Japanese food isn’t just one thing, in the same way Cincinnati isn’t all cheese coneys, ice cream, and bacon-covered bacon. It's a variety of clean, simple dishes such as maki, sashimi, ramen, tempura, yakitori, unagi, and... well, the list goes on.
Cheeseburgers and pizza it ain’t, but there’s Nation and Goodfella’s for that. For a trip through the vibrant and stunningly fresh palate of Japanese cuisine, head to these restaurants:
1400 Vine Street 45202 (OTR)
We’ll ease into this list with a fairly well-known place, just like you should ease into Kaze’s renowned happy hour with a $2 High Life draft beer and a bowl of exquisite tonkotsu ramen (i.e. pork ramen; fattier and more delicious than miso ramen). The sushi is top five in Greater Cincinnati, and the stuffed buns (both pork and veggie) are outstanding. But the real kicker is the romping atmosphere, which is oh-so Millennial of me to mention but oh-so important to a quality outing.
2. QUAN HAPA
1331 Vine Street 45202 (OTR)
This eatery is more than an outdoor Sriracha depot. The tonkotsu ramen is as delicious as Kaze’s (though taste them back-to-back and you’ll begin to appreciate the nuanced and subtle ways in which all ramen is distinct). But odds are you’ll start with the okonomiyaki (a.k.a. Japanese pancake) and never look back. The house okonomiyaki, which comes with mayo, fried pork, bacon, green onion, and a fried egg, is among the best bite of food in the city.
3. ANDO JAPANESE RESTAURANT & SUSHI BAR
5889 Pfeiffer Road 45242 (Blue Ash)
Put the rest of these places in the “Holy crap there’s Japanese food this good in Cincinnati?!” category of restaurants. As for Ando, I’m gonna call out the tempura for its paper-thin batter and, to my considerable surprise, the desserts, though, in truth, everything here is delicious. One warning: It’s BYOB, so you supply the alcohol, and they'll supply the corkscrews.
4. JO AN JAPANESE RESTAURANT
3940 Olympic Boulevard 41018 (Erlanger, Ky.)
“Holy crap there’s Japanese food this good in Cincinnati?!” It bears repeating, especially in the case of Jo An, a tantalizing outpost of Japanese fine dining that’s been serving Toyota executives with ma’s home cookin’ (Japanese style) since 1996. The good: Everything is fresh and obsessively prepared. The bad: The caliber of their sushi will ruin all other sushi for you -- forever.
5. MEI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
8608 Market Place Lane 45242 (Montgomery)
Nestled within a copse of other Asian restaurants near Kenwood, Mei (located in Montgomery) sports the most delectable ramen on this list. The broth is rich and thick, with a layer of pork fat gleaming upon its surface. Get a bowl following an order of gyoza (sort of like dumplings or potstickers). You will leave satisfied.
6. MATSUYA JAPANESE MART
7149 Manderlay Drive 41042 (Florence, Ky.)
Japanese food elevates simplicity in a way that even modern continental cuisine can’t approach, and Matsuya takes that to another level. Everything from the decor to the plating is incomparably austere, which allows the food to speak for itself. The kaiseki course dinner is always a great order, and the sashimi is truly fresh.
7. LA HIRO SUSHI AND SWEETS
8645 William Haines Drive 41042 (Florence, Ky.)
Some of you might remember Aoi, a place at Newport on the Levee that many claimed to have the best sushi in the city. Perhaps it was too close to the Newport Aquarium for comfort, because despite its quality, Aoi closed in 2011. Thankfully its proprietors opened La Hiro in Florence. (Noticing a trend here?) All that said, the killer surprise here isn’t the sushi, it’s the fresh desserts. The green tea chocolate cake and the mixed berry cheesecake are equally outstanding.
8. ICHIBAN JAPANESE CUISINE
1020 Delta Avenue 45208 (Mt. Lookout)
There’s a pan-Asian quality to Ichiban’s food that shouldn’t dissuade you from going there, even if your singular focus is Japanese cuisine. The beef teriyaki and unadon are testament to their Japanese focus, as is the sashimi. That said, Ichiban’s best rolls tend to be those that cater to an American audience. The Cincinnati Roll is a good start, as is the Laughing Buddha Roll.
9. MIYOSHI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
8660 Bankers Street 41042 (Florence)
Were there more Florence restaurants here than you thought there’d be? Yeah, us too. So it’s only fitting that we end on one. Miyoshi is another Toyota executive pit stop, and it’s easy to see why. For our purposes, the lunch prices are reasonable, especially when you consider the sizable portions and the freshness of the fish. Simply put, another great place to get Japanese in Florence.
- - -
And there you have it, our list of great sushi spots in Cincy/NKY. What's your favorite?