Best bargain sushi and friendliest chef: Avana Sushi in Chinatown
This is in the tiny food-court area on the ground floor of the Avana lofts building, where the old Chinatown Eatery used to be years ago. The selection of fish is limited, but the chef is very, very nice. He's been known to use the credit card machine at the random electronics place next door for cashless folk. Bonus: he's right next door to the old woman with the Chinese egg cakes! Seriously, just go here.
Best NY-style sushi experience: O-Ya in the Leather District
Amazing. Better than Morimoto in Philly. Very, very good, and there's nothing else like it in Boston. Small, dark, extensive menu, fabulous ingredients, delicious sauces. . . um, and pretty darn expensive. But very, very good.
Best upscale sushi in the South End/Back Bay: Osushi in the Copley Hotel
Good all-around place. Could be a little cheaper and a little quieter, but definitely the best Back Bay area spot. O-ya is more money and better (of course) and Bluefin is cheaper (also of course) but given the number of mediocre sushi places in this general area, this place definitely stands out. While the clientele can be aggressively trendy, the sushi bar is often much more welcoming.
Best sushi bar interaction: Haru in the Prudential
One of those white-people-run "trendy" sushi places, which initially turns us off, but has sushi chefs who really know their stuff. Just make the chef trust you (I know, a reversal of the traditional experience!) and let him circumvent the pushy white waiters. Huge nigiri, inventive rolls, and they'll do a nice pressed sushi, though it isn't on the menu. Unexpectedly nice, really, and a good addition to the Back Bay.
Best downtown sushi for groups: Suishaya in Chinatown
Terrible service, decent prices, good fish, good selection. Good for groups that contain both picky eaters and sushi snobs--no one will be horrendously unhappy. Ask 500 times for water, tea, and refills. Be prepared for excessive charges for tea. Be prepared for at least one order to be delayed or messed up. But hey, good location, nice renovation, nice nigiri, and fun rolls.
Best mid-priced nouveau sushi: Gari on Harvard (Brookline)
Classy and good. Sit at the sushi bar, try their unusual offerings, and be ready for a surprisingly downtown experience for the middle of Brookline. Pretty comparable to Osushi in atmosphere and price, but a little more adventurous menu. (7/09: note--we haven't been here in over a year; I'm not saying it's gone downhill, but our new favorite spot in this category is listed below.)
Best mid-priced nouveau sushi: Fish Market on Brighton (Allston)
By the people behind Oishii--tiny, not air-conditioned, with lovely delicate nigiri and a nice assortment of fresh special fish. Great rolls, some very good bargains.
Best hole-in-the-wall sushi surprise: Super Fusion and Minato in Washington Square (Brookline)
Super Fusion: There's less than no atmosphere here, but the fish is good and the rolls and appetizers include some really unusual combinations. They're big on fruit, especially, and it definitely works. Not rock-bottom cheap, but cheaper than Gari or Osushi for equal quality (except in the atmosphere). Tiny place--you either get a table or you don't.
Minato: It's two doors down from Super Fusion, and I think might easily get overlooked because of that, but the fish is very good and fresh. Nigiri prices are slightly higher than normal, but you get three nirigi per order instead of two (highly unusual), so per-piece it's about the same price. They also do fun rolls with mango and with a fruit-masago sauce, similar to Super Fusion, and they also do torched sushi. We went on a Sunday afternoon with a bored sushi chef and an empty restaurant, and we got excellent service and gorgous sushi. Small, but bigger than Super Fusion, and definitely worth a try.
Best cheap sushi lunch downtown: Beijing-Kyoto in the Leather District
Fun place. Weird vibe, half steam-table-Chinese and half sushi, with some very slooooooow service at times (especially for long sushi orders), but very friendly, with nice coupons, and a really interesting assortment of rolls. The nigiri were good, and three to an order, and all the maki were really great, fresh, and fun. Our new downtown place it is!
Best classy, quick sushi: Sushiteq in the Intercontinental Hotel
Super small, relatively limited menu, but fun and classy. Some neat fusion dishes like a tuna-mozz dish that really works, and a wide assortment of tequilas (hence the name) and frozen drinks. Good for a romantic date, but not for more than a group of 3-4, max, as it's very small. Get the frozen drink sampler and some fish and call it a night. Oddly bright, but quiet and a good spot for after work.
Best nigiri for the price: Bluefin in the Porter Exchange Building
A grandmother on the Boston sushi front, this place has gotten better, then worse, then better again over the years. New renovation, still very good prices, very good nigiri, decent rolls. Often a wait, but they move you in quickly and waiting is comfortable since you've got the mall around you. Good location, good for groups (as long as everyone can be on time), and hey, there's even parking!
Best classic sushi: Sakurabana in the Financial District
Service is highly variable. Sushi is always very good--mostly classics with a few unique rolls. Not the cheapest place, not the most expensive. Noise level is not excessive (sometimes a rarity downtown), so good for business (obviously) or birthdays.
Best Fenway/Kenmore sushi: Umi in the Fenway
Cute mid-priced place with a good assortment of stuff. Not fabulous, not bad, worth the price. Decent attentive service, good for dates or quiet nights. (closed 1/09 from fire--will they reopen?)
Best Sushi Chef in an Unlikely Place: Blue Ocean near Coolidge Corner
The former Takeshima restaurant in Coolidge Corner is now a Korean restaurant serving both "Korean" and "Chinese" dishes; since we used to love Takeshima in its prime, we figured we'd give their (unrenovated) sushi bar a try. Things did not begin auspiciously. "What special fish do you have today?" I asked. "Special fish!" the chef grunted. "Tuna, salmon, yellowtail--all special!" Eventually we broke through his crusty exterior to find that in some ways he's a frustrated artist who would love to be doing more creative sushi, who would love to be ordering special fish from Japan, and who would love to--even!--have an assistant, but who is working within the confines of the manager/owner of the restaurant. The chef really did a great job, though, taking our order directly (this is too rare nowadays in Boston) and taking extra care with our orders. The fish was all good, and as long as you shy away from the third of the "special roll" menu that contains cream cheese, the rolls were on the fun and tasty side of basic. The temaki especially was perfect--beautifully crisp nori, with the perfect proportions of ingredients.
Best Allston/Brighton sushi: Privus on Brighton Ave
Trendy-looking place with fancy cocktails, more Back Bay than Brighton. Oddly attentive service, comfortable booths, and not a bad deal for the price (mid-priced overall). Avoid all of the crazy cheese-topped sushi rolls (melted Jack cheese? Uh huh. . . ), try something with their nice kiwi sauce, and appreciate the nicely-formed nigiri and good selection of special fish. We liked it a lot, and it's definitely a boon to the area, but we won't necessarily trek across town for it.
Best destination sushi: Oga's on Route 9
Only place around to get seasonal Japanese menus and a mix of classical and experimental sushi, but way the heck out there--definitely car territory. Good sake selections, better than a lot of Boston places.
Best north-of-Boston sushi: Okasan in Saugus
This Burmese-run sushi bar is totally a hole-in-the-stripmall place, right on Route 1 North, but it's remarkably friendly and the fish is better than merely adequate. The number of little samples for customers is really astounding--small portions of salads, special inari maki with shrimp and avocado, cut-up and perfectly-temperatured ice cream mochi, etc. The menu is quite limited, but everything was very fresh and nicely done. Did I mention they're super friendly?
Best all-you-can-eat sushi: Minado in Natick
There's not too much competition for this title, but despite the annoying waitstaff who want to hustle you out, and despite the factory/cafeteria atmosphere, the sushi chefs will make you handrolls and let you eat your fill.
Best for buying fish for make-your-own sushi: Sea to You on Fish Pier
Not too much competition for this title either. Note that Sea to You has gone way way down over the years as its popularity has gone up (sadly, oh so sadly). You can no longer walk into the refrigerated section and look closely at the fish; selection has gone way down; price has gone up. More of the fish is sold boned and in smaller sections, and there's just less of it here. Supplement with Porter Exchange store items, Whole Foods selections, and anything you can get your hands on (we recommend Alaska fishing expeditions and a big freezer).
Best neighborhood sushi place in South End/Back Bay: J's Tomodachi Sushi on Mass Ave
Just opened in April 2009 near the Post Office/Radio Shack. Very classy decor for a tiny place, very friendly service. We taught the waitress the word "highchair" the first time we went (they actually have two, but she hadn't known what they were called). Nice mixed crowd, fast in-and-out at dinner and midday. Great addition to the neighborhood. Good sashimi, delicate finger-sized nigiri with a tiny dab of wasabi, basic rolls done well but not too far afield into crazy creative roll territory, for better or worse. All in all, at $8.95 for a nicely done pressed sushi and $9.95 for a chirashi, they won't break the bank.
711 Boylston (Back Bay): decent fish but overpriced, poor service, good sushi pizza but not much else. Alternatives: Osushi.
Douzo on Dartmouth (Back Bay): overpriced, servers who try to keep you from talking to the sushi chefs even when you sit at the bar, nothing special. Alternatives: Osushi, just a block away, much better and slightly cheaper, or Haru.
Fugakyu on Beacon: highly overrated, terrible clientele who doesn't know good fish, servers who push alcohol, not cheap, nothing special.
Ginza in Chinatown: overrated, not cheap, and annoying pretentious service, nothing special. Alternatives: Suishaya, cheaper and better and just a block away.
Ma Soba near Mass General: decent, but not cheap, not particularly special, and with mediocre service. Go if you must because you're right there. Alternatives: Sakurabana is just a short walk away.
Mr. Sushi on Harvard (Brookline): mediocre, not cheap, not special, no atmosphere. Alternatives: Gari or Super Fusion.
Nori on Harvard (Brookline): used to be much better, now low-quality, not cheap, not particularly special. Alternatives: Super Fusion or Gari.
Oishii on Hammond Street (Chestnut Hill): used to be hands-down the best sushi in Boston, the only thing innovative or LA/NY-like; now it's still very good, but overcrowded with tourists and suburbanites cramming themselves in, so at this point they're too rushed and harried to do individualized omakase; still very fresh, if you're able to hit it at an off-hour or can stand the (long!) wait. Take-out if you're able is an acceptable option. Alternatives: Oga's down Route 9, or O-ya in town.
Oishii South End: pricey, crowded, obnoxiously trendy (both staff and clientele), and too loud to think. Alternatives: O-ya downtown, for a calmer atmosphere and classier (even if not cheaper) fish.
Samurai Sushi on Franklin Street (Downtown): Not the best sushi in town, or even downtown. Decent, friendly, some good lunch specials, but nothing really "special." Alternatives: Beijing-Kyoto, slightly further away (but not by much) and much more interesting fish.
Samurai on Boylston (Back Bay): poor service, inacurrate menu descriptions, an excessive fascination with cheese, not super cheap, not super special. Alternatives: Osushi (classy, upscale) a few blocks away, or Umi (friendlier, cheaper, still very good) in the Fenway.
Seiyo on Washington Street (South End): good fish, but overpriced, snooty service, winebar inside, nothing incredibly special. Alternatives: O-ya for just about the same money and way, way better food.
Shiki in Coolidge Corner (Brookline): very slow service, even when the place was almost empty; some good (some classic, some innovative) Japanese small-plates, but the sushi is not the primary purpose and can be downright odd (e.g., nigiri come two to an order, one plain and one with a "special topping"--what's the purpose of this scheme? to inspire competition among diners?). Alternatives: Gari or Super Fusion.
Shino Express on Beacon or off of Newbury: cheap, not as fast as it should be, and not as good as Bluefin. Alternatives: Bluefin for this price bracket unless desperate.
Sushi Time on Washington Street (Downtown Crossing): not cheap, low-quality. Alternatives: Samurai on Franklin, just a couple blocks away, for much better fish.
Symphony Sushi off of Huntington: not worth it, low quality, not cheap, poor service. Alternatives: Haru or anywhere else.
Teriyaki House on Boylston Street (Hynes area): adequate, but not fabulous in any single way--except possibly for the super unreliable service. (We've had to stop waiters and ask them to help other tables, for example.) The fish isn't bad--better than a supermarket, for sure--but unless you're in a pinch for a lunch special, there are better places.
Takeshima on Harvard Ave (Brookline): low-quality and not cheap, though it used to be quite good. Alternatives: Gari, just a little ways down Harvard.(closed, replaced by Blue Ocean)
Zen by the State House: good quality fish, mid-range prices, but not great service or atmosphere and nothing very special. Slightly out-of-the-way location. Alternatives: Suishaya or Sakurabana, both fairly close and better for about the same price.
Sushi wedding cake (photos and recipe/directions)
Sushi birthday cake (photos and recipe/directions)
Spring sushi feast (photos and story)
Sushi-eating saga (photos, story, and old reviews)
Sushi-making FAQ (photos, directions, and old reviews)
Sushi-making photo gallery (photos)
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Created: 7/9/03. Last Modified: 3/16/12.