703 Edgewood St., NE
Sushi Taro alums Zach Ramos and Amy Phan specialize in jewel-box-like chirashi bowls at their takeout-only pop-up in the food incubator Mess Hall. These treasure chests of rice and raw seafood, almost too pretty to eat, are packed with premium specialties like uni, fatty tuna, and Hawaiian black-footed limpets. The duo also prepare “homakase” sushi feasts, which they’ll set up at private homes. We’re eagerly awaiting their chirashi cafe and omakase counter, Two Nine, coming to Georgetown this year. Moderate to very expensive.
Bantam King, Daikaya, Haikan, and Hatoba
501 G St., NW; 705 Sixth St., NW; 805 V St., NW; 300 Tingey St., SE
Daisuke Utagawa and chef Katsuya Fukushima’s quartet of ramen shops are some of the best places to slurp in DC, whether you’re tucking into classic Sapporo-style broths at Daikaya and Haikan, chicken ramen and crispy birds at Bantam King, or Asian pub fare and happy hour deals at Hatoba. Springy Hokkaido-made noodles and soulful stocks are key throughout. We also love hiding away in Daikaya’s slinky upstairs izakaya for Japanese whiskeys and playful plates such as Wagyu donburi or okonomiyaki-style pork. Inexpensive to moderate.
724 Ninth St., NW
At this Spanish/Japanese restaurant/sake lounge in Penn Quarter, visuals are as vital as flavor and the platings museum-worthy. Chef Pepe Moncayo’s fusion hits include a curl of octopus with edamame hummus; crispy patatas bravas; shrimp tempura with lime aïoli; and rosy slices of Wagyu beef with soy demi-glace. Share tapas and larger à la carte options, opt for a ten-course omakase menu, or grab a lunchtime bento box. The best seats in the house are in the raised dining area overlooking the kitchen or in the front room with soaring windows. Expensive.
1117 V St., NW
The oh-so-simple but fabulous mix of mushrooms with butter and garlic—cited by the New York Times as one of the best dishes of 2022, nationwide—speaks to the less-is-more culinary magic that happens at this two-story Japanese restaurant run by father-daughter duo Hiroshi and Cizuka Seki. You’ll also taste it in a fluffy omelet studded with unagi; a perfectly grilled Hokkaido sardine; a tempura of whiting and shrimp with bright wasabi salt; and a pristine array of sashimi. Moderate.
845 Upshur St., NW
Chef Eric Yoo left a financial-consulting career to pursue his obsession with ramen. His devotion is evident in every ingredient he serves, whether the tare that seasons the broth or the housemade noodles with just the right bite. The tiny Petworth spot’s short menu spans a delicate truffle shoyu broth to a rich and spicy “tantan” soup enhanced with sesame paste. It’s worth a special visit for Tuesday lunch, when Yoo focuses on a single bowl that’s not otherwise available. Inexpensive.
1209 King St., Alexandria
One of the most inspired—and inspiring—dining experiences around unfolds in this sliver of an Old Town storefront, where chef/owner Yuh Shimomura conjures up a single seven-course menu in the open kitchen. Recent highlights were barely cooked slices of Japanese short rib with truffled soy sauce; glistening bonito and sea-bream sashimi; and a melty egg custard with Chesapeake oysters and ginkgo nuts. Sakes and Japanese highballs pair well with the briny, earthy flavors. Expensive.
1900 Q St., NW
Stellar, affordable sushi is a rarity—which is why we’re regulars at this Dupont izakaya. Graze on shu mai in chunky chili oil or Korean-style steak wraps before digging into a kaleidoscope of creative rolls (including superb vegetarian futomaki), sushi, and sashimi. Some of the best deals are at lunch and brunch, where generous bentos of chirashi, soups, tempura, barbecue eel, and more go for less than $25. Inexpensive.
Shibuya and Shabu Plus
2321 18th St., NW
We could spend an entire evening at Darren Norris’s three-story Japanese complex in Adams Morgan. Shibuya dishes up izakaya snacks (get the Japanese fried chicken), creative ramen bowls (we love the shaved-Wagyu “Philly” version), grilled skewers, and sushi, from the roomy patio to the top-floor cocktail lounge. A serene middle dining room, Shabu Plus, is our favorite experience for elegant Japanese hot pot, where long-simmered broths, dipping sauces, and noodles are made in-house. Expensive.
1100 15th St., NW
This eye-catching Japanese hot spot marks the DC debut of London restaurateur Arjun Waney, also behind the modern-izakaya phenom Zuma, which has several locations around the globe. Shoto’s fusiony menu can feel as intimidatingly giant as the chandelier-like volcanic-rock installation hovering over the dining room. Yet we prefer to skip the set omakase tasting and choose for ourselves, dabbling in fancy one-bite tacos filled with grilled A5 Wagyu, sea-bass sashimi with yuzu, and plenty from the robata section of grilled delights such as shiitakes in wafu butter or beef tenderloin with sweet soy. Expensive.
1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
There have been some shifts at this omakase room. Its home—the former Trump International hotel—is now the Waldorf Astoria. An expansion to LA is in the works. And longtime chef Masaaki “Uchi” Uchino has departed. What hasn’t changed: a stunning lineup (21 pieces of sushi in all) of top-quality Japanese fatty tuna, sea urchin, prawn, and more shaped over perfectly seasoned rice and handed to you from across the counter. (Ignore the dining room—the bar is where you want to sit.) Spring for the A5 Wagyu add-on and a glass of ultra-smooth junmai ginjo sake. Very expensive.
1503 17th St., NW
Where else do you get your own dedicated chef for the evening? The back-room omakase counter at this Japanese mainstay in Dupont seats just two parties a night—each with their own personal sushi master. A parade of warm dishes highlights rare and hyper-seasonal ingredients; think sun-dried sea-cucumber egg over a hairy-crab dumpling, or tempura shirako (cod milt). But the real wow moment is the display of wooden boxes filled with a stunning array of fish and seafood. Pick whatever you want—four types of uni? sure!—and watch your chef expertly turn it into sushi and sashimi. Very expensive.
Executive Food Editor/Critic
Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.
Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.
Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.