100 Best Restaurants 2010: Kotobuki

No. 59: Kotobuki

Cuisine: You’d have an easier time turning up a moderate Republican on the Hill than finding sushi that’s this fresh and this cheap. Equally uncommon is the rest of chef Hisao Abe’s menu, a roster of largely unfamiliar but traditional Japanese dishes—from the rice casseroles called kamameshi to oshizushi, a pressed-sushi preparation deriving from Osaka—that distinguish it from the conventionally minded raw-fish houses.

Mood: There’s barely space to breathe in this small second-floor dining room containing a sushi bar, a handful of tables, and nearly always a line out the door. Above the hum of the Beatles-only soundtrack, servers encourage diners—a mix of couples and families—to eat and run.

Best for: A first date; a good on-the-go dinner for up to four—the wait will lengthen if tables have to be put together.

Best dishes: Silky monkfish-liver pâté, known as ankimo—the foie gras of the sea; oshizushi, square blocks of saltier-than-normal rice pressed tightly and topped with thin slices of fish; eel kamameshi, a hot pot with charred rice, raw fish, and vegetables preceded by a parade of mezze-type appetizers; a smooth slab of fatty or white tuna atop a small bed of rice; green-tea mochi, a pouch of Japanese ice cream encased in a rice wrapper.

Insider tips: Check out the specials posted on the wall—fresh fish comes in daily (look for the uni) and is the only time Abe strays from his otherwise unchanging menu.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Inexpensive.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants 

Ann Limpert
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.