Although the Cherry Blossom Festival is meant to commemorate those pink-and-white gifts of friendship, there's no reason we can't celebrate another of our favorite offerings from Japan. The eateries below not only offer the best sushi in the area, but are also featured on our 100 Best Restaurants list this year. If the sushi and cherry blossoms don't satisfy your Japanese cravings, round out your festivities with our sake guide.
At this high-minded izakaya, the Japanese word for a casual tavern, sushi is the draw, and the quality of the fish is exceptional. A few times a week, the kitchen serves an array of expensive but exquisite delicacies such as sea urchin straight from its spiny shell, fresh scallop, and moist chu-toro. The sushi chefs are learned and skilled—witness the rice in the nigiri, each grain light and distinct. Kushi may not be for everyone—some will blanch at the prices, others will be put off by the trendiness and noise. But beneath the slick exterior beats the heart of a purist.
Read a full review Kushi.
Makoto transports you from a DC street to a Japanese sanctuary. At the bar chefs slice slabs of mackerel or yellowtail—both very good sashimi choices—or turn eggs into an omelet, which makes for a tasty two-bite nigiri. The $60 eight-to-ten-course tasting menu—you also can order sushi à la carte—follows the less-is-more principle, so orange roughy gets just a swipe of miso glaze, deep-fried porgy is garnished only with ginger and bell peppers, and steamed mussels are flavored with a simple rice-wine broth. Read a full review of Makoto.
The kitchen puts out savvy Asian/Latin fusion dishes that hit a few hot-button trends (Kobe hot dog, upscale chicken wings) yet remain interesting and unexpected. The same goes for the sushi rolls, whose names and ingredients—the Snow White has apples, the Fish and Chips has crunchy potato threads—sound as if the chefs are trying too hard. More often than not, the rolls work. Sushi purists will appreciate excellent nigiri and sashimi. Read a full review of Sei.
Sushi-Ko I and II
The emphasis here is less on authenticity and more on creativity—crispy blocks of fried eel are paired with a balsamic reduction, and rock shrimp are rolled with jalapeño, cilantro, and mayo in an unusual maki. Fish flown in from Japan—often on the specials list—shines most. Recently, that included flash-seared salmon belly, me-dai (a smooth white fish), and mejina (sweet black fish). The Chevy Chase spinoff is flashier in design and its sushi slightly better; together the restaurants are a smart pair. Read a full review of Sushi-Ko I and II.
King Lin’s kitchen sends out camera-worthy platters of rolls (among the most inventive in the area), sushi, and sashimi. Fish is flown in almost daily, and some of the best dishes are found on the dry-erase board near the sushi bar. They might include luscious fatty tuna or a whole horse mackerel transformed into tiny bites of nigiri (ask to have the kitchen fry the carcass when you’re finished—it’s a crunchy delicacy). Read a full review of Sushi Sono.
Most striking are the three to five chef-designed kaiseki tasting menus and the often-stellar fish, sourced in part from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. While some cooked dishes, such as creamy shrimp croquettes, are rewarding, focus on the sashimi and nigiri. This is a place to educate your palate; it’s worth getting over the sticker shock—especially on the list of just-flown-in items—to learn the tastes and textures of, for example, uni (custardy and bracingly briny) and fatty tuna (smooth and meaty). Read a full review of Sushi Taro.
The best part of this restaurant is the sushi bar, where young chef Jason Zheng works his craft. His combinations can be clever, particularly his rolls, but Zheng is anchored in tradition—he knows that style must be balanced by substance. Sushi doesn’t get much better than this.
Read a full review of Zentan.