Feedback

The 9 Best Japanese Restaurants in Chicago

From takoyaki to miso-graham cracker crumble, these restaurants are redefining Japanese cuisine in the Windy City.
Share

Japanese culture has a long history with Chicago, dating back to the 1940s when thousands of Japanese-American citizens arrived in the Windy City from the West Coast, leaving behind dense community enclaves including Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and Japantown in San Francisco.

Today, Chicago sees a large presence of Japanese restaurants, expressly dedicated to preserving and forwarding the cuisine at a global standard.

Our inspectors deemed these nine restaurants in Chicago exceptional, earning them a spot on your radar.

Scallops wrapped in salmon, lightly seared and topped with citrus glaze at Kai Zan. (Photo by Geoff Martin.)
Scallops wrapped in salmon, lightly seared and topped with citrus glaze at Kai Zan. (Photo by Geoff Martin.)
Advertisement

Kai Zan

Humboldt Park

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: “Despite doubling its space a few years ago, Kai Zan is still the kind of place that needs a reservation well in advance. Located on an otherwise solitary stretch of Humboldt Park, the space is particularly charming and makes you feel like you are stepping into a cozy neighborhood izakaya tucked away in a remote Japanese fishing hamlet. Savvy diners book a seat at the marble sushi counter to watch chefs and twin brothers Melvin and Carlo Vizconde perform their magic up close. The brothers turn out sophisticated, creative dishes that are decked with myriad sauces, flavors and textures. Non-traditional sushi, nigiri, yakitori, as well as classic bar bites like takoyaki and karaage are all crafted with precise details and impeccable ingredients.”

High Five Ramen

West Loop

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “This repurposed industrial setting is a hipster dining hall serving two hot foodie trends under one roof. The bulk of the sprawling space is devoted to Green Street Smoked Meats, a barbecue joint where crowds of cool kids sit side-by-side downing beers and heaps of pulled pork, brisket and Frito pie. More worthy of attention, however, is High Five Ramen, a downstairs nook where the queue for one of its 16 seats starts early. Once inside, slurp a bowl of the signature, crazy-spicy broth. Loaded with thin alkaline noodles, a slow-cooked egg, roasted pork belly, locally grown sprouts and black garlic oil, this unique rendition is worth the burn. For sweet, icy relief, sip on a slushy tiki cocktail—then wipe your brow and dig back in.”

Izakaya Mita

Bucktown

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “This Bucktown addition is a family-run tavern worth seeking out for its homespun take on izakaya eats and gracious hospitality. Start with single-serve sake in a jar so cute you'll want to smuggle it home, or a cocktail inspired by Japanese literature (the Norwegian Wood, a delicious interpretation of the Haruki Murakami novel blends whiskey, Luxardo, sweet vermouth and orange bitters). The array of small plates brims with creativity and flavor: tsukune are coarse-ground, delightfully chewy, and achieve a mouthwateringly charred exterior from having been grilled over bincho-tan; while takoyaki are as delicious as any found on a Tokyo street cart. Korroke, a panko-crusted potato croquette, comes with tonkatsu sauce for delicious dunking.”

At Arami in West Town, our inspectors dig the comfortable sushi bar with impressively rendered small plates. (Photo courtesy of Arami.)
At Arami in West Town, our inspectors dig the comfortable sushi bar with impressively rendered small plates. (Photo courtesy of Arami.)

Arami

West Town

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: “Come to this bamboo-clad izakaya, with its comfortable sushi bar and soaring skylights, for impressively rendered small plates and specialty cocktails featuring Japanese spirits. The night’s tsukemono can reveal spicy okra, crisp hearts of palm and sweet burdock root. The nigiri selection might showcase New Zealand King salmon topped with pickled wasabi root. The robata produces grilled maitakes with Japanese sea salt and black garlic purée; and gani korroke, a crunchy-creamy crab croquette, is plated with togarashi-spiked mayonnaise. Don't turn down the all-ice cream dessert menu, which includes enticing flavors like coconut-cinnamon-banana. It comes nestled in granola-like bits of miso-graham cracker crumble for a finish as sweet as it is unique.”

Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar

River North

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “The slogan of this big, bustling restaurant is “Uniting Japanese culinary tradition with a distinctly American persona,” which roughly translates to “Japanese food with a party hat on.” The cocktails are good, the noise levels are high, and there are more tattoos in this room than at a Yakuza convention. The menu will take forever to read so just go directly to their two specialties—the assorted sushi rolls, some of which use black rice and meats and fish expertly cooked over an open flame on the seriously hot robata. The ingredients are good and the flavor combinations don't get silly. Just remember that sharing is the key to keeping that final check in check, especially as the T-shirted staff with iPads, are masters of upselling.”

Juno

Lincoln Park

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “Raw fish with a side of creativity differentiates Juno from the rest of this city’s sushi brethren. Inside, a rather plain and dimly lit bar up front gives way to the more contemporary, bright and airy dining room, which is a huge hit among locals looking to get all dressed-up for a night out. The menu offers cool bites like the Juno queen, a special nigiri of salmon topped with scallop and potato crunch; and hot treats like honey-glazed quail. Chef B.K. Park's omakase must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Try cleverly spun morsels like gently torched prawn with pineapple salsa, pickled garlic oil-drizzled New Zealand King salmon, soy-marinated sea eel dabbed with ground sesame seeds and spicy octopus temaki—it's a feast well worth the extra effort.”

Wagyu beef tongue sashimi at Momotaro. (Photo by Galdones Photography.)
Wagyu beef tongue sashimi at Momotaro. (Photo by Galdones Photography.)
Advertisement

Momotaro

West Loop

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “Boka Restaurant Group’s stunning West Loop canteen embraces a fantastical view of Japanese dining. An impressive selection of imported whiskies is listed on a retro-style departure board; a private dining room upstairs is styled to resemble a mid-century corporate boardroom; and a traditional izakaya beckons diners downstairs. Consistently packed, the impeccably designed space boasts numerous kitchens churning out a wide range of dishes. Creative bites abound in the chef's omakase featuring torched baby squid wrapped in nori. Then a Hawaiian seaweed salad with diced nopales may be followed by robata-grilled Wagyu skirt steak with foie gras, shisito pepper and yuzu kosho. The steamed yuzu pudding cake is just one example of the surprisingly strong dessert roster.”

Slurping Turtle

River North

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “Both turtles and noodles symbolize longevity, so a meal here should add a few years to your life (and warmth to your belly). Inside, diners sit elbow-to-elbow at sleek communal tables, but there are also a handful of booths along one wall as well as a glass mezzanine with a view of the dining room below. Boutique beverages like Hitachino Nest beer and Ramuné bubble-gum soda bring smiles to patrons in the know. The menu of Japanese comfort food is compact, featuring a few ramen bowls, sashimi, maki, as well as hot and cold small plates for snacking and sharing. Then bao filled with smoky-glazed pork belly and pickled veggies arrive fluffy and piping hot, while deep-fried Brussels sprouts are crispy outside, tender inside and finished with fried shallots.”

Sushi Dokku

West Loop

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: “Creatively adorned nigiri is the featured attraction at this hip sushi-ya that’s all wood planks, stainless steel, chunky tables and hefty benches. Just one piece of Sushi Dokku's supple cuts showcasing quality and technique is not enough—thankfully each nigiri order is served as pairs. Among the terrific selection, enjoy the likes of hamachi sporting a spicy mix of shredded Napa cabbage, daikon, and red chili; or salmon dressed with a sweet ginger-soy sauce and fried ginger chips. South Pacific sea bream is deliciously embellished with a drizzle of smoky tomato and black sea salt. Those who wish to branch out from sushi should go for takoyaki (crispy fried octopus croquettes), grilled hamachi collar or a brownie-crusted green tea-cheesecake.”

Hero image courtesy of Geoff Martin.

Share on:
Subscribe to the Michelin Guide Newsletter
Stay on top of best Restaurants, Lifestyle, Events recommended in your city.