In a town where any big decision risks alienating half the population, you might think choosing Washington’s best sushi restaurant would be hard. Not so: The undisputed winner is Sushi Taro, the Dupont Circle hideaway where raw fish and vinegared rice is elevated to an almost sacramental experience.
The surprise is that the restaurant, now in its 27th year, wouldn’t even have figured into the conversation about the area’s best until four years ago, when it undertook a gutsy and radical makeover. Weeks before Christmas 2008, chef/owner Nobu Yamazaki announced he was shuttering the place to upgrade the dining room and menu. In light of the economic downturn, the decision to transform Taro from a bustling neighborhood sushi joint into a serene—and expensive—getaway seemed foolhardy. Many customers rebelled.
But today Yamazaki appears visionary. Taro is a destination, and the surge of interest in authentic Japanese cuisine in Washington can be traced to the values he’s committed to: aggressive sourcing (Yamazaki has a daily order with Japan’s Tsukiji market), keen attention to detail, fastidious adherence to traditional values (no restaurant cares more about its rice-making), and a desire to nudge diners toward the arcane. You’re likelier to encounter a plate of beef tongue in miso than a spicy tuna roll.
The demise of the old Taro was no small loss for its neighbors. But for a city with an insatiable appetite for sushi and few places to exult in it, the reborn Taro has been a monumental gain.
This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.