Nomsters! When a lot of people think of Japanese food they immediately picture sushi, but the cuisine has so much more to offer. This post doesn’t even cover everything there is, but it hopefully goes to show how awesome and innovative the Japanese food scene in SF has been recently. Here, we’ve got a diverse list of what we consider to be the best casual Japanese restaurants in SF in no particular order, so let’s get to it!
1. Takoyaki Yamachan
Takoyaki is one of our favorite Japanese snacks, and Yamachan goes above and beyond with their menu. Takoyaki is basically octopus in a ball of cooked batter and covered in a special sauce with bonito flakes, green onions, and sometimes other things. Their traditional takoyaki tastes wonderfully authentic and makes me nostalgic of my time in Japan, but also don’t sleep on their cheesy takoyaki!
Read all about Takoyaki Yamachan in our full post here.
2. Kagawa-Ya Udon
Kagawa-Ya has been our favorite spot for udon in SF for years, and it’s their ability to offer high quality house-made udon noodles in traditional recipes, as well as ridiculously tasty and unique fusion bowls that combine flavors from many other cuisines. Sweet Corn Udon? Zhajiang Udon? How about a clam chowder-inspired udon? All of these rotating monthly specials have been delicious and we’re always waiting to see what they come up with next!
See all the deliciousness in our full posts on them here!
Mokuku is one of the best shabu shabu spots in SF by far. They serve A5 wagyu beef, and as you can see in the video below, the marbling is off the chain and I can’t even describe how much we enjoyed this. The ambiance is modern, they have six different broths to choose from including tonkotsu, spicy miso, kimchi, fire coconut crab, sukiyaki, and tomato, and did we mention the wagyu?? Hah, but seriously, try it!
Last we checked, their website said that they’ve opened up a waitlist, so we’re not sure if they’re currently open, but bookmark them and as soon as you can get in there, do it!
4. Ushi Taro
One of the best casual Japanese restaurants in SF is definitely Ushi Taro. You’ve probably heard of tonkotsu ramen where the broth is made with pork bones. Ushi Taro takes this idea, but uses beef bone for their broth, and even throws in an entire half bone from which you can scoop out the bone marrow for even more flavor. You can’t forget the slices of beef added on top, too. It’s crazy awesome, and their garlic edamame is top notch, as well.
Read all about Ushi Taro in our full post on them here!
5. Cafe Okawari
This fantastic place definitely deserves a spot on our list of best casual Japanese restaurants in SF because of how they break the mold. They offer dishes that we consider to be Japanese comfort foods, which are less common in pretty much all other Japanese restaurants in the city. They’ve got a really unique chicken curry that’s on the sweeter side that’s definitely worth a try, and their katsu sando is amazing. They’re right down by the ballpark so swing by or order delivery sometime!
Onigilly is an awesome casual spot that specializes in onigiri – Japanese rice balls. These are some of our favorite Japanese snacks, and if you get a set of three you’ll be totally full by the end. You just choose your filling and dig in! We recommend the unagi and miso beef if you’re looking for something relatively familiar, but the natto is our personal favorite even if it’s considered by some to be a more acquired taste. Try ’em out!
Marugame is another really good udon spot with locations in SF and Berkeley. They have a pretty extensive menu with lots of interesting combos, but we always prefer their Nikutama udon, which includes beef and a poached egg. Pro tip: pop the egg and mix it into the broth and you’ll literally turn into the heart eyes emoji.
You can also add all kinds of tempura to your udon for a little extra per piece, and they even have a self serve green onion and tempura bits area so you can load up on that stuff if you’re so inclined. We’re big negi fans so the green onions are always piled high!
We mentioned a more traditional onigiri spot above in Onigilly, but Riceful is a family-owned joint that is the first Okinawa-style onigiri restaurant in the US! located in Berkeley, their onigiri are kind of like Japanese tacos – you’ve got the nori (seaweed) lined with rice acting like the “shell”, and the rest of the ingredients are thrown in the middle. They actually have tons of variations on their menu, but our favorites were definitely the pork-boy and the shrimp tempura. They pretty much all come with a slice of spam and egg, and are deceivingly big, so you won’t leave hungry!
9. Sakesan Bistro
Sakesan Bistro is our favorite sushi spot in the Richmond District. One note, though: we do not recommend their cooked food. We were actually really unimpressed with their gyoza and a few other things, but if you stick to their sushi, you’re golden. Their raw fish is always super fresh, and they’ve got a whole bunch of rolls that are great as well.
Since the pandemic started, they began cutting down on the amount of fish given in certain dishes like the sakedon (salmon rice bowl), which was one of our favorites, so the value isn’t as good anymore, but we’re always super understanding of the circumstances of restaurants these days. It’s still the same great taste and super fresh fish, just a smaller quantity, so that’s just something to consider.
We first tried Ramenwell in 2018 and their ramen instantly became a favorite of ours. They serve their House Pork Ramen with tonkotsu broth, which is typically a thick broth to begin with, but Ramenwell’s broth is even thicker than most others, which we actually loved. It’s so packed with flavor, and the chashu pork is melt-in-your-mouth good. They’re the perfect option if you’re down in the Mission, so check them out!
Read all about their ramen and other amazing dishes in our full blog post about them here!
For more awesome Bay Area recommendations, check out our San Francisco Bay Area Tab HERE