To please a sushi snob: the title of my autobiography. As a San Diego native, the last thing people associate you with is sushi. More likely, the nose-in-the-air snobbery comes out when the topic of conversation involves craft brewery, perfect weather year-round, or what city has the best beaches—it’s San Diego if you still weren’t sure. And to be fair, we do have everything from La Jolla to Oceanside, Ballast Point to Stone.
However, that’s not to say San Diego can’t hold its own when it comes to a night of sushi and sake. In fact, San Diego is home to some of the best sushi restaurants in America, and there’s even a top-notch craft sake brewery, Setting Sun, to pair. That’s reason enough for this sushi snob to salute my nose to the sky.
Whether you’re a nigiri traditionalist, a spicy tuna roll enthusiast, or an adventurous omakase aficionado, there’s a sun-spotted sushi place restaurant with your name on it.
5 Sushi Spots with Some Scenery
Dear Reader: As you’re already aware, sushi makes for the perfect date night, work event, or treat yo’self adventure foodie San Diego tour. With that firmly in mind, this list comes with a choice destination to pair with your afternoon or evening. Because when relishing in the best sushi in San Diego, you’re never far from an exciting or iconic location. Try to settle your cravings as you browse through our picks for favorite sushi restaurants:
#1 Azuki Sushi
For a savory start, we present Azuki Sushi. For over ten years, this restaurant has offered traditional Japanese cooking with a modern, eclectic twist. Their delicious flavor palettes adapt with the season to bring out the richness and authenticity of individual Japanese ingredients.
Their specialty rolls are among customers’ favorites, including:
By the Border: For all you spicy tuna lovers. This roll comes topped with seared albacore, jalapeno, ponzu, and spicy aioli.
R U Kidding Me?: Aptly named after the thought you’ll have once you’ve been well-acquainted. Snow crab, scallops, and tempura asparagus rolled together will have your mouth watering.
Lobster: There are some dishes on the menu items that just call out to you. Black tiger prawns and avocado wrap, topped with lobster, crispy onions, and a black truffle aioli… Eat me. Eat me!
Pairs with: Balboa Park
Around the corner from Azuki Sushi is the Central Park of San Diego, the trifecta of beauty, where science, nature, and culture collide. Balboa Park houses 18 different historical and scientific museums and 19 luscious gardens. There are performances, art shows, and plenty of beautiful paths for strolling hand in hand after a fulfilling dinner. Need we say more?
#2 Sushi Ota
There’s something to be said when your restaurant pops up first when Googling “best sushi restaurants in San Diego.” That is: either Sushi Ota has a killer marketing department, or they truly live up to their name. We’re happy to say the latter is true.
Born in Kumamoto Kyushu, Japan, sushi chef Ota began his career working in sushi restaurants in Tokyo, Kobe, and Osaka. It was the local San Diego sea urchin that captured his taste buds and his heart and made him stay here to open this renowned sushi restaurant.
As per many top-notch sushi restaurants, when asked what the favorite sushi dishes are, they respond in kind that it depends on the person’s taste palette.
Omakase: Ordering omakase means to “leave it up to the chef.” Chef Ota takes into account preferences and will shape a meal for your delight.
Pairs with: Mission Bay Park
A short walk away (and an even shorter Uber ride away) is Mission Bay Park. Enjoy beautiful views of the bay or an adventurous day at the world-renowned SeaWorld Theme Park. Also within a short distance is both Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, two cute beach towns ideal for window shopping and people watching.
#3 Sushi Takodoro
In the 1800s, as refrigeration techniques revolutionized who had access to raw fish throughout Japan, edomae-style sushi popularized in Tokyo—”edomae” translating to a style from the Edo period. Simplicity is paramount in this type of sushi, and there’s a dedicated focus on delicious, high-quality ingredients and bringing out natural flavors.
Over 200 years later, and this traditional style is still alive in a little strip mall next to a liquor store at Sushi Takodoro. Despite its appearance, once inside, you’re transported to another culture, another time, and the world outside seems to shrink back to its most simplistic elements.
The must-eat item on the menu here is:
Fresh fish nigiri: The nigiri offered changes based on the fresh fish they receive that day. This keeps each visit unique and exciting.
Pairs with: Old Town
Just a five-minute walk down San Diego Avenue and you’ll find yourself transported (once again) back in time. Old Town offers a historical look into San Diego’s past from the native people who inhabited the land 9,000 years ago, up through the Spanish explorers and today. Not to mention, if you decide to switch it up from sake to margaritas, you can find the best margaritas in Old Town.
#4 Shino: Sushi + Kappo
Sushi is truly where art meets cuisine. The incredible shapes, textures, and of course, tastes accessible to the chef who masters the craft speaks volumes to the history and culture behind each dish. And Shino is an art gallery of a restaurant.
Sitting at an L-shaped bar, guests can watch the master chefs at work. Prepping, cutting, serving—a flawless dance. Reservations are a must at Shino, where Kappo cuisine is synonymous with cozy. Meaning: there’s not much seating.
When you go, be sure to order:
Sushi Combo Special: With the combo special, you’re able to try all the different flavors and fish options available in the restaurant. The equivalent to ordering an omakase meal.
Pairs with: The Gaslamp District
The heart and soul of downtown San Diego lies in the Gaslamp District. Ask anybody who’s ever been to San Diego and the first thing they’ll mention is the unforgettable night in the Gaslamp. Every bar, nightclub, and event space worth their salt is located in or around here, making it the perfect spot for things to do in downtown San Diego. The best part is, it’s only eight minutes from Shino.
#5 Hidden Fish Sushi
Tucked between three major freeways, Hidden Fish Sushi is the textbook definition of a hidden gem. It’s an omakase-centric restaurant where the two main options are the 50-minute and the 90-minute omakase dining experience. Once inside, it’s no surprise why this place has been receiving so much praise and attention.
With only 13 seats available, this intimate spot will have you and your taste buds drifting away into the culinary imagination of chef John Hong. Just make sure you book your reservations early!
Chef John’s Royal Treatment: This 90-minute omakase experience includes 18 pieces of nigiri. And with a name like “Royal Treatment,” how can you resist.
Pairs with: Convoy Street
Hidden Fish Sushi isn’t the only Asian cuisine in this area. In fact, Convoy Street is known for its many diverse, Eastern-inspired restaurants, including Cantonese dim sum, Vietnamese pho, and Korean BBQ. Within a minute of walking, you’ll find yourself transported from one mouth-watering world to the next.
Something Sushi This Way Comes
Part of San Diego’s appeal comes from how multiple experiences blend into one. One minute you’re touring around to find the best sushi restaurants in San Diego, the next, you’re observing the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. You’re a little skeptical how it’s possible for one city to have all these treasures hoarded into one place, and at the same time, you resist the urge to pinch yourself.
All this to say, it’s enough to turn any SD resident into a (insert food or drink here) snob. At least, that’s my justification.
Time Out. The 22 best sushi restaurants in America. https://www.timeout.com/usa/restaurants/best-sushi-restaurants-in-america
Sushi School. What is Edomae-Sushi https://sushischool.jp/what-is-edomae-sushi/