The best Japanese restaurants in Toronto right now
Our favourite places for sushi, ramen and sake
Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto
Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, East Entrance, 6 Garamond Crt., 416-444-7100, kaiseki.ca
At this Don Mills restaurant, the wife of chef Masaki Hashimoto meets you at the entrance and escorts you to one of a handful of private, screened rooms. Japanese chanting and drum music plays. Servers bow as they enter and exit. The idea is to transport you to Kyoto, where Masaki trained in kaiseki. On one visit, he had flown in fresh uni from Hokkaido, salt-cured it and shaved thin slivers on an appetizer of rice. He formed jellies out of seaweed and baked a persimmon stuffed with miso, pine nuts and more persimmon. At the end of dinner, a kimono-clad server ushers you into another tatami-matted room for a truncated version of a tea ceremony. For a moment, you can almost forget you’re only feet from the DVP.
860 The Queensway, 416-252-2166, sushikaji.com
The best of the 30 seats at this jewel, hidden in a Queensway strip mall, face the open sushi prep area, where chef Mitsuhiro Kaji—the closest thing Toronto has to Tokyo’s Jiro Ono—surgically slices through glistening slabs of fish flown in that morning from Japan. On one visit, Kaji’s omakase includes nori-wrapped rolls of rice and fluke, lightly deep-fried and set in a house-made soy sauce; a warm block of custard-like sesame tofu; sashimi dusted with yuzu zest and fanned out with a shiso leaf; and steamed turnip with a briny dollop of Boston uni and a hash of lightly breaded, deep-fried scallops. The night ends in a procession of sushi, handed across the counter at the exact moment it should be eaten.
105–10 Bay St., 647-347-7347, mikutoronto.com
From the moment it debuted, Miku’s 180-seat dining room has been overrun—an advantage of being in the heart of the new office district south of the Gardiner. The kaiseki menu consists of cleverly combined exotica. One night, the kaiseki’s star course is a tiered plate of sushi: ocean trout with jalapeño and pink grapefruit, toro with funky black truffle, golden-eye snapper with kumquat compote, and shima-aji (mackerel) with okra and a dashi jelly—it was one of the most exciting things to happen to fish since Nemo reunited with his dad.
81 Harbord St., 416-477-2361, yasu-sushibar.com
Chef Yasuhisa Ouchi tracks down the freshest seafood, fusses over the consistency and temperature of his rice and hosts only two seatings a night (three on weekends) in his narrow, gleaming-white room. He presents each nigiri on an individual cut-glass tray, the morsels as glossy and ornately composed as an art nouveau brooch, and he takes you on a world tour: Sri Lankan tuna, Japanese striped jack, Greek sea bream, Scottish ocean trout, British Columbian uni. The night ends with a traditional slice of flan-like tamago and green tea panna cotta.
291 Davis Dr., Newmarket, 905-898-6868, solosushiya.com
For the sweetest raw shrimp and creamiest yellowtail, sushi enthusiasts know to head to a little Newmarket strip mall. Chef Jyo Gao’s six-course omakase is a marquee item, and absurdly good value at $70. He shows off his skills with sharp spears of fresh tuna, thick fillets of rich mackerel braised in a homemade soy-chili sauce, and chawanmushi, a silky egg and mushroom custard. He’s just as skilled with meat, as in a dish of thinly sliced, sweet roast beef bundled around green onions and chunks of salty pork belly.
2 Lakeview Ave., no phone, @hanmoto
Leemo Han’s secretive Dundas West izakaya bears the junk-shop look he and brother Leeto established at snack-food spot Oddseoul. As at the best izakayas, the chef maintains a healthy disregard for dieters. Prime example: a sandwich of roasted, super-fatty pork belly, coated in soy remoulade, barely contained by a coco bun. Dyno Wings are stuffed with spicy pork and rice, deep-fried and served in a takeout box. Even more impressive are a tartare of fantastically fresh hamachi and the nasudengaku—Japanese eggplant charred until creamy, the length of it covered in finely shredded deep-fried beets.
1330 Dundas St. W., 416-706-4225, imanishi.ca
One of the city’s best izakayas is run by a former Guu and Kingyo cook. It began as an occasional pop-up and now has a permanent home in a former Portuguese sports bar. The standout dishes include sticky wings coated with toasted sesame seeds, fritters made of whole corn kernels, barely seared beef tataki, and a meaty squid tentacle grilled and slathered in soy sauce and butter, served with kewpie mayo. Though there’s Sapporo by the litre, the atmosphere is chill. Maybe it’s the Japanese soul records; maybe it’s the serious eating.
115 Yorkville Ave., 647-348-7000, kasamoto.ca
Among the scores of swanky establishments in Yorkville, few are as ambitious as Kasa Moto. Owned and operated by the Chase Hospitality Group, it’s no surprise that the sprawling space outfitted with marble and koi pond murals is a looker. The menu’s most recent revamp, from Chase chef Tyler Shedden, continues to showcase ornate and well-executed maki rolls, and ocean-fresh sashimi and nigiri so good that it’s easy to forgive the elevator music being played on repeat. Excellent cocktails, like the Origami in Flight, made with bourbon, kumquat cordial, green Chartreuse and lemon, keep the party going long after the last California roll has been served.
51B Winchester St., 647-748-2121, kingyotoronto.ca
Kingyo is surprisingly sophisticated for a restaurant with light-blasting pachinko machines on the wall and Doraemon cartoons behind the bar. Watermelon kimchee, spicy and barely sweet, is as fun and surprising—and beer friendly—as the whole place. Deep-fried brussels sprouts with smoky bacon slices are rich with umami; and soft tofu cubes come topped with an almond-packed chili sauce. Slices of hamachi carpaccio seem at odds with their spring greens pairing and benefit mostly from the accompanying avocado and crispy lotus root. And who needs a bowl of black sesame ice cream when frozen grapes on a stick are delivered with the bill?
1201 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-748-7288, shunoko.com
The former Sushi Nomi has a new name (and larger digs) but its emphasis on high-quality fish and friendly service hasn’t changed. The sunomono salad is vibrant with sweet vinegar, and derives texture from bouncy octopus, soft crab, rice noodles and cucumber. Lacy tempura batter on the karaage emphasizes the chicken’s delicate flavour. Quality tempura also plays a role in many of the maki: shrimp with eel, soft-shell crab with asparagus, yam with shiitake. Nigiri could bring expertly sliced sea bream singed with a blowtorch and finished with pink sea salt, amberjack topped with a dollop of sauce conveniently made from its own liver, or seasonal fish flown in all the way from Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Market.
379 Harbord St., no phone, skippa.ca
Chef Ian Robinson is turning out some of the most exciting Japanese food Toronto has seen in years. Creative, immaculate sushi may include ocean trout crowned with a dollop of tomato confit, or New Zealand sea bream heightened by a slick of olive oil and a few sharp shards of preserved lemon. A subtle balance of sweet mirin and umami-rich dashi inform the ethereal pyramids of soft egg in a masterful tamago. Meaty black maitake mushrooms achieve a deep, satisfying flavor thanks to house-made caramelized miso sauce. Thoughtfully composed sake and shochu menus encourage exploring. 379 Harbord St., no phone
3328 Yonge St., 416-488-9400, shoushin.ca
Chef Jackie Lin offers four omakase menus (the most expensive of which includes caviar, bluefin tuna and Wagyu) that change almost daily. The meal unfolds slowly: first, duck in a dashi broth alongside fried tofu and tender grilled leek. Next, a flawless sashimi plate: sea bream, tuna, spot prawn and octopus. Tuna hand rolls and slices of sweet omelette segue into a dessert trio of black sesame pudding; a soft, deep halvah; and a complex green tea mousse. Servers graciously walk diners through the affordable, carefully crafted sake list.
7634 Woodbine Ave., Markham, 905-604-7211, zenjapaneserestaurant.com
The offerings at Markham’s Zen are resolutely minimal. To start, bite-size hunks of broiled beef tongue come on a skewer. There’s no dipping sauce or topping other than a pinch of salt, but the meat has a natural mineral flavour. For a main dish, a daily changing plate of sashimi might include meticulously cut, lean pieces of octopus, meaty tuna, buttery salmon and, the highlight, a beautifully briny raw scallop.