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I know this week was supposed to be week 4 of the Shojin Ryori Series, but I need at least another week to cook more things to come up with a good meal combination for you guys. So, instead of that, I wanted to go over something similar… figuring out how to know if a Japanese restaurant is any good.

The thing is, most non-Japanese people don’t know good Japanese restaurants from bad ones. It’s not your fault, though. You grew up eating that Costco Maruchan ramen when you weren’t going to Happy Teriyaki (pro tip: they are not happy). I imagine it’s a lot like when I try to find a “good” Indian restaurant. I honestly have no idea what’s “good,” though for some reason I think I do (I don’t). If I took Ghandi to one of the Indian restaurants I frequent I’m sure he’d slap me in the face.

So, as someone who’s ridden the ol’ Japanese restaurant donkey cart a few times, I’m here to educate you. No longer do you need to go to sub-par Japanese (I should say “Japanese” restaurants just because you don’t know any better. I hope none of these methods “washoku” you, though. Har har har…

Law #1: Be Super Racist With Yelp Reviewers

Law #1? Don’t trust non-Japanese people on Yelp (sometimes you can trust other Asians, but they have to have a good track record). Okay, I know this is super racist (as in, if Superman had the power of racism, it would be at this level), but I hold myself to this very racist standard for all things on Yelp. If I want to find some good Chicago pizza, I try to find reviewers from Chicago. If I want to find good  Chinese food, I try to find Chinese reviewers (who say things like “this is just like what my mom would make me as a kid!!! ermagahd!!”).

Unfortunately, I had to learn my lesson the hard way. Coming to Portland, where everyone is white and can’t tell the difference between chuutoro and ootoro (I know, barbaric, right??), I was excited to see so many highly rated Japanese / sushi restaurants in the area. Then, I went to one. “Eugh, terrible!” I’d say. “Probably a fluke. Let’s try another… wth is wrong with you people??”

Then I learned… Some reviews are much better than others. Things to look out for in order of preference:

  1. Japanese people. Obviously they know what they’re talking about.
  2. People with Japanese names. Chances are they grew up with at least some real Japanese food.
  3. People who mention that they lived / worked in Japan (not always good, but a good indication because they’ve had lots of “real” Japanese food).
  4. People who don’t mention “pot stickers” in their review (last resort).

On top of this, you’ll want to look out for certain keywords in the reviews. If a lot of the reviews mention the miso soup, the pot stickers, or the bentos, there’s a good chance that this Japanese restaurant are not the droids you’re looking for. I don’t know what is up with Americans and their miso soup, though. The funny thing is, it gets way better than whatever gets served in America.

As one Yelp Reviewer said: “This miso soup is off the hook!”

Is it really, though? Is it? Yelp needs to add a “sort by racism” option.

Law #2: Avoid Anyplace With The Word “Teriyaki” In The Name

I feel like this goes without saying, but any restaurant with the name “Teriyaki” in it is almost certainly a no-go. Hey, teriyaki is tasty, but it’s almost always incredibly Americanized.

While you should avoid places that have the word “Teriyaki” in their name, it’s probably worth noting that there are good Japanese restaurants that serve teriyaki as a part of their menu. Note that this is probably because most Americans don’t actually like “real” Japanese food, so they have to serve salty meat behemoths. That being said, places that serve absolutely no teriyaki (chicken or beef, especially) at all get extra points and are more likely to be “good.”

Law #3: No Refunds. No Exchanges. No Fun.

Look around you. Do you see signs that say “No refunds,” “No exchanges,” “No …. etc”? If you do, you’re in luck! You may be inside of a “good” Japanese restaurant. Although not all good Japanese restaurants have these kinds of signs, only good ones do. I have no idea why this is, but I have a theory:

  1. Japanese person comes to America thinking “hey, I’m going to start an awesome Japanese restaurant.”
  2. Japanese person starts said Japanese restaurant. Americans can’t appreciate it because they aren’t used to this kind of “real” Japanese food. Ask for refunds and exchanges.
  3. Because Japanese people aren’t used to refunds or exchanges, especially with food, Japanese restaurant owner is shocked!
  4. Japanese restaurant owner slowly becomes more and more hard on the inside. He becomes bitter and cold. He puts up signs.

That’s only one theory though! One thing you can be certain of, though: If you enjoy good Japanese food, there will never be a reason to return any of the food you get at a sign-infested Japanese restaurant. It’s going to be excellent food. Give the owner a thumbs up. He probably needs it.

Law #4: Restaurant Should Have A Japanese Chef, Japanese Owner

sushi chef

Photo by Kojach

Whoa Koichi! Don’t go all KKK Nazi on us, now.

Sorry sorry! Hear me out, my dear Grand Dragon Of The Realm!

First off, I’ll say that there are exceptions to this rule. That being said, I’d rather go to a Thai place run by Thai people or a McDonalds run by an American. In general, this is just a better experience. When a Thai person makes Thai food, chances are they’ve been making it their whole life. When someone else makes Thai food, it’s probably something they learned recently (in the last few years). I’m not saying non-Thai people can’t make good Thai food. I am saying that Thai people, in general, make better Thai food. Same goes with Japanese, possibly more so.

Here’s the deal: Japanese food restaurants have nice profit margins. People pay top dollar for sushi, and it definitely doesn’t cost them $6 for two slices of tuna. Because of this, there are many other people who want to jump in on this business to make some mad sushi-bank. This is probably why there are so many “Japanese” restaurants run by Koreans and Chinese. There’s a lot of “exploitation” in this way.

Of course, these people are mainly in it for the profits. I find it hard to believe that they’re in it for their passion of Japanese food. They’re in it for the profits that Japanese food holds, which means the quality suffers as well (people who want more profits cut more corners). So, in general, Japanese restaurants run by non-Japanese people aren’t as good. The experience isn’t there and the passion isn’t there. There’s a reason why Korean kimchi tastes way better than Japanese kimchi.

But how can you tell the difference between a Korean owner and a Japanese owner? Well, sometimes you can’t. Usually there’s a few hints in the menu, though:

  1. Do they serve any non-Japanese food that’s Korean or Chinese? If so, the restaurant is probably not run by Japanese people.
  2. Are there takeout menus? If so, there’s a decent chance that this isn’t a restaurant run by a Japanese person.
  3. Do the menus have numbers next to each item? This is generally a Chinese restaurant thing.

But like I said, sometimes there are great Japanese restaurants run by non-Japanese people. In general, though, non-Japanese people running Japanese restaurants are in it for the money, not for the passion. You’ll be able to taste the difference in the food.

Law #5: Should Not Serve Orange Chicken Or Hamburgers

Photo by pointnshoot

As mentioned in Law #4, there shouldn’t be non-Japanese food on the menu (maybe something for the kids… maybe). Whether it’s because it tells you that non-Japanese people are running the restaurant or that they don’t have focus, in general this is never a good thing. Have you ever been to a restaurant that was great that served two or three completely different categories of food? Probably not. There are a lot of “Japanese” restaurants that serve non-Japanese food out there as well. In general, they’re not great. Exception? Hawaii. Hawaii can get away with anything in regards to food.

Law #6: Should Not Be Named After Mt. Fuji

Photo by アリセ

There’s one thing that connects all mediocre Japanese restaurants, and that is the name. Usually, good Japanese restaurants have unique names. Perhaps it’s the owner’s name, perhaps it’s something else. What I can tell you is that the name probably does not contain any of these words.

  • Fuji / Mt. Fuji
  • Bento
  • -Zilla
  • Tokyo
  • Sushi
  • Samurai
  • Wasabi
  • Ninja
  • Teriyaki
  • Sakura
  • Any combination of Beni or Hana.

Oh, and it gets worse when you combine any of these. “Samurai Wasabi,” “Fuji Bento,” “Tokyo Sushi,” “Ninja Teriyaki,” and so on. These sound concernedly real to me.

Think about it. What do non-Japanese people know about Japan? Okay, there’s Mt. Fuji (Google shows nearly 15 million results for “Fuji Restaurant”). Then there’s Tokyo… everyone knows about Tokyo. After that there’s Godzilla, Samurai, Ninja, Teriyaki, and sushi. In terms of “what Japan is to regular Americans” this is about it. There’s two problems with restaurants having names that include these words:

  1. It may have been named by someone who knows nothing about Japan (and probably nothing about Japanese food, see Law #4), which is why they chose some generic Japan-related name. Not any different from naming a Chinese restaurant after pandas and bamboo.
  2. Someone is making this restaurant for Americans, which means it isn’t Japanese food anymore.

Let me know in the comments. How many of you have Japanese restaurants that include one of these words? I’d bet at least 100% of you?

Law #7: Sushi Rolls Should Not Take Up Twelve Menu Pages

Photo by ayesamson

And the last law: sushi! With the soaring popularity of sushi in America, you can’t skip this. Sushi gives you a ton of clues as to whether or not a Japanese restaurant is “good” or not.

One Page Maximum, Please: If the menu contains more than one page of sushi rolls you’re in trouble. First of all, sushi rolls are much more of a thing in America than they are in Japan. Americans go apeshit over sushi rolls, for who knows what reason. I guess they contain less raw ingredients and you can deep fry them? I have no idea. Thing is, there are way too many of them. I consistently run into sushi menus that contain literally six or more pages worth of sushi rolls, and every one of them is just a slight variation on the last. Most likely, this restaurant is run by someone who is not Japanese. There’s lots of money in sushi rolls, so this person thinks that the more they have, the more money they’ll make. Obviously they aren’t in it for the passion of making great Japanese food.

Too Much Rice: It’s hard to gage this if you’re not used to less rice, but in general, “bad” sushi contains more rice and “good” sushi contains less. This is a trick that most Japanese restaurants do to make things bigger and fill you up faster (without having to give up as much profit-cutting fish!). Almost every sushi restaurant in America uses too much rice, I can tell you now. When you find someplace that does less (and higher quality) rice and achieves a better balance, you know you’ve found a gem.

Sushi Chef Shouldn’t Talk To You Much: Well, unless he knows you pretty well. In general, Japanese sushi chefs tend to talk to people they don’t know a lot less (exceptions to this rule abound, I’m sure). Non-Japanese sushi chefs are more talkative. Perhaps this is due to focus. Perhaps this is due to culture. I’m not totally sure, but it is something I’ve noticed. They’re too immersed in making great sushi to talk to you about your marathon or whatever it is you’re blabbing on about.

The Air Should Smell “Fresh”: If you smell the air and it smells fishy… well… something isn’t right. Sushi shouldn’t be “fishy,” and it certainly shouldn’t make the whole place smell fishy. This probably means the fish isn’t as fresh as it could be. Smell the air and turn around if it’s not ideal.

Seasonal: There are a lot of items that should be served seasonally. While I won’t go into what’s served when, in general your chef shouldn’t give you anything seasonal that’s not available fresh during that particular season. One way to figure this out is to ask the chef what is offered seasonally right now or look for a “specials” board. This will take more experience to figure out, but this little hint will tell you about how important freshness is to them.

Sushi Shouldn’t Require Wasabi, Shoyu (Soy Sauce): This is how you know you’ve found the motherload. Almost no Japanese restaurant does this in America. Even Japanese places don’t do this. But, if you go someplace that applies both wasabi and sauce for you (because they know what’s perfect for that particular piece of sushi), you can pinch yourself and see if you’re dreaming. Most likely, you’ll wake up a moment later, hungry and covered in sweat. If you don’t, though, smile and know that you might be at Jiro’s.

That’s Just Like Your Opinion, Man…

Wow, what a load of racism this post was! Sorry about that. Just want to mention again that there are exceptions to all of these “laws” (okay, so maybe they aren’t “laws,” but it sounds cooler). These laws will only get you so far, though. You have to go out there and try real Japanese food if you want to learn to appreciate real Japanese food. The more you try (and cook!) the better your palate will become. Of course, same goes for all types of food, including Korean, Chinese, Thai, American, French, and so-on. When it comes to food, the mother-country almost always knows best. If you want Japanese food you should get it from a “real” Japanese restaurant.

Also, food changes as it gets touched by other cultures. This isn’t a bad thing, and “real” Japanese food as it is now is definitely just a series of changes and adjustments that would probably be an abomination if eaten 500 years ago. “Real” Japanese food doesn’t exist because it’s all real. Same goes for “real” anything. Real is what you make it.

That being said, let’s all get high and mighty about “real” Japanese food for a moment anyways. Tell me about your “real” or “not real” Japanese food experiences in the comments! How many restaurants with the name “Fuji” are in your city or town? How many pages of sushi-roll menu do you read before flipping your table?

(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

Hope you enjoyed this post and are now ready to go out and find some “real” Japanese food. Sadly, there’s a chance you won’t find any at all, but it never hurts to try. Worst case scenario? Just go to Japan.

[hr]

Source: Header Image (note that I’m not saying this is a bad place to eat, it’s just my header picture because it has the word Teriyaki in it).

  • William Sumners

    This racism is completely acceptable.

    Still need to visit a Japanese restaurant one day.

  • Poemi

    Almost all “Japanese” restaurants here in Russia serve sushi rolls almost exclusively, and also serve pizza. That kind of freaked me out first time i got here. Not that it isn’t delicious, but the lack of even an air of authenticity weirds me out a bit, and I doubt any of them have Japanese chefs. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shaun-Krislock/553071502 Shaun Krislock

    Koichi, once again you hit the nail on the head. I am putting this on my facebook, ’cause around Vancouver BC, we are blessed with some amazing Japanese restaurants, but for every good one there are 3 or 4 bad ones. I agree with the “Japanese Owner Japanese Chef” mantra, but I will definitely agree there are some exceptions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/HarusamiSoul2Soul Harusami Is

    I’m just as picky about my Japanese restaurants, I want a JAPANESE cook and a JAPANESE sushi chef. I was totally grossed out at a Wolfgang Puck’s years ago watching the Indonesian sushi chef lick his fingers and touch his face. WTF? If he had apprenticed in Japan, he would have lost his fingers to the sushi master. If the staff are speaking Korean or Chinese to each other, I’m outta there. Japanese food is subtly seasoned, the Americanized crap is always too sweet, too salty or too spicy.

  • crowbark

    Racism, hardly. Culinary ethnicism? Permissible. I’m happier when I hear Japanese spoken between the sushi chefs on the other side of the bar, for the same reason that I’m happy my Japanese-language sensei hails from Sendai, and not Trenton (like my high school French teacher, who always complemented me on my accent. Thanks. Thanks a lot.)

    I’ll say this though – the Korean owner of the teriyaki place I frequent (the word Tokyo is in the name) serves a delicious steaming heap of sugary bird meat that may not resemble anything I could get in Japan, but it hits the spot. And grocery-store California rolls are infinitely inferior to real sushi, but they can make a nice change from ham sandwiches. Just don’t get confused about whether what you’re eating has a shred of ethnic authenticity, and you can take it on its own terms.

  • ショーン

    The fiancee and I generally just following Japanese dining traditions as a way to gauge how our food will be served.

  • http://twitter.com/StevoWilco Steve Wilcox

    There are a couple of good ones in Ogden, UT. Both are run by Japanese couples. Temari and Hanamaru. They have very unique hours though…

  • Kintaro

    Something that came to mind while I was reading your excellent list of laws is that almost everywhere in the U.S. if you are at a legitimate Japanese restaurant it will probably be a lot less occupied than fake ones (unless it is a super expensive legit Japanese restaurant). I don’t know why, but the real Japanese restaurants, when it comes down to it, are not that appealing to Americans. Does anybody else concur? Seems like when you walk into a legit Japanese restaurant you know a small part of the personality of every person in there because it’s the same desire for legitimacy that brought you there and keeps you coming back, and not the social/Americanized reasons.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    When I briefly lived in Russia I was surprised by the density of sushi restaurants Many of them were actually pretty good for what they are.

  • Dy~

    I’ve been to, let’s just say a few sushi spot’s in my life and pretty much everything on this list is right – give or take some odd experiences I’ve had with one eatery, I call it the tale of the two Wasabi’s.

    The place is named Wasabi (strike one); everything was great (though there was a little more rice than I would’ve wanted – strike two). That was in one city and the way it looked I assumed it was a franchise or something, but overall good – it even had a Japanese owner, signs posted, short menu and “grumpy” chef.

    A few months later (another town) friends took me to another Wasabi, so I thought “Hey can’t be that bad right – it’s a franchise(?) so hopefully it’s on par with the last one I was at”, boy was I dead wrong. Somehow everything was almost the exact opposite than the other one – even the menu was a bazillion times longer with non-Japanese things. The chef was about the same, but he was the real kind of grumpy, not concentrating version.

    Oh well, I always was more of a fan of hole-in-the-walls anyways.

  • Greg

    I have one exception to this. Katsu Burger in Seattle. It violates the no hamburgers rule, and it kind of violates the Fuji rule as one of the burgers is the Mount Fuji Burger. But the owner is Japanese and also owns a sushi restaurant. It’s definitely a Japanese take on a burger joint. Pork, chicken, tofu, or hamburger katsu (or combinations of the above), wasabi mayo, nori fries, green tea milk shakes, etc. It’s awesome.

  • AnthonyLeong
  • Thor

    Hook us fellow Portlanders up…what are the good Portland restaurants?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Restaurant Murata (Portland) & Yuzu (Beaverton)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Katsu Burgers aren’t really traditional Japanese food, though, so it can follow whatever rules it wants.

    Katsu Burger looks amazing, though. I meant to go last time I was in Seattle, but ran out of time :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think you’re right, which is probably why there are so many mediocre Japanese restaurants out there, catering to Americans :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Aw, yeah :( You guys have awesome Japanese food. I jelllly

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Damg, yeah, I need to add “Wasabi” to my name list. Thank you!

  • MrsSpooky

    My favorite “Japanese” restaurant I know is Americanized. :) It’s also owned and operated by a lovely Chinese family. I’ve eaten shashimi at a “Real Japanese” restaurant that sadly isn’t there any more, but even then I couldn’t tell you how Americanized the menu was – it was several years ago, before I started learning Japanese or even caring if it was Real Japanese food. For myself, if it tastes good and very nicely presented, then I’m going to love it, whether it’s “real” or not. :) Still, I’d love to have real Japanese food even if I have to fly to Japan to get it. I even hope to be able to do that some day.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    It’s true – if you want “teriyaki” it can be delicious… but so suggggarrryyy D:

    I can’t lie and say I haven’t craved that kind of teriyaki at least once before in my life :p

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    OR BOBBY FLAY STANDING ON THE CUTTING BOARD. What’s up with these Food Network chefs defiling Japanese cooking???

  • Thor

    Oh yeah! I love Yuzu.

  • ジョサイア

    *Sigh* All that’s in my town is china house…(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻ (BTW great emoticon)

  • ジョサイア

    jellyも

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.hurd Joshua Hurd

    There is actually a restaurant called “Tokyo Sushi” where I live. It’s run by Koreans.
    On the other hand, there is a really great restaurant called Yujiro, and although I don’t think the owner/chef is actually Japanese (possibly Vietnamese or Cantonese?), he speaks fluent Japanese and serves up some of the best Japanese food in the city.

  • shirokumatyo

    The worst sushi I’ve ever had was at a restaurant in a hotel in Reno, Nevada, and was being prepared by a young guy from Guam. It was pretty bad.

    I also avoid Japanese restaurants that serve their miso soup with a spoon on the side (this actually happened to me in Hawaii, of all places, the one state where I’d expect people to know better).

    And any place you can choose two or more items in a “combination bento” but one of them has to be teriyaki.

    One note about chefs, though.

    There are more non-native/non-Japanese chefs training and working at restaurants in Japan these days. Some of them are actually being *properly* trained in the Japanese tradition, and some of *those* make their way to the U.S., where they perhaps hope they’ll be less likely to encounter… resistance…from customers. So you may need to become a little more lenient on your nationality/ethnicity rule going forward…

  • http://twitter.com/WackoMcGoose Kimura

    Hmm… I’m gonna have to try that when I’m down there for Bunka no Hi…

  • http://twitter.com/Psychosako Sako Tumi

    I have an a similar experience for Law #1. We were road tripping south, and decided to stop in Georgia for dinner. Urban Spoon rated a place as being 95%, so we decided to roll in. I would have rated it at more like a 50. Deep fried (not panko) shrimp with some kind of american sweet syrup poured over it does not scream Japanese to me, and i didn’t find it particularly tasty. I rated it low and made it clear i was not from the area.

    I hate to say it, but I too look at “Japanese” restaurants with something of a racists eye. Living in the DC area, I would like to add “steak house” to law number 6. Invariably, “Japanese Steak House” infers that it has a Korean running what i call “flash bang teppanyaki”, where filipino and hispanic guy is doing goofy tricks with his cutlery and syruping my stirfry while teenage Korean girls are taking drink and “sushi” orders. There should not be bbq sauce, shiracha nor creme cheese anywhere near my sushi. An overabundance of poorly cut ginger and wasabi leads me to believe that there is a flaw in the sushi that needs to be covered up, and it’s usually true.

    I have found 1 genuine japanese restaurant in a 300 mile radius of DC. Kind of sad, but at least i can go somewhere without expecting disappointment for the money I am spending.

  • http://niyoels.tumblr.com/ niyoels

    There are not very many Japanese in my city so very few restaurants are owned by Japanese. Once on a trip though, I happened upon a restaurant called “Tokyo” but I didn’t have very high hopes for it because of the name. However, the owner was actually Japanese and that’s how we managed to get service (the employees only spoke french). The food was very good there and they even had ikura!
    I have been to Japan though and had real Japanese food and I think one of the reasons that Japanese food in the west cannot be very authentic is because of the taste pallet. I’m not very good with ginger which is a very common ingredient I found in Japanese cooking. There is also shiso which I never tasted before going to Japan and wasn’t too fond of either. Also, I find Japanese tend to enjoy texture in food which is not common here.

  • http://twitter.com/Psychosako Sako Tumi

    Yeah, i wouldn’t consider this traditional by any means, but it sounds wicked awesome.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I don’t doubt there’s great non-Japanese Japanese food chefs out there, but if I had to make a bet, I don’t think the chances for that are great. Maybe I’d have to roll a 1/1000 to get the great non-Japanese Japanese food chef?

    That is a damn good point about combination bentos… haha, it’s so true.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    So true re: steak house!

    Also, I don’t think there is a single good Japanese restaurant in Georgia. Japanese food is definitely not what I’d associate Georgia with… Alligator sushi?

    EDIT: Just kidding Georgia people! Maybe…

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Always forget to stop by Katsu Burger when I’m back in Seattle. I rarely make the trip out to Georgetown.. and if I do it’s to visit the brewery to fill up some growlers.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yeah, the whole palate thing is probably one of the main issues. Can’t make money if nobody wants to eat your food :( It’s hard to make really good Japanese food, I think.

    But how can you not like shiso!!??!??? Shiso. So. good. must. resist. urge. to. attack…. jkjk

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yujiro sounds like a legit name, I’d walk in there if I saw it on the street.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    “Unique hours” is so true! Traditional Japanese restaurants just seem to do what they want in terms of hours, haha.

  • Pepper_the_Sgt

    There’s a buffet place in my town that serves American food as well as “Chinese” and “Japanese” food. It’s pretty Americanized, but the buffet is only $7.00! The food is good enough and as a college student I mainly buy food based on a dollar to calorie ratio.

  • jesse

    hahaha, this was super great. So true. Luckily things aren’t as biggified and deepfried’eried in australia. I have 3 proper (sometimes expensive) japanese restaurants within walking distance. No tokyo samurai ninja sushi for me.

  • http://www.sputniksweetie.com SputnikSweetie

    Hokusei is pretty good, too.

  • Tina

    This was the most disappointing tofugu article I have ever read. Hold your ad-hominins until you can figure out what you REALLY mean to say. That is, don’t throw around the word racism when you’re really just trying to get people to look at context when reading yelp reviews! The pressure to meet a deadline seems to have taken over the quality of this article. I’d rather the writer take the time to consider more precise words than spew insulting things over a site I had come to trust.

  • http://www.facebook.com/salexa25 Sarah Elizabeth Alexander

    If you’re in the Atlanta area, check out Umezono in Smyrna. It’s right next to Tomato (their signage is in hiragana), a Japanese grocery that feels much like a mom and pop grocery in Japan. Despite being the the same shopping center as Boomers strip club and a bartending school, it’s a legit Japanese restaurant. Seasonal menu, Japanese staff. Relatively small sushi menu (though they have stuff like kampyo). I’ve live in Japan for two years, to give me a bit of cred.

  • http://www.sputniksweetie.com SputnikSweetie

    As grumpy as you come off, you have a point.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    ┬─┬ノ( º _ ºノ) Now, now. Let’s all just calm down.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I agree that people with Japanese names have better opinions about food. In conclusion I give Pocky 4.5 desus out of 5 nekos. It is kawaii delicious.

  • elwhy

    Ha ha. so true. For every real Japanese restaurant there are 10 “Japanese” restaurant. I tell people if they sell Bulgogi or Kimchee its Korean owned.

  • Maya

    As a Portlander, I assume you have an opinion on the monstrosity that is Saburo’s? I want to hate it, I really do, but even with its terrible service and absolutely not being a “real” Japanese restaurant, I find myself craving their absurd, meal-sized rolls.

  • Maya

    Murata? Hokusei? How about anything in the one-dollar-sign range that’s not hipsterville Sushi Sakura (which, of course, blatantly breaks rule #6, but is at least affordable)?

  • http://www.sputniksweetie.com SputnikSweetie

    Koichi has never been to Saburo’s. Restaurants that are located within a 5 mile radius of Jade Tea House and Patisserie may as well not exist in his mind.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    4.5 desus? SUGOI

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    +1 for Yuzu. Such a great hole-in-the-wall place.

  • orangedude

    I loved this article! I laughed and learned a few things! I love our towns local “Little Tokyo” restaurant. Not because I think it’s “Japanese food”, but because it’s good food! I wouldn’t ever go there for authentic Japanese food, but I would go there for some good chicken+rice dishes!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Murata has a pretty reasonable lunch special, I think

  • http://www.sputniksweetie.com SputnikSweetie

    Hmm, if you’re looking for $ sushi… maybe Sansai? Carts like Sushi PDX or Zenbu might be worth a shot, too. Oh, and for just general Japanese, Biwa has a happy hour and Kale is pretty affordable anytime.

  • shiroi

    Unfortunately you will probably never be able to easily procure “real” Japanese food outside of Japan, even if you go to an allegedly “good” Japanese restaurant (by whatever standards you judge it to be good, racist or not). The reasons for this are the exact same reasons why you usually can’t get good American or Mexican food in Japan: (a) The cost of truly authentic ingredients is too high, and (b) Americans in general don’t actually like Japanese food (just like Japanese in general don’t actually like American/Mexican food), so a smart restauranteur must cater to the local tastes at least a little in order to stay in business.

    Hence sweet tacos in Japan (Japanese don’t like meat that tastes like meat), and super salty teriyaki in America (Americans don’t like meat that tastes like sugar). Generally speaking, of course.

    And totally removed from the article itself, I just hate to see Americans on here trashing other Americans for not “understanding” ethnic foods or whatever, American-Japanese food is garbage blah blah blah. Look guys, we all have certain tastes that developed thanks to the culture we grew up in. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or to get all snooty about! It’s not like the Japanese are any better about it, believe me. You should see the way some of my students screw up their faces at bread. Bread!!

  • http://www.sputniksweetie.com SputnikSweetie

    I’m just curious—where in America are you from/have you lived?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think you’re right – it’s hard to say what’s “good” or “authentic” – what’s good for one person is no good for another, and what’s “real” changes when it moves through time and various cultures.

    Gotta understand that this article 3/4 entertainment (I think the language of this article makes that fairly obvious, but just in case…), didn’t actually mean to get snooty, sorry!

  • Jewbacabra

    feel like I should give a heads up to those in the San Francisco area that the sushi restaurant Kiji is the best sushi I’ve had outside of Japan. Definitely recommend it.

  • Reptic

    Alligator sushi in Georgia?… Nah, that sounds more like a Louisiana/Florida thing.

  • http://twitter.com/empireofderp Nej

    Mount. Fuji in Birmingham, UK is delicious. It’s run by Japanese staff and chefs. But I’m white so don’t take my word for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000185670208 Nick Haupt

    What about semi-franchises? In Florida (and maybe other places idk) we have a restaurant called Kobe, and I think more than one Kobe Ichi-ban, and it seems to follow all of your rules to a tee. But since there’s like 5 of them spread out over multiple cities, I’m starting to second guess it.

  • beattiend

    Have you tried Biwa? It’s the only one I’ve found so far that is any good, and follows these rules :)

  • beattiend

    I like biwa

  • lychalis

    There’s a lot of Japanese-style restaurants on the road where my bf’s dorm is – w’ve decided to try them all. There’s one called The Japanese Canteen – I had the bento and to be honest it wasn’t great :/ bit bland – didn’t see any japanese guys working there either.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    No, the use of the word ‘racism’ is precautionary, from what I can tell. On the internet (or any form of media for that matter), saying anything that isn’t one-hundred percent politically correct will land you a s**t-storm of “You racist bastard!!!11!!!1″ remarks.
    Also, Tofugu articles are written with entertainment value in mind. For some reason, a lot of us will probably find the use of the word ‘racist’ to describe actions as entertaining. Since Western culture (especially the US, though we’re all hypocrites if you ask me) is constantly trying to restate the variable ‘Racism=False’, it becomes a ‘thing you shouldn’t touch’. We all know how much people like to talk about the taboo and even be or do the taboo just because of it’s taboo status (and yet they fuss at kids for doing precisely what they were told NOT to do).

    Thus, the (rather incorrect) use of the word ‘racism’ to describe how to pick out better reviews. Have fun being a critic about lighthearted internet articles. You know you do it for the same reason people like to talk about the taboo.

  • Anna Li

    Thank you!!! I know how to identify Chinese restaurants ‘cuz I grew up with it (I can make awesome dumplings/bao zi! I can make…etc.) Now I know how to pursue restaurant perfection in Japanese food!

  • Meta

    There’s certainly no technological or logistical reasons for the authentic ingredients to be prohibitively expensive and economically unviable for authentic Japanese food to be made in US in today’s age. In areas with high Japanese population (California for example), Japanese imports and authentic Japanese food are quite readily available, because the demand is high and there’s money to be made.

    Take sushi for instance, you can buy imported Japanese rice at Japanese supermarkets in LA even as regular consumers. And as far as the fish, they are not “grown” in Japan, they are caught all over the world. Some of the best tunas are caught in oceans near US right now, then flash-frozen and shipped to Japanese auction houses the next day.

    The reasons why some goods from one country is difficult to get in another is mostly artificial and political. For example, Japan put a heavy tariff on rice from US to protect local rice industry, while US has a ban on Kobe beef because USDA restrictions.

  • ジョサイア

    Oh so funny xD

  • grotesk_faery

    There are only two sushi restaurants in my city where I’ll go, and I think they follow most of those rules. They don’t have the “no exchanges” sign, and there are a lot of rolls, but there’s also a lot of sushi and sashimi, as well as udon, donburi, etc. One has sushi in the name, but it’s really good regardless, and the name is WAY tame compared to some of the “sushi” restaurants we’ve had. Their ingredients are really fresh for a sushi restaurant in America, and their chefs are all Japanese, though most of the wait staff are SE Asian in one and American in the other, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that they cost less. I don’t really care who brings it to the table, though, so long as a Japanese person is making the food. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Japanese restaurant in America that followed all these criteria that wasn’t crazy expensive, and honestly, unless it was in a large city, I think they’d go under pretty quickly. It’s just too expensive to get a lot of fresh, seasonal Japanese ingredients, and most people wouldn’t appreciate them enough to pay the price for them since they don’t see them often enough to develop a taste for them. My city is roughly half university, which is in turn at least half hipsters, so they think they know and like sushi, and I honestly can’t fault the restaurants for catering to them a bit. But while they do have some terrible abomination rolls, they also have really great, authentic sushi. So as long as you don’t buy something that doesn’t look traditional, I think you’d have a great experience.

  • ジョサイア

    …I just burst out laughing.
    Have you ever eaten at china house?
    If not (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

  • http://www.facebook.com/devanylisteraley Devany Lister Aley

    My boyfriend always jokes that I’ve taken him to an authentic (as you can get in California) Japanese restaurant only when we stick out like sore thumbs, there’s little to no English translations on the menus, and tiny obaa-chans want to touch my blonde hair.

    Another tip I’d add is Japanese market food courts. Mitsuwa market has weekends where they have food imported from Japan localities like Okinawa, and they have great ramen, donburi and kastu kare raisu with nary a “super duper mayo and sriracha deep fried fake crab sushi roll special” in sight.

  • ジョサイア

    You do know that Walmart sells everything from 冷凍寿司 to ラーメン right?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    FYI, your use of only one equal sign to imply equality is racist to programmers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tanner.m.colvin Tanner M Colvin

    Thankfully none of the sushi joints in my little Montana town have “Fuji” in the name. At least not yet. There’s a new sushi joint popping up in my town every couple of years. We do have several restaurants with sushi though. A little place called Dave’s Sushi is the most popular in town, but it smells like BO from all the college kids. We had a pricy sushi restaurant close down called “Looie’s” which was actually owned by an Italian guy. Fresh ingredients, but expensive.

    The best sushi place in town for me is “Watanabe.” A little restaurant owned by a family from Kumamoto, where I studied abroad. They do break #7 by having abundant “inside-out” rolls on their menu. But at the same time they have a pretty succulent selection of nigiri. No ootoro sadly. It’s as authentic as Japanese food gets in Montana, despite the lack of a no refund sign. Oh, and no hamburgers either! I also can’t forget the fish monger downtown who has fresh tuna rolls for sale along with imported goods like furikake and Kewpie mayonnaise.

  • belgand

    In the SF area Tani’s Kitchen in Daly City is rather good. It’s a small (about 12 seats total), family-run business that does a good job with homestyle cooking. Yeah, they try to do too much and push into areas they don’t really excel at (i.e. sushi), but the curry and donburi are definitely worth a trip down there.

    Murracci’s in the Financial District does curry. That’s it. I mean, I think they serve a few other things, but outside of appetizers or such it’s just curry on the menu. The only problem is that they’re only open for lunch on weekdays because they target the work lunch crowd… which also means they tend to be busy.

    Okina Sushi in the Inner Richmond is another really great spot. In this case it’s run by an allegedly Japanese trained sushi chef who, as rumor has it, operates the restaurant as a sort of hobby. It’s only open Thurs-Sat for dinner and only takes cash. Again, it’s a small spot with maybe 20 seats total, if that. It’s also run entirely by the chef/owner and a waitress. Very limited menu consisting mainly of nigiri and a few very traditional rolls with no cooked food.

    This isn’t exhaustive and there are plenty of other good, authentic Japanese restaurants around town.The smartest move you can make here though is that unless you know what you’re doing (e.g the ridiculously expensive and apparently amazing koryori place Kappa) stay away from Japan Town for food. It tends to be one of the worst places to get good Japanese food in town.

  • Lionrence

    these laws are all pretty good, as Japanese food enthusiast, I actively try to eat at every Japanese place in my city, Montreal (there’s a lot of them), I can say I came up with similar laws over the years

  • Gabrielle

    Where do you get your fix in Portland? I go to Saburo’s when I’m really craving and want something reasonably priced. Although it does have a special place in my heart, everything is freakin’ gigantic and they do push the rolls quite a bit. Some good noodles would be cool.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    No, ’cause the variable is being set. I mostly work with Python for fun and to set a variable, you simply type ‘variable’ = ‘value’, where ‘variable’ is the variable being set and ‘value’ is any numerical, Boolean, or string value.

    Now, when you are doing something like displaying some text based on if the statement is true or false, then you’d do something like this:
    if Racism == False:
    print(“The US is full of hypocrites!”)
    elif Racism == True:
    print(“Well, you’re quite honest about being in the KKK aren’t you? Now, STFU and die! … or something.”)

    (EDIT: aww… it left out the indentation. Python runs on indentations!)
    (by the way, if you were to give a value to Racism of either True or False, you could run this program and it would say something (if it were anything else, it’d give a syntax error since it doesn’t have any way to handle a different value). That’s why Python is so loved, even if it’s a high-level language with all the limitations of one)

    Basically, ‘=’ is ‘equals’ and ‘==’ is ‘equivalent’. Even if they basically mean the same thing, in Python (and other programming languages, if I remember correctly) it’s completely different.

    Yes, I spent way to much time replying to this… But I have to assert my correctness on the internet!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronnie.meade.5 Ronnie Meade

    I have a restaurant in az called sakana and it’s great, one page of rolls it used to have two Japanese sushi chefs but one quit for school I think. When you walk in you see the specials for the time of day and the menu is quite small. One very beautiful Japanese lady that I think is the owners wife and all the waitresses are American lol.

  • http://gakuranman.com Gakuranman

    Funnily enough the best McDonalds I ever had was in Japan… Just sayin’ ;).

    Spot on with the sashimi vs rice quantities though. A good test is to see if the fish touches the plate. If you can barely see the rice under it, you’re probably in for a treat!

  • DAVIDPD

    Here in Sacramento, CA, there are only a small handful of REAL Japanese restaurants. Most of them are owned by enterprising Koreans or Chinese. Of the real deal Japanese restaurants, of which is owned and operated by a Japanese couple, Yui Marlu is my personal favorite. Can’t get much better in Sacramento. Too bad there is no place to get real deal Japanese street food,

  • DAVIDPD

    “Japanese food” can be delicious although not authentic. If it tastes good to you that is all that really matters.

  • DAVIDPD

    Most countries’ street food or common man’s food, can be had in other countries, especially in the USA, but the irony is that it can only be had at exceptionally expensive restaurants. Take Pad Thai, Ramen, or real deal Dim Sum, all can be had in their authentic preparation and taste, but just cost three to four times as expensive as they should be.

  • Ron

    I’m in a college town right now, so it’s just sushi bars D:

  • Yas

    If you’re ever in Chicago, check out a place called Itto Sushi (though don’t trust google maps because they think it’s someplace it’s totally not). I used to go there all the time when I lived in the neighborhood, and oh how I miss it. The staff is all Japanese, there’s more kitchen food on the menu than there is sushi, and every time I’ve been there there have been as many Japanese patrons as non-Japanese, even in the overwhelmingly white yuppie neighborhood in which it’s located. They also have a 日本語 menu with different stuff on it, but since I began studying Japanese long after I moved to a different part of the city I’ve never taken a peek.

    There’s also a place called Sunshine Cafe which doesn’t serve sushi at all, and which has been recommended to me by multiple people including some who spent time in JET. I can’t say for sure how good it is myself because the one time I tried to go they decided to ignore their posted hours and not be open.

  • piderman

    I’ve been to two Japanese restaurants in the Netherlands so far… one was called “Sakura” but looking at their website they have numbers on the menu and things like “French Duck Breast… in Teriyaki Sauce!” so that one is clear. The other one is called “Konnichi Wa” which I feel violates rule #6 a bit but otherwise they seem to be ok :)

  • Mescale

    Some other rules:

    1. Are Japanese people eating there?
    2. Is the place kinda shabby but full of people anyway. See 1 for types of people.
    3. Ethnic stronghold locations are better

    I also tend to rate Japanese restaurants by their sashimi, bad places you have sashimi that looks like sashimi and has a texture which is sashimi like, but no flavour at all. So all I need to do is eat a restaurants Sashimi to tell if it’s any good, of course its got an element of russian roulette involved, but hey, its like french restaurants and steak tartar.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    This response is the greatest thing I’ve read all day

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Another good taste test is the tamago nigiri… gotta taste a ton of it to develop that fancy palate, but this is the thing that takes the most skill out of anything, strangely, so a lot of people taste it to see if the sushi restaurant is going to be any good or not. Plus, it’s cheap!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    lol, “Sakura” is another I should add to the list of banned-words, haha.

    There’s one teriyaki place in the mall around here called “Sarku.” I’m pretty sure someone messed up and meant to name it “sakura”, but there’s no way to be sure… I’m pretty sure.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Not showing up on maps sounds like a good sign, haha. We have a place similar to that that’s really good here. It has no sign, so people have trouble finding it, but it’s awesome!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    See, I hear a lot of people like Saburo’s, but I can’t get my head around the giant portions (or mouth, for that matter?). I haven’t been there so I can’t say, and I probably should go, but if I’m down that way, I go to Jade, because Jade Teahouse = best restaurant in Portland, haha.

    Otherwise, Murata’s and Yuzu are both good. Also, Kalé has pretty good Japanese curry.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    WUT? 冷凍寿司 sounds like something that shouldn’t be allowed to exist :/

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Oh! Please tell me how to identify good Chinese restaurants. I _think_ I have an idea, but I almost certainly am completely wrong.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Canteen!? For some reason I got the image of the Cantina from Star Wars in my head just now…

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I would probably say that franchises in America for Japanese food aren’t going to be great… but I have no idea since I haven’t been to any of those. Hell, I guess if Denny’s can serve authentic Japanese food in Japan, anything’s possible.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    dang, I haven’t gone there :( Adding to my SF to-do list

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Non-authentic Japanese food can be tasty too, I agree!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I’m so glad to see the “den” isn’t like a “hovel” or “cave” or something, and instead is 伝, haha.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    dyamng, that’s really cheap.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    STOP FIGHTING ヾ(;;;;;;;;;;;;´༎ຶ0༎ຶ)ノ

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yeah, Biwa’s pretty good too! We go there sometimes, perhaps we’ll run into each other 0_o

  • Yas

    Well it does show up, but at an intersection about a quarter mile north and west of where it ought to be. There’s a sign, but it’s pretty easily overlooked.

  • YUP!

    I’ve only been to two Japanese restaurants. One was completely owned and operated by Japanese folks however, they gave wasabi and soy along with the sushi. =/ Very tasty place though.

    Another one I went to was a buffet style place (So I guess not Japanese then?) and had Japanese workers but I’m not for sure if Japanese owned and operated it.

    So, I guess those two Japanese restaurants were nothing but contradictions? =/

  • YUP!

    “Real” Japanese food doesn’t exist because it’s all real. Same goes for “real” anything. Real is what you make it.”

    Realception?

  • HatsuHazama

    The funny thing is though, most of this would only apply to people with at least a moderate interest in actual Japanese culture.
    I mean, I’m Indian, and eat genuine Indian food nearly every day. Now, why is it the popular restaurants are the ones with the least authentic meals…

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Ahhh, I want to know where to find authentic Indian foodddd

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Let me go ask my buddy Leo.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Good way to throw off those not willing to work hard enough for it, I guess :P

  • R. Ali

    lol.. Thanks for the tips… I mean LAWS. lol I love Japan but don’t know how I’ll eat the food… raw fish just isn’t my thing. :/ lol

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Well, the majority of Japanese cuisine isn’t raw at all. Only sushi contains raw fish, if I remember correctly. So as long as you aren’t going to a sushi bar, you will be eating cooked food.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I see. I misinterpreted what you wrote. To retain my honour, I shall commit ritual suicide via infinite loop.

    while (true)
    {
    Console.Write(“I regret everything!”);
    }

    (C#, because I was never very good at Python.)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Not too hard to find non-raw Japanese food! Just happens that sushi’s so popular everywhere that people think that’s all Japanese people eat :( There’s more to Japanese food than raw fish, luckily for you! :)

  • ジョサイア

    (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ヾ(´༎ຶ0༎ຶ)ノ

    Take that!

  • ジョサイア

    I’ve never eaten it, but it sounds nasty!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    v(;´༎ຶД༎ຶ`)v

  • Andy

    Another tip.. find a Japanese restaurant where you can find food items on the walls written in Japanese kanji/hiragana. I have never seen a Chinese/Korean-owned restaurant with foods written in Japanese. Similarly for Chinese restaurants, you will find a lot of food items (off-menu) written in Chinese on strips of paper over the walls.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    I have been to one really good ethnic-cuisine restaurant that had a token hamburger and french fries on the menu, just in case you had one person in the group who wasn’t into good food.

    It was an Italian place, though, which is slightly different from Japanese and easier to get right.

  • Hinoema

    A white person’s opinion, but Syun in Hillsboro is like one of the best EVAR. It meets these guidelines, too!

  • ジョサイア

    Ummm…[url=http://www.cool-smileys.com/smiley-that-says-im-sorry][img]http://www.cool-smileys.com/images/142.gif[/img][/url]

  • ジョサイア

    My mommy told me it is not nice to throw tables on strangers :(

  • luscher

    so you’re saying i shouldn’t open my ”Ninja Sushi Bento-Zilla”, AKA ”International House of Sushi and Soba” ?

    Koichi, you are kill my dream

  • Poemi

    They ARE pretty good for what they are.. well not all, i take that back, but the ones that I frequent. I’m just used to the idea that if it’s a pizza joint, then don’t trust the sushi they make, and vice versa. It’s curious that it’s really not like that at all here though.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yeah, trufe to that.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    ヾ(;;;;;;;;;;;;´༎ຶ0༎ຶ)ノ

  • Emi

    I don’t want to come off racist, but I completely agree with #4. My dad has travelled all over the world, and this is the one thing that I’ve learnt from his experiences. Also, if any café or restaurant is empty when everywhere else is packed, then there’s probably a very good reason why no one is eating in there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.berglund Helen Berglund

    The only Japanese resturant in my hometown is called “Wasabi Sushi”… So, uh… I guess I should be glad I never set foot in that building? (^w^)

  • CelestialSushi

    Sounds really cool and delicious. If I’m ever out there, I’ll try to look for it :D

  • CelestialSushi

    And it’s delicious! :D

  • CelestialSushi

    There’s a restaurant not too far from where I live that prides itself on being Japanese owned and operated. The menu’s in both English and Japanese, most, if not all, of the items are Japanese (Coca-cola and other beverages being the exception here, but they do have Ramune too), and my Sensei apparently eats there often with her family (she’s Japanese, too). Some of the waitresses are American, but they do have Japanese waitresses too (my class would go here after our final exams and practice our mad language skills XD). And there’s a light aroma of fried food in the air, given that they serve tempura, katsu kare, and croquettes… yum…
    The interesting thing is that it’s in Ohio, not on the West Coast. Not that location is a real problem or anything, right? :D

  • Christian

    Only ‘sashimi’ contains, scratch that, is (slices of)raw fish. ‘Sushi’ is the name of the vinegared rice that many sushi dishes are made from. So Nigiri Sushi, a slice of food (usually fish, could be egg for an example of contrast) sitting on a tiny ball of rice, is what most of us Americans attribute to sushi. So any dish with the word ‘sushi’ or ‘zushi’ in it is food and vinegared rice. One more example, makizushi (roll sushi). We usually just say ‘roll’ in America. In America you usually see ‘Hand Roll’ (giant cone shaped thing), in Japan and good Japanese restaurants it will be called “Te Maki” (Te=hand). And it falls under the umbrella of “makizushi” because it’s rolled and made with sushi rice.

  • Christian

    This is great.
    If you’re lucky enough to live in a major American city (for food choices only, won’t get into a country living v.s. city living debate), then you will have more options and can find good Japanese food. And this list is very applicable. However if you’re off the beaten culinary path a bit, you might not have much of a choice … I saw “Hong Kong Sushi” while driving through Bridgeport, Connecticut, good job assholes, and Bridgeport is the biggest (shithole) city in the state.

    But, I was going to add that another good sign of a sub-par Japanese restaurant is any type of American named sushi (California Rolls can be an exception) on the menu. Alaska, New York, Philadelphia, anything containing ‘cream cheese.’
    But but but, I don’t 100% agree with this. One of the best sushi restaurants in NYC, and it’s off the beaten path, breaks this rule. This place is knock your socks off good. (And no, I won’t tell you where it is.)
    While I wouldn’t classify myself as a “Japan Dork” I go looney for anything Japanese food related. I now live in Japan, and just finished my natto and rice, and miso soup breakfast. Japanese people like Japanese food almost as much as I do … except for ‘shiokara.’ Fuck you shiokara, seriously, I’ll get you one day.

  • anon22345

    “….or a McDonalds run by an American”. Ouch….that hurts in a lot of ways :(

    But that aside, there’s lots of cheap places all over the west coast that serve “Japanese” food to go that’s a perfectly fine replacement to Burger King or Jack in the Box. A big deciding factor too is how much you want to spend on a meal or what you want out of it. “Real” Japanese places are more high-scale business luncheon, west coast teriyaki chicken joints are more something to grab after you get your groceries.

  • Tori-chan ^_^

    I was at the Atlanta Japanfest a few months back and was pleased by the authenticity. This was real stuff. I was freaking out though because I’m vegetarian and can’t eat some things. I am relatively new to Japanese food and was clinging to my (also vegetarian) senpai. “Oh gosh what has meat and what doesn’t?!?”

  • The Bartender

    I’m glad you guys posted this article. I just wanted to say that I’m definitely one of those people who in most situations believes the authentic preparation of a cuisine is usually the best as it took many years to perfect it into what it is today. Likewise, I do hope that the “Americanized” sushi serves as a medium of transition into getting people to try original, authentic preparations of sushi. In addition, when it comes to finding a very authentic Japanese restaurant in America that serves traditional preparations of sushi, going as far as the modern Edo-mae preparation of preseasoning the sushi before serving as is with no other condiments; the area of where that business is has to have a significant population of 1st generation (that generation first arriving) Japanese immigrants such as Los Angeles and New York. That being said, there’s a based clientele that is familiar and wants original, authentic preparations of sushi. With the rest of Southern California in addition to LA having 1st gen Japanese Immigrants, there’s even places in Orange County where I’m based in that has a Japanese restaurant serving authentic sushi such as this place called Ikko in Costa Mesa, CA where I’ve extensively reviewed on my blog as they only serve the highest quality of fish from Japan and all over: http://themetropolitanlounge.blogspot.com/2012/10/roc-ikko-2nd-review-amazing-edo-mae.html I’ve actually taken people originally from the Mid-West and the South where it’s not typically known in reputation of having original Japanese cuisine like Southern California and New York. I also want to say that that immediately loved the original preparation of sushi. I mention this because I would like people to know that sushi is truly clean and delicate in flavor, not fishy at all despite it being raw. Once again, Thanks for this article!

  • The Bartender

    By “original” and “authentic”, I do mean traditional of course

  • Kevin

    I’m lucky enough to live in San Jose, one of the bastions of Japanese food on the West Coast (and probably second only to NYC in terms of Japanese food quality that I’ve found in the US. I’ve been to a couple of awesome ramen restaurants out here (Ramen Halu, Santouka, Orenchi, Kahoo) as well as a few decent restaurants that serve other things (I’m an especially huge fan of Tanto http://www.yelp.com/biz/tanto-japanese-restaurant-sunnyvale-2). We have a Mitsuwa Marketplace and a Nijiya Market right nearby.

    That being said, I’ve still yet to go to a great sushi place. I’m now at the point where I’d be happy to pay a little bit more to try something authentic, particularly a place that actually uses nikiri and applies it on the nigiri like you mentioned in the article, so if anyone can point me to the right place, I’d be happy to go.

    Sadly, I’d have to admit that I’m hardly picky right now when it comes to sushi, nor do I have a particularly experienced palate – my idea of a good time is going to Sushi Infinity in SJ and stuffing myself silly with spicy scallop hand rolls.

    Also would love to find a places that serve good okonomiyaki, yakitori, and other Japanese specialties, if anyone knows of any! It’s starting to get easier and easier to find quality ramen out here but everything else is still rare.

  • Sarah Luitwieler Smith

    YES! Your rules are the same as ours! Living is a primarily Japanese community in Orange County for several years has spoiled me and my husband. Too bad we have yet to find comparable food in the SF Bay. *Sigh*

  • The Bartender

    Also wanted to add that I enjoy that this article is one of those “In your face” articles along with that Sushi Abomination article to those who think a Catterpillar roll is authentic sushi.

  • http://project-kathryn.blogspot.com/ kathryn

    My one rule for a Japanese place – does my Japanese teacher eat there? She is very fussy about authenticity.

    By the way, it’s possible to return, get a refund for food you don’t like in the US? That blows my mind. In Australia you can if you can get a refund if the food is not right (hair in the food, it’s burnt or stuff like that) but not liking it, tough luck!

  • Derek Voeller

    I’ll be in Seattle soon seeing so family. Anyone have any restaurant suggestions?

  • ジョサイア

    Troll lol

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    I used to know a lot of great, real Japanese restaurants in the U.S. (I lived primarily in California.) I’ve easily eaten at more than 500 Japanese restaurants around the U.S. Then I moved to Japan.

    Now, when I go back to the States for a visit, I’m shocked at how bad the food is at all the places that used to be my favorites. There’s better food in a Japanese 7-11 for 300 yen than anything you can get in the the U.S. for a hundred dollars.

    I’m not trying to be harsh, but I really think people need to know, because I sure didn’t. I hear a lot of people raving about how good this or that place is. I used to be that guy, even after I’d been to Japan several times. It took me years of actually living in Japan to be able to understand how things were supposed to taste. Now, I see that what I thought was a fabulous meal was really just McDonald’s quality. Don’t be fooled by the decor, signage, menus, or the fact that they found an actual Japanese guy to stand behind the sushi bar. That dude was selling shoes at the Nike store back in Japan. Find out–does he even know what a sawara fish looks like? Where is the fish from? After it’s defrosted, and how many days will it stay in the sushi case?

    We have hundreds of varieties of rice here in Japan, and selecting the right one is a big deal. Same goes for nori, wasabi, ginger, soy sauce, tea, miso . . . How did your restaurant select what it’s offering?

    You say there’s 7 laws, but for me, there’s only one: ignorance is bliss.

  • http://profiles.google.com/blukat99 Julie Helmi

    I do not trust positive internet restaurant reviews here in Oregon. If a place has a bunch of negatives then I know it’s probably bad though. I wish there would be a new category of restaurant called Japanese American. It would make my life so much easier. I also find if the reviews rave about the sushi rolls then it’s not likely to have much in the way of real Japanese food.

    I’ve also given up trying to find decent fish tacos here too. There are one or two places but the rest…sigh.

    btw, I’ve been to Japan more than once and lived a very long time in Southern Calif, lastly in the Torrance/Gardena area. Just to qualify myself. And I will say there are a few places in Torrance/Gardena that are authentic Japanese. I miss them.

  • Franklin

    My wife makes kick-ass teriyaki unlike anything I’ve ever eaten in America and my stepsons would literally sell their grandmother to a circus for a giant, salty meat behemoth. Have you ever even heard of yakiniku?

    I think you’re reducing what is and isn’t authentic down to some stereotyped ideas in your head. No hamburgers? Guess what real Japanese children would sell their grandmother to a circus for. French fries. I’ve never been to a restaurant in Japan that doesn’t have them. I know, because my children literally beg every single time we go out for “potatoes…potatoes…please, potatoes!”

    If I were going to be truly honest in response to your article, I’d say this: you want to find a true, real, authentic Japanese restaurant? Ask your waiter if the pizza has mayo on it. If it does, you’ve found an authentic Japanese restaurant.

  • Franklin

    Teriyaki is literally sugar and soy sauce. How else could it possibly taste if not sugary?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Out of curiosity, what are those one or two fish taco places?

  • Gigatron

    I’m fortunate that there’s a really good Japanese restaurant near me. It’s owned/founded by a Japanese native, also staffed mostly by native Japanese (including chefs and wait staff), and even has a separate menu for Japanese-speakers. Lots of native Japanese eat here regularly, which is a good sign as well. It would rank highly if graded by this list, I think.

    The menu does have a lot of “gringofied” stuff on it, for the benefit of American customers, but dig deeper and they have a lot of “off the menu” REALLY traditional stuff that they make generally for the Japanese customers that Americans would never order. Even have natto, no less.

    That place is my hangout of choice, and I’ve been a regular for a few years now, so they know me by name. The food is great, and I can practise speaking Japanese with natives, so it’s heaven to me!

  • http://twitter.com/sushimanster Clifford

    I just came from a sushi place that followed all of these rules except for the name. I thought it was pretty authentic though…. It was called samurai sushi

  • tetraoxygen

    Man, this post made me hungry for some Japanese food…

  • shirokumatyo

    Actually, traditional teriyaki glaze is equal parts soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Some people might add a little sugar, but not in the proportions you see outside of Japan… (and the traditional version is tastier too!)

  • shirokumatyo

    The funniest “taco” I ever had was in Japan, at a quirky, grimy neighborhood steakhouse called, of all things, “Amigo.” It wasn’t a Mexican restaurant per se, but had a few… well… Mexican-sounding things on the menu, including the hilarious “tacos,” which consisted of a limp flour tortilla encasing a few crumbles of completely unseasoned ground pork and some onion slices. That was it. The steak, though, was great, a big eight-ounce, perfectly cooked sirloin for only about 1,600 yen (about $22 at the time).

  • nandesuka

    The only place I’ve found real Japanese food in America is in NYC, on St. Marks. The entire street is littered with Japanese restaurants where the chefs and waitresses are Japanese, and if you come at that special time of the night, you’ll see Japanese salarymen working in NYC getting their after-work drinks. There’s even an izakaya there

  • beattiend

    that would be fun ^o^

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    At least two of Toronto’s top-5 homestyle Japanese restaurants have Tokyo in the name and are run by native Japanese. Gotta make it accessible to the masses, I guess!
    Still, great food at both. :)

  • mangoxo

    Hey Koichi… there’s actually this place that’s really delicious out in Omaha, NE called Wasabi that is a Japanese restaurant where you pay $20 and it’s all you can eat. It’s always pretty packed and the Japanese exchange students I went there with really enjoyed the food. I’m not sure if the people that run the place are actually Japanese either!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think you may have missed the point of this article

  • Koichi no sensei

    WTF

  • TexS

    Love this!

    Law #1 — I definitely use this on Chowhound and Yelp. Whenever I see a post about “great [insert name] rolls” I immediately dismiss that restaurant from consideration, and that reviewer as an idiot. Rolls by definition cannot be great. Definitely goes along with Law #7. I collectively refer to those abominations as “Chinese McSushi Monster Truck Rolls from Hell”. Look at this disgusting garbage served by an AYCE place in Toronto:
    http://eatherenext.blogspot.ca/2011/06/ten-ichi.html
    Mango puree does not belong on fish. And what’s up with that baked guacamole on a shell?

    Law #6 — you need to add “Ichiban” to that list!

    Law #4 — totally agree. It disgusts me to think that Chinese investors have totally hijacked Japanese cuisine in North America for their own benefit, such that an entire generation won’t know what real Japanese food is. Try to serve a contemporary teenager or 20-something some nigiri and they’ll turn up their noses, saying “ewwww, I can’t eat that, give me some real Japanese food, you know, California rolls… and I need to make that Yoda bath* to dunk it in”
    * Yoda Bath – wasabi mixed with dark soy sauce
    Another cuisine the Chinese are trying to hijack is Cajun food. Ever seen “Kelly’s Cajun Grill” at the mall (in Canada they go by “Bourbon St. Grill”? It’s junk Chinese food, passed off as Cajun food, and I have yet to see a non-Chinese working there. Amazing. And not in a good way.

  • deborahchan

    Sarku. Sarku? That’s not even a Japanese word! It’s not even a pretend Japanese word.
    It’s just…..sarku-ey. Blech.

  • http://twitter.com/WackoMcGoose Kimura

    Here, this script should work better.

    import commenter 古戸ヱリカ;
    import script seppuku.~ath;
    ~ath(古戸ヱリカ) {
    //~ath uses java-style console output because shut up
    //shut up is why
    System.out.println(“I regret all the things! All of them!”);
    } execute(seppuku.~ath);
    this.die();

  • http://theurbanmission.posterous.com Joshua Miller

    You just disqualified every japanese restaurant in the Seattle-Tacoma region…

  • http://twitter.com/MikaMaddela Mika Maddela

    Yup. Totally know what you mean about too sugary. But then again, I’m the type of girl that water downs her juice:)

  • Duong

    Kuni sushi is a great little sushi place in Cupertino. Another one is Gokaku. I judge sushi by the freshness and butteriness of the raw fish.

  • Mahdhi Osman

    WEABOO CENTRAL

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    you too? Do you warm it up in the micro for 5-10 seconds too? ARE WE BOTH EQUALLY CRAZY ABOUT OUR JUICE???? D:

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    My sensei! You’re back, you DO care!!!

  • ジョサイア

    That comment get’s only 4 desus out of 5 nekos…gomen.

  • berryz

    My family has worked for Sarku Japan for many years. It’s owned by a handful of Chinese people and it’s headquartered in Canada. After moving to Thailand for a few years and trying some fairly authentic Japanese cuisine(yea, I said Thailand), I was embarrassed at the food served at Sarku Japan.

  • deborahchan

    hehe – thanks for throwing in your opinion :) – cause you know, I appreciate the fact that there are lots of people out there eating Sarku food and enjoying it – but MAN, not Japanese food, right?

  • deborahchan

    It is an affront to intelligence.

    What the hells, Bourbon St Grill…

    It’s like this…it’s like this salesperson comes along, and he’s calling a hyena a “cat” and selling it as a pet. If you don’t know what the common definition of “cat” is, then, heck, you might take that hyena home and give it a fancy collar and a litter box. But if you’ve ever, and I mean EVER seen you know, an actual cat before, you feel betrayal and confusion and just want to be like “Liar! that’s…that’s just WRONG, you can’t just sell a hyena as a cat, you won’t get away with this!” But then some random pet-lover person comes up and goes “Awesome, I love cats, gimme that cat, I’m gonna buy that!” and they actually pay for this not-cat, and happily cart the not-cat away, and you’re left feeling like “but…but…….that’s a hyena, what are you……no…not a cat…..nooo…….*sigh”

    That is how it feels.

  • TexS

    You nailed it Debbie…. it’s a losing battle. Maybe I’ll go fly that cool new airline called Megabus and drive my Porsche otherwise known as Chevy. Too bad I can’t go into stores and give them a $5 bill and tell them to ring it up as a $100.

    Bourbon St/Kelly’s Cajun Grill really gets under my skin. They aren’t even TRYING to be “slightly” Cajun, most locations even have soy sauce and duck sauce packets at the checkouts!

  • Jinan

    I’ve actually eaten at Ikko too, and it was definitely the most authentic Japanese restaurant I’ve been to so far. The food was well worth the price and the quality was apparent. I also liked how they had a sign on their door warning that they serve no “American” sushi rolls.

  • mishnuuu

    I have a sushi place near me that’s called Tokyo Tokyo, WOAH it has like 8 maneki nekos, fans everywhere a friggin map of Japan and crappy sushi with terrible shoya. The only reason I go there is because there are cool japanese (I guess Asian) drinks and every flavour of Pocky

  • japanes_newbie

    I totally agree with this post! Its kinda like the Japanese Rick Steeve’s of postings! Hahaha! Even he says, when you visit a place overseas, don’t go to where the “tourists” eat because it is likely “touristy” pleasing food; go to where the locals eat. Makes sense. I have to say, sometimes (well, actually 99% of the time) we Americans are just super pleased or proud of ourselves to eat anything that we think sounds foreign; because if it has the words “Authentic Mexican”, Teriyaki World”, or “Ala Carte” , we are eating true country-of-origin food. Instead people from those countries, avoid these places like Typhoid Mary and laugh at us for being stupid!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.rawley Jeremy Rawley

    As long as it tastes good, why not? Our Chinese food is next to nothing like what they actually eat in China. Our Italian food isn’t like what native-born Italians grew up eating. It makes perfect sense that Japanese restaurants here would serve things that aren’t authentic. Generally, the more recent the immigrant community in question is, the more authentic the food will be. Vietnamese? Most of them came here escaping the Vietnam War, so of course their restaurants are going to be more authentic. Japanese? Chinese? Italian? Greek? Irish? They’re all older communities–of course the food’s not going to resemble what native born Japanese, Chinese, etc., grew up eating. It’s going to be more Americanized. The most authenticity you’ll have is if it’s based on a dish that the earlier immigrants from X community ate when that generation came here. Mexican food? We still have plenty of Mexicans coming up here for work, on top of the ones who lived in the southwestern states and Texas before that region was part of the U.S.

    Now, I live in Delaware, which is overwhelmingly white, black, and Hispanic. We don’t have very many Asians, but we have more Chinese than Japanese restaurants. Our Mexican restaurants are more authentic than any of the Asian places. But we also have a growing Eastern European community. Closest we have to Japanese restaurants are big-box joints like Tokyo Steakhouse, but does it really matter how “authentic” it is? It’s still going in the same place!

  • Lily Queen

    Objection to Law #5: Should Not Serve Orange Chicken Or Hamburgers — anyone who needs this post is going to assume this law includes things like spaghetti and hamburg steak, which are often signs of a GREAT Japanese restaurant. (Unless you meant “sushi restaurant,” and I’m sure you wouldn’t confuse the two, right? RIGHT?!)

    They shouldn’t serve Chinese-American food and they shouldn’t serve things right off the “Unadventurous Eater” menu from Red Lobster, though.

  • Lily Queen

    Then this article is not for you — it’s for people who want to find authentic Japanese food. :| (It’s not even “Why Authentic Japanese Food is The Best!!!”)

  • Jane

    Ha, this made me laugh! There are three “Japanese” restaurants in my town: Sakura Sushi, Tokyo Sushi (not even kidding) and Oishii Sushi!

  • http://akira.hana.bi Akira Uchimura

    Koichi sama!

    Can I translate this post to spanish and post it on our site? Pretty please? (http://hana.bi )
    Many many many many people in latin america need to know these rules. Heck the whole world needs to know them.

    Regards,

    Akira

  • Anna Li

    1. Name Rule: Does not have: Panda, Bamboo, Teriyaki, Chopsticks, Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Lee (not even a Chinese name), Emperor, etc.

    2. Patron Rule: Is it crowded with CHINESE people talking in CHINESE all the time? Are reviews good and from CHINESE people?

    3. Owner Rule: Are the owners and chefs Chinese? Do you see the owner? If you are a regular, is the owner on good terms with you?

    4. Menu Rule: Are a lot of the items in Chinese? If there are also English names for the dishes, is there still more Chinese than English? Is there any teriyaki, pot stickers, low quality rice, etc.?

    5. Dish/Presentation Rule: Does it look/smell good? Is all meat real? Is the fish fresh? Are the dishes meant to be shared (food should be shared with the family, after all!)?

    FINAL RULE: Chains are not Chinese. If the spellings look “American” (i.e. “Lee” instead of “Li”), it’s likely American. Taiwan and Cantonese have different pinyin than mainland China.

  • Helen

    You’re totally right about the name, my favourite Japanese restaurant in Manchester (UK) is called New Samsi. It’s also run by Japanese people and doesn’t have numbers on the menus….pretty sure I remember seeing odd signs too.

  • Helen

    Oh and I meant to add, another way to tell it’s good is that it has it’s own Japanese food shop in the basement, so you can go there to buy your ingredients too!

  • LeLy

    I both agree and disagree with several things in this article. I can understand wanting to eat real Japanese, Mexican, Thai etc. My husband and I usually go in and look around the entrance or checkout counter for trinkets or pictures that come from that country. We have live in an area of TN with large numbers of Thai and Laotians….several sushi places are run by them. The sushi at those places usually suck but the Thai food at the Thai places around town is great but even then certain ones are better than others, so just bc the country of origin is right doesn’t guarantee good food. We also have the nissan plant close by so we have a smaller Japanese community too. I’ve only located 3 “real” Japanese places within a 50mi radius of us, I’ve heard there are two or three others but we haven’t had a chance to try them. Two of those places the owners aren’t from Japan per say. Sushin’s in Murfreesboro is awesome. They serve seasonally pickled veggies, all kinds of appetizers that would normally be Japanese side dishes, they don’t look at you like you’re nuts when you ask for aburage and they serve my husband’s favorite thing in the world….ume onigiri. Chinese run places have looked at us both and thought my husband is a nut describing a rice ball with that is stuffed and that you can have a filled bean curd pocket….they always use the words bean curd pocket :( Anyway, the owners of Sushin are actually Korean and Japanese. The husband is from Osaka but lived in Korea forever(from childhood) and married his wife there then came here. There’s Korean memorabilia around but you find all the Japanese housewives of the nissan business men meeting there for lunch and the businessmen go there for get togethers. The prices are decent too. We have a hana sushi and while they don’t have anything that’s distinctly Japanese they are extremely nice and everything has a Japanese flavor, aka it’s not overly sweet. They’re from Taiwan but are from a Japanese family. The third place is in downtown Nashville directly across the street from a samurai sushi, lol, it’s called O’Sake. The owner is Japanese as well as the sushi chef. The food is ok but the samurai sushi across street has been around 30yrs and if you want sushi theirs is better. Sometimes if you want sushi, not noodles, udon or meat dishes the Chinese run places aren’t bad at all. I also agreed with someone else’s post about truly authentic Japanese food is ever changing. They eat pizza like us but with sardines and mayo. Yakisoba(the instant kind) with mayo is awesome and a well loved quick meal with school kids. The number one thing I’ve ever heard from Japanese people that they like is curry. Japanese curry is unique but I’ve never seen it served in any Japanese restaurant here and most people hear curry and say “that’s Indian.” Food constantly mingles. Curry has been in Japan for 300 plus years. I think mr Koichi might be looking for a Japanese restaurant here that is of the same caliber as a Japanese restaurant in Japan and I don’t think that will ever be likely. American’s have different taste buds and I doubt someone running a good restaurant in Japan would up and leave to run one in America. Most restaurants here are home cooked Japanese foods if you find a real Japanese restaurant I have no problem with Japanese soul food and hey I love creamy crab croquettes. Japanese food here is just like Chinese food here….you’d almost never see someone from China or Japan ordering off the same menu as the rest of us. I think it’d be easier for everyone to realize that sometimes food isn’t as exotic as you’d like to think and that sometimes it’s just a small difference that separates our palates, like mayo on pizza or green tea in a milkshake. I’d love to see a katsu burger here in TN ^.^

  • http://twitter.com/ShineTheLion Jace

    My favorite sushi place is called Tokyo Sushi. I am not sure if it is run by actual Japanese people. I kind of doubt it, but their sushi is the best I’ve had. A lot of it is Americanized (Vegas Roll anyone?) but I’ll be damned if it isn’t glorious.

  • crella

    One of my pet peeves! None of the Japanese restaurants I’ve ventured into in the US have ever been run by Japanese, and the food is usually pretty bad. The last one (in GA) I listened to the chef, and he was speaking Chinese. I said to DH that we should not order sushi, but he did anyway. The maguro was OLD. It just, smelled…ugh. I thought I was safe getting the lobster roll, but it turned out to be a nightmare, the meat from a whole small lobster deep fried and rolled into a sushi roll. I’ll never forget the slimy texture of hot oil combined with vinegar…

    The other thing that ticks me off is how Chinese restaurants in food courts and places like Quincy Market in Boston give themselves Japanese names and therefore can open more than one place. Quincy Market’s ‘Megumi of Japan’ , for example, sells the same things as the ‘Umi of Japan’ and the Panda Express. It drives me nuts that Americans think Japanese food consists of sweet and sour chicken and egg rolls.

  • Renee

    I live in Montreal. There is a lot of very very bad Japanese restauarants in Montreal. One decent sushi called Juni. Very low caliber izakayas in Montreal abound, even two that are owned by Japanese.

  • TexS

    See my post below about Chinese crap passing itself off as Cajun (look for “Kelly’s Cajun Grill” at the food court)! Oh yes, there’s also a food court chain around here called “Caribbean Queen” and you guessed it, it’s Chinese food with jerk seasoning….

  • TexS

    Bet they’re all Chinese owned.

  • http://twitter.com/matt_a_thorn_en Matt Thorn

    Wow. Too many comments to read. But I don’t think anyone has mentioned that one reason decent Japanese restaurants are so rare in the U.S. is that there has been no significant immigrant population since before Pearl Harbor. You can’t expect to find good Japanese food where there are so few Japanese.

    I’m a white guy who has lived and worked in Japan for most of my adult life, about 18 years total, and I have to say I agree with all seven of Koichi’s rules. I was going to say that one exception to the “no Fuji” law is Manhatttan’s Fujiyama Mama, but I just Googled and learned it has been closed. Figures. That place was wild.

    As for the elusive, mythical sushi place where you don’t add soy sauce or wasabi yourself, I’m reminded of a little sushi place in Kobe I heard about many, many years ago that was the equivalent of the Soup Nazi place in Seinfeld. They say the grumpy itamae would angrily kick out anyone he didn’t like for any reason. Nothing less than absolute submission was tolerated!
    ヽ(´▽`)/へへっ

  • Jititsu

    the origin of sushi was from southeast Asia before it spreaded to jpn. japanese changed to their version.(edo sushi). No one blamed about it. so it is NOT your standard. Any kind of food belongs to everyone in the world. Let’s enjoy our foods in different ways. be happy!

  • Karen

    I loved reading your rant and i agree with it 100%

  • http://twitter.com/kima_siksin Kima

    This was very thoughtful and at the same time, hilarious XDD Personally, I can’t wait to go to Japan and taste the difference (I was gonna go next fall but DAMN IT the trip got canceled D:) but until them, I found some pretty okay restaurants. Yes, they break every other one of your laws, and yes, they might not be as authentic as something made by a Japanese person – but that doesn’t mean it’s not good XD Anyway, thanks a lot, from now on I’ll be paying attention to these :P

  • RebeccaC

    I don’t how inauthentic the food is, if a restaurant called “Ninja Teriyaki” opened up in our hometown, I’d be there all the time.

  • akane

    Japanese Chicagoan here who seconds the Sunshine Cafe tip. and Itto.

  • Guest

    I protested once at Quincy Market. I was trying to find a space for a restaurant (okonomi yaki) and the told me I wouldn’t be able to sign up for the next available place because ‘We already have two Japanese restaurants’. Once it was clear that they weren’t going to budge, I let them know what I think of the fraud these restaurants are perpetrating on the public, with QM’s (and every mall’s) help.

  • Ed

    There’s a lot to agree with here. I go to a Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood that is owned by a Japanese man, and over the years have come to know things that aren’t on the menu but that I enjoy: nato with rice, bitter melon (I forget what it’s called in Japanese), and so forth. But they do have some California-like rolls. As for checking the ethnic make-up of the owners or chefs, there are exceptions but I’ve seen the author’s point proven since childhood. I’ve a German father and Italian mother, and though my father did eat German-American food and comment that “it’s not exactly” what they serve in Germany, my mother was more to the point: if someone suggested they eat Italian, she replied “is it Italian or Italian-American. The Italian-Americans don’t know how to cook pasta. They overcook it.” When cuisines and cultures mix, fusion takes place to one degree or another. And that’s not a bad thing. A Japanese woman told me of one popular Japanese dish that was a variation of something the Portuguese introduced to Japan in the 1500s. On the other hand, I met a young Frenchman working in Southern California said to me (in response to my question about his favorite French restaurant in the area) that there is a French placed in the area owned by a French woman who has been there for a number of years, but the chef/cook is Mexican and (to put it into language he thought I would understand) said that it would be like serving Choucroute (an Alsacian dish) with picante.

  • hiro

    you are dead on about this topic..the worse sushi restaurant cities i have lived in is tampa and charlotte (nc).. these 2 cities somehow have 4-5 pages of menus sushi and they all tastes and look the same! everyone wants to jump in the bandwagon to make profits..they have a lot of american, italian, thai restaurants serving up sushi there (look up yourself on places to dine and there menu!) of course their number one seller is California roll..people here goes apes for the california and mexican rolls. WTF?

  • http://greggman.com greggman

    Law #1 should say “Japanese Native”. “Japanese Americans” know shit about real Japanese food as they grow up in America eating American Japanese food and/or 2nd/3rd/4th generation Japanese American food which is nothing like food in Japan. The, same goes for Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, German Americans, Italian Americans, French Americans, etc etc etc.

    Refunds? hmm, living in Japan I’ve seen some of my more picky Japanese friends scream about bad food / bad service and refuse to pay. I don’t know if it’s more or less common since in my entire life I’ve seen people not pay less than 10 times in both countries. Then again maybe we’re talking about something else. You don’t refund at most restaurants because you don’t pay until after the meal. You just refuse to pay.

    I agree with too many rolls. Lots of rolls = not Japanese but I just consider that a separate type of food. I still happen to like american style rolls. I just consider it separate just like I don’t consider Chicago Pizza to be Italian food but it’s still tasty. But lets just be clear, even a small list of rolls is unacceptable unless it’s like kappamaki, tuna roll, or maybe a few hand rolls. California roll and all its variants for the most part don’t exist in Japan (I know only 3 Restaurants in all of tokyo that serve it)

  • http://greggman.com greggman

    Here’s the funny thing. The best burgers I’ve ever eaten were in Tokyo. Here’s a place to start looking http://www.sasebo99.com/sight_sasebo/bgmap.shtml. On the other hand Katsu Burger, even if it is run by a Japanese person, is pretty much large tasteless american crap like most of the food on Man vs Food

    Which brings up another rule. Rule #8: Portions should be small

  • http://greggman.com greggman

    You can get plenty of good American food in Japan (or at least Tokyo). You can get better Italian and French food in Japan, in fact often better than France or Italy. Mexican, yea, almost no good Mexican

    And, American Bread is mostly shit compared to Japanese bread though it can go both ways. It’s hard to find a good bagel in Japan. On the other hand it’s hard to find a good bakery in America. Most places are over sugared, over cooked, and serve things that are large but flavorless. “Hey look! It’s a cinnamon roll that’s 12 inches in diameter”, “Yea but I’d much rather have a 3inch one that actually tastes good, is not hard, and has had some care given in making it”.

  • http://greggman.com greggman

    you’re going to be in for a treat when you find some good Japanese food. Mitsuwa food courts is not it.

  • http://greggman.com greggman

    That depends on where you live. in SF there are a few and they are packed. Izakaya Roku on Market, Kiraku in Berkeley, Oyaji in Outer Richmond (though I’d avoid the sushi. It might be good but it’s there for the non-Japanese).

  • kiki

    here’s an idea you want authentic move to japan you sound like a weeaboo

  • Will

    This guide is spot on Koichi. My wife and I lived in Seattle for several years and unfortunately we learned this lesson the hard way. When we first moved there we were pleasantly surprised at how many “Japanese” restaurants there are. In the end there were only TWO that we’d frequent. Now we live in Denver and its the same. There are two places we go to here for real Japanese food.

    Lucky for me, my wife is Japanese so I get to eat plenty of good food at home, plus we visit Japan every year. :)

  • Joe L.

    I would like to point out that my favorite Japanese restaurant does not really meet any of these rules, but the fact that it is always packed with Japanese businessmen, who speak Japanese and order off Japanese menus, with Japanese game shows playing on TV, signals to me that this is the real deal. One law you you forgot to mention is, if the place is packed with Japanese customers, you probably hit the jackpot.

    Matsuharu Japanese Restaurant in El Paso, TX.

  • Megumi

    Very nice article. Made me (a Japanese expat living in US) laugh pretty hard. There is a Japanese restaurant named “Magoya” in my area. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. Did they mean “Nagoya”? Needless to say, it is not Japanese-owned.

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  • findingjolie

    One huge exception to this rule: Hawaii.