The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Sushi

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Photo by Mai Pham
Konbujime salmon: skin-on salmon belly seared and cured in a Japanese marinade of konbu and soy, topped with rice pearls and red pickled onion at our No. 5 pick.
For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2012 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.

It wasn't too terribly long ago that most Houstonians found sushi to be a terribly exotic and occasionally daunting meal. My first sushi dinner was had at Cafe Japon on Kirby early in high school, with my worldly mother as my guide. It was terrifying and exhilarating, this unique experience of eating fish...raw.

"It's not raw in the way you're thinking," my exasperated mother kept trying to tell me. But I was fascinated by the idea that great hunks had simply been flayed off a live fish, then draped across a ball of (room temperature! not hot!) rice, so she let me run with it. For many years, I went back to Cafe Japon or its neighbor across the street, Miyako, when I wanted to feel the shivers of excitement that came from experimenting with a completely new type of fish or moving up the sushi ladder to pure sashimi, slowly but surely.

Nearly 20 years later, our sushi options have expanded greatly from basic purveyors like Cafe Japon and Miyako. The greatest sushi restaurant Houston has ever seen sits right down the street from these two pioneers, and our choices are only getting better by the day. Los Angeles import Katsuya by Starck offers a slick, chic scene to go with your sushi while mom-and-pop places like Sushi Miyagi in Chinatown provide a homey hole-in-the-wall in which to have a slow-paced, contemplative dinner.

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Photo by Chris Patronella
10. Osaka

It's refreshing when you find a place that's as genuinely comfortable as it is delicious. The menu at this diminutive Japanese joint isn't mind-blowing, but it's consistently refreshing, with delicious salmon, shrimp, eel and tuna offered in creative combinations, all at reasonable prices. You'll find the standbys on the sushi list, plus a bunch of more adventurous rolls that expertly play with textures and flavors. Beyond the food, the zen atmosphere is one-upped only by the amiable servers, who can make suggestions and customize orders. Perhaps best of all, every diner gets at least one small freebie with every meal -- from creative rolls and punchy dumplings or baked mussels and green tea ice cream.

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9. Kaneyama

This well-frequented restaurant in a strip center on Westheimer is known for the freshness of its fish. The chefs create traditional Japanese food with a contemporary flair; there are many special sushi rolls, all beautifully presented. The atmosphere is relaxed yet upscale, and the hostesses are even dressed in traditional kimonos. Private parties can be accommodated in three -- count 'em, three -- tatami rooms.

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Photo by Mai Pham
Tuna and truffle roll with shrimp, avocado, ahi tuna, yuzu tobiko, truffle shoyu and scallions at Soma Sushi.
8. Soma Sushi

A beautifully chic restaurant filled with equally beautiful, chic people, Soma serves up some of the best and most interesting sushi in town. Located along the Washington Avenue corridor, Soma helped make the area "cool" again and inspired an ever-growing number of trendy eatery owners to set up shop there. Sure, you can get your basic California roll or spicy tuna, and it'll be delicious, but why not try something more adventurous? There's New Zealand red snapper, yellow tail belly, sea urchin and flying fish roe, to name just a few. And don't forget the specialty rolls, like the Crazy Irish-Man, with salmon, tuna and avocado topped with spicy mayo, or the Relaxation roll, a mix of crab stick, avocado, fish egg and salmon on top of shrimp and grilled asparagus.

Location Info

Osaka Japanese Restaurant

515 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kaneyama

9527 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Soma Sushi

4820 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ginza Japanese

5868 San Felipe, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Sushi Miyagi Restaurant

10600 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Zushi Japanese Cuisine - CLOSED

5900 Memorial, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kubo's Sushi Bar & Grill

2414 University Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Sushi Jin

14670 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Uchi

904 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

3600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cafe Japon

3915 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Miyako

3910 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Katsuya by Starck - CLOSED

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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35 comments
jeffery.haynes101
jeffery.haynes101

My friend who loves Japanese food wants to be a chef in a Japanese restaurant in the future. He has a sushi maker machine but I told him that he should also be good in basic sushi making.

RSchang
RSchang

Based on your review and the previous rating, my Husband and I visited Sushi Miyagi last night and it was very disappointed.  They served frozen tuna instead of fresh one like many highly rated restaurants.  The tuna was soggy and mushy, like the one you get from a buffet restaurant.  Have you tried their tuna?  The udon we ordered was served with a old and smelly tempura shrimp.  You would think they will have the best tempura shrimp in a true Japanese restaurant.  We had visited and loved many restaurants on your list like Kubo, Uchi and Kata.  Sushi Miyagi was a big disappointment!

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

How was this list actually determined?  What criteria was used?!?

Sarah Miller
Sarah Miller

Kata is by far the best, but I can't believe Sage 400 didn't make the Top 10 - they are better than many on the list.

bigtotoro
bigtotoro

@EatingOurWords Good list. I'd replace Soma with Oishii. Also, gives me a few to try.

donovan
donovan

So any chance there'll be a map of candidates that were considered for this list?

FRL713
FRL713

Where is Teppay?  Its product and execution is far better and more interesting than half the places on this list.  Oh yeah, they don't advertise in the HP. 

Wuwu
Wuwu

Its Uchi #1 and then Kata #2 and then there really is no other reason to go on and on and on...These two places are in leagues of their own, no one even close...Soma is store bought product shameful it gets a mention...As well not to list AKA on the list is a joke...My list is this..

 

1.Uchi, 2. Kata,3.  Raku, 4. Mayagi, 5. AKA,

Nicholas Dion
Nicholas Dion

Uchi and Kata are not in the same league. I'll just pretend that this list was put together by Allison Cook, who unlike Shilcutt, knows nada. Uchi is king.

westumomhtown
westumomhtown

@HoustonPress definitely going to have some yummy California Rolls at all of these restaurants!!!!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @vydakinfo This list was determined by me, just me. The criteria used are ~20 years of eating sushi in Houston, eating out for a living and enjoying the places on the list a whole, whole lot these days.  :)

EatingOurWords
EatingOurWords

@bigtotoro Thanks! It was a tough decision to leave Oishii off.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

 @donovan Just drive down westheimer (seriously), and if you want to venture over to Zushi it's at Memorial and Wescott.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @donovan A map of candidates or a list? I can tell you that favorites of mine like Blue Fish House, Azuma, Teppay, Masa and Nippon didn't make the list -- it's very hard to narrow the selection down to just 10, which is a good problem to have.  :)

LMKN
LMKN

 @FRL713  I went to Teppay about 3 weeks ago and was disappointed. The atmosphere was cute and cozy, but had the smell of old, wet carpet. That smell was a huge turn off. The prices were much higher than places like Kata Robata and Azuma, for less food and so-so presentation. The service was not pleasant or helpful except for the older waitress. The rolls also fell apart.

somasushi
somasushi

 @Wuwu Wuwu with all due respect, in relation to your comment that Soma 'uses store bought product', I must inform you that your assessment is simply not true.  I oversee the operations for all The Azuma Group restaurants. Soma buys most of its products from the same exact suppliers as Kata Robata.  Soma itself won best sushi bar from the Houston press a few years ago. Please go visit our facebook page or our website and tell me what you see looks like store bought product or looks like anything but of the highest degree of quality ingredient wise. There was a time before Kata blew up where Soma was actually leading the way in some of the most modern and progressive cooking, sushi and handcrafted cocktails in this city and received numerous press about such things. We are about the food first and foremost, and always have been. It appears you have had a very poor experience at Soma, I don't know where else that comment could have come from. Soma tends to get a bad rap because we are in the middle of all things Washington, but we had no idea Washington was going to turn into club central as it was for a few years there. We just wanted to open a great restaurant on that side of town. Honestly it really is not even like that anymore. We have a great eclectic mix of guests, that club crowd has long since moved on to the next 'it' thing. So tell you what, send me an email to somasushi@gmail.com and lets set up dinner and drinks for you and a guest on me. I have no doubt after a great meal you will agree that your assessment may have been off. No hard feelings either way, but I give you my word we buy only the finest quality ingredients and it would be a shame for you to believe otherwise.  While I always want everyone to enjoy all our restaurants, I know that may not always be the case, but if integrity of ingredients is the reason why I must respond in kind. Like i said, its about the food first and foremost, that is why we do what we do. I hope to get the opportunity to change your mind and let you see what Soma is really all about these days.

 

Ryan Snyder

 

 

J.A.Justice
J.A.Justice

 @Wuwu Did you just say there was no point in going past #1 and #2 then do just that?  Nice work.

ikoihil
ikoihil

SMH @westumomhtown: "definitely going to have some yummy California Rolls at all of these restaurants!!!!" @houstonpress

bigtotoro
bigtotoro

@EatingOurWords What are your thoughts on Rattan? Not purely sushi but they deliver to our house in 15 mins and our 2 year old loves it.

Donovan
Donovan

 @gossamersixteen  Quite often Westheimer is a bit far for me, especially since I work off of the North Belt. Ms. Shilcutt, whichever one you have, I'll throw it on my maps just so that I can reference it when I'm in an area.  

FRL713
FRL713

 @LMKN Fair criticisms.  If prompt service and sushi rolls are your thing than there are better options in town.  However, for a traditional Japanese sushi experience, Teppay is hard to beat.  I am rarely disappointed with the quality of the nigiri/sashimi.  The pacing of the meal is drawn out by Houston standards (read: slow service), but relaxing at the bar can make for a more enjoyable experience than flagging down the servers.  It certainly can be intimidating for first timers to navigate the menu, and the hired servers are not the best, but the Mom/Pop proprietors can help. 

 

If you are adventurous, I recommend sitting at the bar and letting the Father/daughter chef team guide you.  There are many off the menu items available, especially on Tues/Fri when they receive deliveries from Japan, but you need to ask.  Checking and inquiring about the orders of the many Japanese dining around you is also a good strategy (they have alternate items on the Japanese menu).  There is a reason Teppay is the go-to joint for visiting Japanese.

CarlRosa
CarlRosa

Ryan, I truly do not believe that commenting further nor adding to this issue would make a single difference.  I have received more than 20 emails about this today and every one of them displayed outrage. Houstonians simply do not have a credible grasp of sushi nor Japanese cuisine.  If they follow trends, so be it.  At least it is good for the economy.  :)  The very best we can do is work to ensure that more people become better informed about sushi, enabling them to separate the fluff from the quality.

 

Carl 

CynicalHouston
CynicalHouston

@ikoihil @westumomhtown @HoustonPress Its a parody account ;)

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

 @kshilcutt Uchi is a fabulous restaurant but their sushi isn't.  The portions are small, the fish is unimpressive and the prices are high for what you get.  At my firm, we work with three Japanese conglomerates and they always stress their sadness that Houstonians consider Uchi to be great sushi.  While their dinners and service are great, their sushi isn't.  Kata is leagues ahead of Uchi.  Osaka and Kubo's also provide great sushi for an acceptable price.  But you listed Osaka at the very bottom of the list.  Uchi is nowhere near the same when it comes to sushi.  Maybe you are rating the restaurant itself and not the sushi specifically.  Possible?

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @vydakinfo I'm specifically curious about why you don't think Uchi and Kata are in the same league. As far as I'm concerned, Uchi is one of the strongest restaurants to come along in many years. Thoughts?

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

Specific criteria like value or menu diversity can formulate a foundation and then work from there.  But your list is all over the place.  I am not a serious expert on sushi but I know enough to make a sensible determination.  I am an engineer by trade.  But by judging your final review you did not use a measurable system to evaluate.  Osaka is way at the bottom, Sushi Jin next to Kubos and Uchi near Kata.  Does not add up.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @vydakinfo Out of curiosity: How would you have set up the list, considering so many places do sushi their own unique way these days? Would you have ranked them purely on authenticity? Or on some other metrics?

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

 @kshilcutt Wow.  ok.  Now I know how you formulated such a list.  Now I know how a place like Uchi gets #2 billing and Osaka is all the way at the bottom.  It truly hurts my heart that sushi is judged this way, especially by a food critic. But I can't expect you to understand it without having really experienced it yourself.  My only hope is that not too many people take your rankings too seriously.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @vydakinfo An objective set of criteria is difficult to determine, in my opinion, with such a different spread of sushi restaurants in play. Kata Robata and Uchi, for example, serve such different sushi and with such different goals in mind than, say, Sushi Miyagi or Kaneyama. Same goes for Zushi and Soma -- they're completely different places than Osaka or Ginza.

 

In the end, I tried to just take the restaurants as a whole and answer one question: How much do I like the food? If the answer was "more than some of my own family members," the restaurant went to the top of the heap.

EatingOurWords
EatingOurWords

@bigtotoro I've never been, but my friends that eat there regularly love the place.

CarlRosa
CarlRosa

 @vydakinfo Furious?  Not even close.  We have more important things to do.  Just let it go.  If people want to pretend they understand sushi, that's fine.  They don't.  I'll continue to work with people who actually understand it and who what they are talking about.  Consider this issue a dead one.  Over and out.  :)

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

Gotta say, Mr. Carl, I was expecting you to be furious but perhaps you are right.  Not much can be done about the list anyway.

ikoihil
ikoihil

I know... SMH because some ridiculous person really is thinking that. Im surprised that Sasaki wasn't listed @CynicalHouston @westumomhtown

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