido. But it was the showy A5 wagyu beef nigiri loaded with caviar and topped with a gravity-defying heap of edible gold shavings that did us in. It was almost embarrassingly delicious.

📍Omakase, 665 Townsend St., SoMa
💰 $240 per person
Opened: 2017

The hip-hop one: Robin

The only chef-chiding we received during our omakase journey was at Robin, the lively, hip, untraditional Hayes Valley restaurant that chef Adam Tortosa opened in 2017. Our decision to turn our wooden sushi board over to make for a better photo earned a mild tsk-tsk from a chef, who added, “Well, it’s your food, so …” It felt a bit like causing a rift in international diplomacy. 

A piece of sushi with a slice of raw fish, likely tuna, is placed on a wooden surface, garnished with yellowish seasoning.
Robin toggles between classic preparations, like this luxuriously draped piece of nigiri, and less traditional dishes. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Continuing with its unconventional ways, Robin allows diners to name their own price within a given range ($109 to $209). Coursing is brisk and the top level serves up a somewhat daunting 22 pieces of fish with a few extra treats thrown in, like a couple of satisfying, lightly charred pieces of oily Spanish mackerel.

The rap-heavy soundtrack shouts in the face of convention, as does a potato chip topped with A5 wagyu beef, Asian pear, pickled shallot and Santa Barbara uni. One of the most captivating moments was an impossibly creamy albacore sashimi served with a Southeast Asian flair including green papaya, Thai basil, deep-fried shallots and a buttery almond sauce. 

📍Robin, 620 Gough St., Hayes Valley
💰 $109 to $209 per person
Opened: 2017

The Michelin-starred one: The Shota

Chef-owner Ingi “Shota” Son clearly has a way with stars. He helped Omakase win its Michelin in 2021. It lost it two years later after Shota left to open his own place, which now has garnered a star of its own. Heads up: You will pay for it.

A piece of fish is served in a bowl atop a creamy, herb-speckled yellow sauce, garnished with red, crispy strands and orange fish eggs.
The Shota is the only omakase restaurant in SF that currently has a Michelin star. You will pay for it. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Here, the pace of courses is relaxed, served to a soundtrack that might be described as “The Weather Channel without the weather.” While the room itself is almost entirely white—a holdover from the previous restaurant to occupy the space—almost everything else is bright and beautiful, including the lacquered boxes many of the dishes are served in. Incredibly tender octopus is bathed in a marinade of soy, sugar and sake. A pair of teeny, delicate, very seasonal firefly squid are served artfully arranged in a basket with a single slice of okra as part of an otsumami trio—a sign that it is indeed spring.

Note that The Shota occupies a ground-floor space in the former Standard Oil Building, and across an echoey marble foyer is The Treasury, a lively bar. Book your dinner after happy hour if you want to dine in peace. —AK

📍The Shota, 115 Sansome St., Financial District
💰 $300 per person
Opened: 2019

The one that serves presidents: Kusakabe

One of the original omakase pioneers, this Edomae-style restaurant is more old-school and formal than its peers, which seems to suit the Jackson Square location. The sushi bar has upholstered chairs. Servers wear uniforms and carry trays. Certainly, the restaurant’s esteem is considerable: Chef-owner Mitsunori Kusakabe, a Sushi Ran alum who earned the Marin restaurant a Michelin star during his 10-year residency, has served the likes of President Barack Obama. Not many can say that.

The otsumami—small composed dishes that demonstrate a chef’s mettle—contains some dramatic presentations, like a vertical crab claw. Compared to the city’s more modern options, the scene may come across as a bit dusty, but the food offers plenty to delight, including an unusual soup course with Iwana arctic char and Kabu turnip umami’d up with seaweed and smoky bonito. Flounder is topped with its own pungent liver and, a signature—slightly charred zuke chu-toro marinated in sweet soy—is made from medium fatty tuna. Dessert comes in the form of yuzu and shiso leaf sorbet.

📍Kusakabe, 584 Washington St., Jackson Square
💰 $148 to $263 per person
Opened: 2014

The one for traditionalists: Wako

The image shows a beautifully plated dish of sashimi, including tuna, white fish, and squid, garnished with a yellow dollop, a green paste, a small flower, and decorative vegetables. It is presented on an oval-shaped plate next to a pair of chopsticks on a wooden table.
A simple but elegant sashimi course of pike eel, king mackerel, and Bluefin tuna at Wako. | Source: Sara Deseran/The Standard

Intimate and cozy, with walls of mismatched wood and lovely ikebana-inspired flower arrangments, this understated little spot has been serving up some of the city’s most traditional omakase for 10 years. Though it had its time with Michelin stars, it no longer carries them. We love it anyhow.

Depending on your temperament, it could be a relief to find a distinct absence of the gold leaf and caviar that is used with abandon at the trending spots. Nothing is served with fanfare; it is all presented as a beautiful matter of fact. A first course of complex doll-sized bites, including an addictive little square of housemade sesame tofu topped with a pinprick of fresh wasabi, lets you know you’re in good hands. It’s followed by 17 more courses, including a piece of nigiri topped with slippery, creamy scored squid topped with a burnt vermillion dollop of urchin. Cherry blossom trout—a seasonal item we saw all spring on many menus—coats your mouth in fat. You’ll want to pop a bite of chunky fresh pickled ginger as a counteroffer.

On the night we were there, the entire counter was made up of Japanese patrons, one wearing a Dodgers cap backward, most in tennis shoes. Everyone was chatting and laughing with the two sushi chefs. Which, if you ask us, is what an evening of omakase should be all about. —SD
📍Wako, 211 Clement St., Inner Richmond
💰 $165
Opened: 2014

Astrid Kane can be reached at
Sara Deseran can be reached at