You know how some people like to say that even bad pizza isn't that bad, because it's still pizza? The same can not be said of sushi. And you know what you're not likely to find a lot of, and nor should you? Cheap sushi. That is to say, outside of the sushi you find in the Mollie Stone's refrigerated case which barely qualifies as sushi, you probably should not be seeking out cheap sushi because by its very nature — raw fish — you need to be confident that it is extremely fresh, it's been kept cold, and has been handled very carefully. San Francisco has upped its sushi game considerably in the last two years with some very high-end, very expensive omakase and sushi counter experiences, a couple of which come straight to us from Tokyo. Ballers and tech bros now have places like Hashiri wherein to dump large sums on business dinners, and while there's a place for this, SF also needs its more modest, mom-and-pop operations, several of which serve some of the most stellar fish in town. Also, there's a place for the fun and easy-going, subterranean, California-ized sushi experience on the level of Ryoko's and Sushi Time, which don't take themselves too seriously. Here we bring you our favorites, some of which are brand new to the city, and a number of which have been around many years. — Jay Barmann

For a high-end, contemporary sushi experience on par with some of the Bay Area's best, check out this 21-year-old Union Square spot that was revamped a few years back under chef Ricky Yap, receiving the big Bauer three stars. The omakase menu will run you around $100 per person, but a la carte sushi is very reasonably priced here, with nigiri coming in pairs for $7 to $12, and five pieces of sashimi between $21 and $30. All the sushi is incredibly fresh, and there is also a regularly changing menu of special pieces and non-sushi items including ramen and teriyaki. — Jay Barmann
431 Bush (at Claude Lane)


An Japanese Restaurant
Situated upstairs in the upper building at the Japantown mall, in the tiny space formerly occupied by the legendary Ino Sushi, An has now taken up Ino's gauntlet as one of those intimate, semi-secret, very high quality sushi experiences you want to take a connoisseur to, to impress them. Serving whatever is freshest and trending from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market — and I always get the feeling that the old guys in Japantown have a direct line to the best stuff there — An ups the ante a bit from its predecessor with omakase options, thoughtfully composed appetizer dishes, and a delicious, delicate seafood-dashi soup that closes out some meals. The word "an" means "modest cottage" in Japanese, and that's fitting for this space, with seats for only about 25 people, no online reservations (phone only), and a single server who's the sushi chef's wife. And no longer is this a place were novices can feel intimidated — some may remember that former proprietor Ino-san had a habit of scolding people for dipping their sushi wrong, or using their phones in his restaurant. They don't do that here. — Jay Barmann
22 Peace Plaza, Japan Center East Mall, #510,

Cha-Ya's Starlight Roll: Yelp/Lily A

Those of us who'd rather not eat our finned friends are usually fine at any sushi joint—it's pretty tough to screw up a cucumber or avocado roll (though it's been known to happen). But if you want a totally veggie sushi experience, there's no better place to go than Cha-Ya. Caveats apply: They're cash only, the wait can be long, and the fight to get to the "sign up to wait" clipboard can be arduous. But the food is inventive and delicious and the service is pleasant and capable of dealing with granular vegan/allergy questions. The Cha-Ya Roll (a tempura-battered asparagus, avocado, yam, and carrot roll with their special sauce) is worth the trip, alone. — Eve Batey
762 Valencia between 18th and 19th Streets

Eiji sushi (Image: Yelp's Solongo B.)

Eiji, which your phone will automatically correct to Fiji when you text friends dinner plans, is a charming and rustic sushi haven tucked away in the Castro, right near Kitchen Story. Here it's all about the daily specials, scrawled on a white board above the counter. Trust Eiji's chef to hook you up with seriously fresh sashimi — but you should also sample the house-made tofu and clam miso soup. (Seriously. People come here just for the tofu.) Make sure to stick around for the house dessert: a strawberry covered in bean paste and wrapped in sweet mochi. — Beth Spotswood
317 Sanchez Street between 16th and 17th, lunch and dinner, closed Mondays

A kaseiki course of fluke sashimi with watermelon radish and other vegetables. Photo: Jay Barmann/SFist

Hashiri came along in 2016 amidst a mini boom here in SF of ultra-high-end omakase places, but Hashiri has the distinction of having a sister restaurant in Tokyo with whom it shares fish-seller contacts — and the $300 sushi counter experience is arguably one of the best in town. Hashiri does a hybrid kaiseki and omakase meal, in which the chef serves both cold and warm dishes in a specific order, with a selection of special, seasonal nigiri generally closing out the meal, pre-dessert. Compositions are elaborate and thoughtful, comparable to more Western fine dining, but one has to consider the price — much of what you're paying for, including the sake and wine selections, come with an air of exclusivity, lending this place a decidedly luxe vibe that isn't without pretense. It's possible, too, that you can get the quality of fish they're serving here for half the price at several other places on this list, but this is where to go when you're not paying. — Jay Barmann
4 Mint Plaza at Fifth Street

ICHI Sushi
After chef/owner Tim Archuleta suffered some serious health issues, the decision was made in late 2016 to move ICHI from its 3282 Mission location back to their old, smaller spot at 3369 Mission. The move, they say, enables them to return to their roots. A recent visit to their old yet new location did not disappoint. Seated at the bar we were swiftly served some of the most sharply prepared, freshest fish around. And yet, the experience didn't feel like we were being tiresomely "educated" or were the audience of some elaborate play. Instead, it's an unpretentious yet excellent dining experience with people who seem delighted to share their skills, knowledge, and food with you. — Eve Batey
3282 Mission (at Valencia), 415-525-4750

Image: Frank H. via Yelp

This epicurean new sushi joint has already earned a Michelin star and made Bauer’s Top 100 list in its first 18 months of operation — but you can’t just walk right in. Ju-Ni only has 12 seats, and only does two seatings per night (6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.). On top of that, there is no menu. There’s only a 12-course omakase prix fixe priced at $145 per person. But that’s great for people like me who are clueless at ordering anything except the most basic varieties of sushi, and will open you up to a new world of Japanese delights like baby squid, Wagyu beef, and monkfish liver. — Joe Kukura
1335 Fulton Street, between Broderick Street and Divisadero Street

Image: Cherylynn N. via Yelp

Sushi Ran veteran Mitsunori Kusakabe prepares sushi in the non-traditional kaiseki style, which to my philistine American taste means that you only get one piece of sushi per plate. But that one piece is insanely well-crafted and meticulously arranged, and the plates keep coming. You’ve got the options of an omakase ($98 per person) and a grand omakase ($165 per person) that tend to favor daily chef’s selections, but an additional a la carte menu delves into such sushi exotica as Japanese barracuda, long neck clam, and Santa Barbara sea urchin. — Joe Kukura
584 Washington Street, between Columbus Avenue and Hotaling Street

Braided kohada at Omakase. Photo: Yelp

Newly open as of 2016, this SoMa spot ranks among the least affordable sushi experiences in town, but also, definitely, one of the best. It got a Michelin star right out of the gate, and could be on its way to two, and chef Jackson Yu has already shown off some considerable talent in a short amount of time. The place has just over a dozen seats at the counter, and Yu offers just two options, at $150 or $200 per person, the second being slightly larger with a couple more pieces of sashimi and nigiri. Fine technique as well as carefully sourced, ultra-fresh fish and uni are all part of this luxe experience, which rivals Hashiri at a slightly lower price point. — Jay Barmann
665 Townsend Street

Photo courtesy of Pabu

Pabu, which has locations in Boston as well as San Francisco, is a collaboration between chef/restaurateur Michael Mina and sushi chef Ken Tominaga of the well loved Hana Japanese Restaurant in Rohnert Park. The place does triple duty as a bustling Financial District happy hour spot, a Japanese steakhouse and robata grill, and a deeply serious sushi restaurant with both omakase ($110) and kaiseki ($85) options. With the former, you're bound to be presented with things you may not find anywhere else, like a side-by-side tasting of four species of mackerel, each prepared slightly differently — a sprinkle of sea salt here, a drizzle of lemon there. Price- and experience-wise, it comes in below the opulence of Hashiri and Omakase, and just above places like Ju-Ni, with a bit more austerity and precision than a Roka Akor. — Jay Barmann
101 California Street

The caviar nigiri at Robin. Photo: Jay Barmann/SFist

Open just a couple of weeks at this point in Hayes Valley, Robin is the newest entry on our list, and after one visit I think I can vouch for it. Chef Adam Tortosa comes here via a stint as opening chef at 1760, but prior to that he worked at Akiko's here in SF, and at Kiwami and Michael Voltaggio's ink in Los Angeles. Using some excellent, high-quality fish, Tortosa's omakase menu is impressive from the start, with a focus on local fish and items like Northern California steelhead trout and canary rockfish, Fort Bragg uni, and an array of bluefin toro from Japan, all served on handmade ceramic dishes. Each piece is dressed or garnished creatively, negating the need for soy dipping, which is as it should be — and Tortosa has some fun with it too, like with a piece of nigiri with caviar on top of a potato chip on top of rice. And the sake selection is thoughtfully curated too. — Jay Barmann
620 Gough Street near McAllister

Roka Akor
This downtown spot is another expense-account favorite, and a birthday favorite, and with good reason. It's fun and playful experience with an array of both raw and grilled items (to satisfy the seafood-averse), as well as a good cocktail selection, and a flair for the dramatic when it comes to presentation — sushi and sashimi come arrayed over ice platters that glow from beneath, etc. The restaurant has other locations in Chicago, Houston, and Scottsdale, AZ, and it's more "Japanese-inspired" than it is authentic. Chef Roman Patri says in the video above that "you can almost eat yourself drunk" on the variety of flavors and textures that you'll find among various dishes, and you are likely to encounter some combinations you've never seen or tasted before — hamachi serrano chili roll anyone? — Jay Barmann
801 Montgomery Street at Jackson

The salmon skin roll. Photo: Yelp

You need to not be too snobby about your sushi and in the mood for a party to enjoy Ryoko's. It's a birthday place, and kind of a bridge-and-tunnel/tourist place. And it’s been on TV shows like Midnight Munchies because they serve until 1:30 a.m., and it’s been around for about 30 years. On Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a DJ starting at 8 p.m. But for fun, underground, drunken craziness along with some wacky, non-traditional maki rolls (the Kentucky Roll has fried chicken in it, and one house favorite, the Volcano Roll, has fried shrimp, jalapeño, and peanut butter), this is the place to go. Also, the nigiri and sashimi are usually pretty fresh, since business here is always booming. — Jay Barmann
619 Taylor (at Sutter)

Saru Sushi Bar (Image: Yelp's Tommy C.)

Saru Sushi Bar
Perfectly situated on the Noe Valley stretch of 24th Street at Sanchez, Saru is teeny tiny and extremely popular. Fish is flown in from around the globe, they're super uptight about their three kinds of soy sauce, and the rice — oh, the rice — is seasoned with a red vinegar called akazu which prohibits the use of too much sugar. As a result of this obsession with ingredients, the sushi at Saru is serious indeed. Try the tasting spoons of chef's specialties to start and the "White Out Roll," which is hamachi and avocado topped with seared escolar and garlic ponzi. Save room. Saru offers house-made ice cream for dessert. — Beth Spotswood
3856 24th Street, lunch and dinner, closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Sushi Ran, Sausalito (Image:

Sushi Ran
This serene Sausalito sushi spot (yes, it's not SF proper, but we had to make the exception) has been wildly popular with sushi fans (and Michelin reviewers) for decades. It's got that airy, coastal, NorCal feel on a sweet little stretch of street away from the tourists and Crazy Shirt shops. The Chron's Michael Bauer recommends ordering the sushi combination ($24 for six pieces) or the sashimi plate ($38 for 10 piece,) but I've always been partial to the negitoro and the salmon avocado maki. The fish at Sushi Ran is either fresh and local or raced in from Tokyo and the menu has a surprising array of non-sushi items, including vegetarian and beef dishes. The space is just as much of a star as the sushi, with a slightly enclosed outdoor area and tea cups that are practically works of art. Sushi Ran is a multi-sensory experience worthy of a bridge and tunnel crossing. — Beth Spotswood
107 Caledonia Street, Sausalito, lunch Monday - Friday, dinner every night

(Photo: Sushi Time)

Sushi Time
Like a Shinjuku dive, Sushi Time's subterranean bubble crams a lot of character into a tiny space. Rolls are reasonably priced, ranging from $5-7 for basics and veggie rolls $10-12 for their own creative takes on Californian sushi like the Barbie Roll (crab, avocado, salmon) and the Astro Boy Roll (spicy scallop, mango, cucumber, tobiko). They're perhaps best known for their happy hour, which offers cheap-to-fair deals on sake, sushi, and a host of other menu items. When I go I like to sit at the tiny, low bar, where the waiter will let you pick your own sake cup from their mismatched collection. —Eve Batey
2275 Market Street (at 16th Street, downstairs in that quirky little shopping center)


Tekka Japanese Restaurant
Definitely one of the most cult-followed sushi spots in the city, Tekka is a place you have to arrive at really early if you don’t want to be waiting outside for an hour or more. In fact, if you miss the first seating at 7 p.m. (for which people line up around 5), then you’ll be waiting until 9:30 or so, and there are only 11 seat total. But many, many people swear by this cozy Inner Richmond spot and its generous slices of ultra-fresh fish. It's run by a sometimes curt, elderly husband-and-wife team, it is cash only, and the must-orders are the sashimi combo, hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail collar), and/or the full omakase (tasting) menu. (Also, chef Nobu and his wife Yoshimi might not be around forever, so get it while you can.) — Jay Barmann
537 Balboa Street at 7th Avenue

Chef Roger Chong blow-torching some Kobe beef sushi. Photo: Yelp

Zushi Puzzle
Lest you think the name of this place is just some quirky American joke, I think only the "puzzle" part is the quirk of the owners. "Zushi" is, in addition to being a town in Japan, part of the original Japanese word for sushi, which is also called chirashizushi and nigiri-zushi, and various other things there, depending on its form. This place is serious about its fish, if not its name, and counts a lot of fans in the Marina and beyond. Zushi Puzzle's ponytailed, Chinese-American sushi chef, Roger Chong, always makes friends with his diners and puts out an excellent omakase at his in-demand, 10-seat counter. And he boasts some of the freshest nigiri and Kobe beef around, as he will be the first to tell you. — Jay Barmann
1910 Lombard Street at Buchanan

Photo: Facebook