3 Can’t-Miss Japanese Restaurants That Serve More than Sushi

Fried-chicken kara-age at Himitsu, the sashimi assortment at Nasime, and a smoked oyster with shiso foam at Kōbō.

1. Himitsu

828 Upshur St., NW; no phone

What do two American twentysomethings know about opening a Japanese restaurant? Plenty, in the case of chef Kevin Tien and bartender Carlie Steiner. Both started cooking around age 12 and have trained under respected talents—he most recently at Pineapple and Pearls, she at Barmini. Their no-reservations Petworth restaurant is intimate but not precious, with a concise yet ambitious menu. Tables can accommodate only four—and you’re nearly guaranteed a wait—but it’s worth sacrificing time to sample widely from the playful, nouveau-Japanese fare. The ubiquitous shishito-pepper snack is reinvigorated by a Mexican elote treatment (with crema, crumbly cheese, togarashi, and cilantro). A small assortment of jewel-like nigiri and rolls contains delightful surprises—we ordered seconds of silky eggplant sushi brushed in miso-tamari. Another must: a Peking-duck-style platter in which buttermilk biscuits are stand-ins for pancakes. Steiner’s cocktails are just as winning as everything else. Moderate.

2. Nasime

1209 King St., Alexandria; 703-548-1848

The chilly white-walled shoebox of a space has all the charm of a T-Mobile store, and one night’s dinner included a chef sloshing soup all over the floor, among other service hiccups. But these stumbles fade fast when you realize what a stunning value chef/owner Yuh Shimomura is offering—$48 for five impressively crafted courses. Menus change by the day, but the Kaz Sushi Bistro alum generally includes an appetizer, a sashimi assortment, a meat or fish, noodle soup, and dessert. When we visited, nearly every course was a hit—from kara-age fried barramundi wrapped around spears of grilled asparagus to an artful arrangement of raw bluefin tuna and sea bream (among other slices of sashimi) to a wonderfully comforting udon noodle soup with chicken and broccoli rabe. For dessert, there was house-made strawberry ice cream that had the texture of a vigorously aerated pudding. For all its quirks, Nasime is the kind of ambitious value spot Washington could use more of. Moderate.

3. KŌbŌ

5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-961-1644

Some chefs’ menus read like autobiographies, reflecting a Southern upbringing in one dish, a favorite Greek island in the next. At brothers Piter and Handry Tjan’s eight-seat bar in the bustling Friendship Heights restaurant Sushiko, the kappomenus come across more like poetry chapbooks. They’re spare and focused, containing dishes so exquisitely tuned that you might experience sensations, like the scent of wood smoke or the sting of wasabi, as if for the first time. Monday through Wednesday, the lineup of small plates and sushi is vegan ($130). The rest of the week, you’ll find a $160 parade that includes luxuries such as prized A5 Wagyu beef with shavings of winter truffles and fresh wasabi, or foie gras nigiri sprinkled with kombu. It’s a feat, though, that the dish we can’t wait to come back for is far less flashy: a crystal-cut bowl holding the silkiest tofu we’ve ever tasted, laden with sea urchin and pooled with a sauce of soy and mirin. Very expensive.

This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

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 Petworth.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.