Raw fish and vinegar-rich rice — two simple ingredients that revolutionized the worldwide food industry. Nowadays, it’s a bit more complex than just a means of preserving fish in fermented rice. It’s become a fine art form in which master itamaes (sushi chefs) spend decades perfecting the craft of sushi-making.
You’ll see them at a number of sushi bars that dot the city’s landscape. But with so many fish-focused eateries, which ones are a cut above the rest?
Here are Miami’s ten best sushi-centric joints offering out-of-this-world omakase (chef’s choice) menus, wildly creative sushi rolls, plump hand rolls, and freshly sliced sashimi for every kind of palate and budget, all available without a passport.
1. Naoe. Kevin Cory is your host and sushi chef at this intimate restaurant that's named on Forbes Travel Guide's "Five-Star" list. This reservation-only spot serves omakase dinners using fish flown in overnight from Japan. The chef's-choice menu ($220 per person plus 20 percent service charge and sales tax) takes two to three hours to savor, and people allergic to mushrooms, eggs, seaweed, fish, shellfish, rice, raw foods, vinegar, smoked foods, alcohol, salt, sugar, legumes, nuts, seeds, or gluten cannot be accommodated. That being said, relax and enjoy the ride. Everything — from the sake to the wasabi — is made with meticulous care. Reservations are required, and children under 12 are not permitted. 661 Brickell Key Dr., Miami; 305-947-6263; naoemiami.com.
2. Makoto. An ultrachic vibe and A-list clientele may yield comparisons to Nobu, Katsuya, Naoe, and other swank spots in Miami, but Makoto sets the gold standard for sushi. Led by Iron Chef alum Makoto Okuwa, Stephen Starr’s Bal Harbour restaurant is faultless in its preparation and presentation of immaculate cuts of sushi and innovative interpretations of the chef's native cuisine. Bites not to be missed are live scallops ($18), Japanese fatty tuna ($18), sweet shrimp ($14), and cured Japanese mackerel ($10). Maki roll highlights include soft-shell crab tempura ($15), with tobiko, avocado, scallion, and asparagus, and the Vegan Stephen ($10), packed with tempura zucchini, avocado, roasted red pepper, eggplant, and kanpyo squash. Regardless of your choice, the sushi and sashimi come vibrant and fresh — a stark contrast to the dark hues of the decor. 9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-864-8600; makoto-restaurant.com.
3. Zuma. An izakaya that serves much more than sushi in the form of edible art, Zuma offers a flavorful fine-dining experience with robata-grilled plates and full-bodied lobster and steak dishes. Dining at the Epic Hotel’s ground-floor eatery can leave a big hole in your wallet, so make the most of your visit by going for weekend brunch. Ninety-five bucks (or more depending upon which buffet option you choose) gets you downtown’s freshest sashimi and sushi. Delight in rolls containing Alaskan king crab, spicy tuna, freshwater eel, and yellowtail, to name a few. Other Asian-inspired dishes and delectable desserts are can’t-misses as well, but the main event is sushi. So keep your eyes on the prize. 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami; 305-577-0277; zumarestaurant.com.
4. Nobu Miami at Nobu Eden Roc Hotel. Despite the sprawling space, Nobu Matsuhisa's restaurant is surprisingly intimate. Grab a seat at the sushi bar, where one of more than a half-dozen itamae will walk you through an expansive list of expertly curated nigiri that ranges from Santa Barbara sea urchin ($10.50) to A5 Wagyu beef ($18). Better yet, let the chef choose your dinner with the Nobu special ($95) or a full-blown omakase experience ($150 and up). 4525 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-695-3232; noburestaurants.com/miami.
5. Myumi at 1-800-Lucky. Fancier sushi bars exist in the Magic City, but few have the same heart as this experience. Myumi opened in the wildly popular Wynwood food hall 1-800-Lucky with a more accessible menu that fares as well as the eatery's original omakase concept. Here, enjoy a rotating lineup of hand rolls. The selections change daily based on the availability of fish, but offerings start at $6 for spicy tuna and can soar to $18 for toro, the fatty belly meat of bluefin tuna. 143 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-768-9826; 1-800-lucky.com.
6. Hiden. Step to the back of Wynwood's Taco Stand to find a hidden copper door. Enter a secret code on a silver keyboard to access sushi chef Tadashi Shiraishi's Hiden. A $130 reservation will get you 16 courses of fish flown overnight from Japan. Reservations can be made only through Tock, an upscale version of OpenTable. A few hours before arrival, diners receive entry codes, directions, and instructions that the restaurant is "hidden." Half the fun is trying to find the place — until you taste the first heavenly morsel and you're transported to nirvana. 313 NW 25th St., Miami; hidenmiami.com.
7. Itame at St. Roch Market. This stand inside the Design District's upscale food hall serves owner Fernando Chang's spin on Japanese-Peruvian food. Choose from nigiri and sashimi items jazzed up with surprising ingredients such as guava and ají amarillo. The result is a bright take on sushi in colors of the rainbow ($9 to $15). 140 NE 39th St., Miami; 786-542-8977; miami.strochmarket.com.
8. Yakko-San. The days of Hiro’s Yakko-San’s original, unassuming 65-seater on West Dixie Highway are long gone, but since opening its much larger, more refined location on 163rd Street, it’s become a go-to spot for late-night dining in North Miami Beach. Chef Hiroshi Shigetomi translates the same creativity and deliciousness to an upgraded menu, which also includes a full liquor list and sushi component. The crispy bok choy ($6.50), which is deep-fried and served with garlic-soy dressing, is a must-eat appetizer. If you don’t know whether to try the hamachi tataki jalapeño roll ($11.50), made with eel, avocado, cucumber, and tempura flakes, or the rainbow roll ($12), a trifecta of tuna, salmon and shrimp, get both and take your time. After all, Yakko-San doesn't close till 3 a.m. 3881 NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach; 305-947-0064; yakko-san.com.
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9. Doraku. Dim lighting, hanging lanterns, and wooden seating let you know you’re at a classic Japanese teahouse where quality sushi and sake reign supreme. The best advice: Go during happy hour. And if you miss it, you’re in luck, because the always-buzzing Lincoln Road outpost has two happy hours — one for lunch, which runs from noon to 3 p.m., and another for dinner, from 5 to 7 p.m. — every single day. But the latter is where it’s at. Start with wok-seared edamame for $3; then work up an appetite and order the crunchy crab roll ($4) and tuna tataki ($6). Of course, happy hour wouldn’t be complete without booze, so wash it all down with a lychee martini for only $6. 1104 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-695-8383; dorakusushi.com.
10. Pubbelly Sushi. The Pubbelly Boys continue to make a splash with their sushi stunner, Pubbelly Sushi. They take classics such as tempura shrimp to new heights and present rock shrimp tempura ($12) with avocado, mango, and tuna tartare, smothered in tobanjan aioli. Other next-level sushi rolls involve pint-size slabs of meat. Barbecued pork belly is fused with fried clams and kimchee coleslaw for $12, while Wagyu beef tartare, avocado, gochujang mustard, and a poached egg come together for $14. These two are the heartiest rolls you’ve probably never tasted. Brickell City Centre, 701 S. Miami Ave., Miami, and Aventura Mall, 19501 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura; 786-899-5038; foodcommahospitality.com.