Believe it or not, there was once a time when Toronto *wasn’t* overflowing with sushi options. Now there’s seemingly a shop around every corner, with eateries ranging from the all-you-can-eat variety to fancy omakase, in which the chef feeds diners exactly what he thinks they should eat. (Trust is key.) Whether you favour some classic nigiri, rolled maki, flame-licked aburi or oshizushi—which has been pressed in a special mold—these restaurants do it all and they do it well. We’ve rounded up 10 spots—from high-end splurges to AYCE steals—where you’ll find the best sushi in Toronto.
Sushi Masaki Saiko
The atmosphere: It’s not often that a chef carrying two Michelin stars opts to open up shop—and live—in Toronto. Lucky for us, chef Masaki Saito decided it was time, leaving NYC’s Sushi Ginza Onodera and heading straight to Yorkville. Evidently, we were ready for $500 sushi. Folks like, oh, Drake have given chef their blessings, and the resto was fully booked before it fully opened its doors. Over two nightly seatings, seven lucky diners nestle up to the hinoki wood counter, with the tree itself handpicked in Japan’s Nara forest and costing a cool $100,000 or so to produce.
The sushi: Saito does his own new take on traditional Edomae-style sushi. (Edo is the previous moniker for Tokyo.) While sushi prepared Edomae-style originally saw the classic nigiri being presented, it’s now progressed to mean fish that has been aged in some capacity—be it overnight or over five nights. For North Americans, aged is new, but in Tokyo it’s common. All ingredients hail from Japan and there is not a lick of sauce to be found. While offerings change nightly, a recent meal saw chef place uni directly onto diners’ hands, watching as they gleefully slurped it off.
The cost: From $380 per person
The atmosphere: Tucked down the quieter length of Harbord, this inviting space is chef Ian Robinson’s masterpiece. Inside, a giant table made from a sugar maple trunk anchors the room, while a patio beckons during warmer temps. Chef has been devoted to Japanese food since his teen years, gaining buckets of knowledge under chef Mitsuhiro Kaji before opening his own shop.
The sushi: Thanks to a solid relationship with the Fukuoka fish market in Japan, chef Robinson has direct access to fresh fish. He also works with small organic farmers to ensure product is exactly as desired. The menu changes with the seasons, and recently patrons snacked on nigiri featuring salt-water eel, deep sea perch, grouper and squid—all from Japan’s waters.
The cost: $6.50 per piece; $46 for sushi selection; $120 for omakase
Find it: 1201 St. Clair Ave. W., shunoko.com
The atmosphere: What used to be Sushi Nomi on Roncesvalles has up and gotten a makeover, moving to a St. Clair space that’s large enough to offer an omakase menu—the sushi version of a prix fixe. Inside, white brick-clad walls and blonde wood ceiling beams work to frame this minimalist restaurant interior.
The sushi: The menu has helpful taste descriptors next to the fish options: Red sea bream is the “king of white fish” while polarizing sea urchin is the “butter of the ocean.” Those tiptoeing past California rolls for the first time can be eased further into the world of sushi with the Sushi Saiko menu. A popular maki option rolls up spicy tuna with avocado, swapping out the trad nori wrapper for popped rice and adding toasted coconut. More serious folks go omakase, witnessing a parade of nigiri—a mound of rice cradled by fish—being handed over the sushi counter. Chef Kim sources his fish globally, with seasonal wild fish hailing from Japan while mackerel is from Canada’s east coast.
The cost: $25 for Sushi Saiko; $90 for 18-course omakase
The atmosphere: Just as one would see at a Tokyo train station, this is a spot of tranquility found in the bustling Assembly Chef’s Hall, and a very fun way to experience sushi while stretching those office chair gams. The room fits eight standing patrons and is the first of its kind in the country. As it turns out, “tachi” means standing.
The sushi: Timed to perfection, the omakase meal—the only option here—progresses from delicate flavours to more pronounced ones, which is just how sushi should be enjoyed. Freshness and seasonality dictate what fish is actually served, with the chefs carefully considering how they’ll spotlight the flavour profile of each piece of sushi while creating a balanced dance with the others. Bites may start with hirame (fluke) and continue over to hotate (scallop) and ebi (shrimp), with the meal ending on a handroll. Specials are a draw and presently, patrons are loving the spiffy wagyu beef. If you’re lucky you’ll be fed the award-winning A5 wagyu from Miyazaki.
The cost: $55 omakase menu (11-pieces of sushi and one handroll)
KaKa All You Can Eat
The atmosphere: KaKa is pure fun. Originating way up in Markham, downtowners lucked out when this all-you-can-eat fave opened shop on Bay Street. Far from a hushed shrine to sushi, the resto boasts a lively atmosphere and a menu that reaches from bites like crunchy chicken karaage, beef tacos and over to sushi.
The sushi: Leading the pack, KaKa was the first AYCE sushi spot to offer premium blowtorched sushi to customers. Aburi offerings here include nigiri and aburi oshizushi with house sauces. The signature bite matches salmon with candied smoked salmon and seared scallop, and is finished with spicy mayo, sweet and tangy unagi (eel) sauce and tobiko for crunch. The KaKa kids also do gussied-up maki that aims to outdo the competition. Their Chef Frank Special Roll is stuffed with crab salad, avo and cuke, laced with spicy mayo and unagi sauce, with a salmon and scallop lid making it almost, almost too big to eat.
The cost: $35 for AYCE
Find it: 860 The Queensway, sushikaji.com
The atmosphere: Found in a sleepy Etobicoke strip mall, Mitsuhiro Kaji’s restaurant is a true shrine to sushi and a pillar of the scene. A giant koi fish decorates the sushi counter wall where chef Kaji prepares his exquisite bites for no more than 30 diners at a time.
The sushi: Detail is everything. Chef Kaji—always a charmer—has been finessing his approach to sushi for the better part of his life, so there’s no wonder he’s so attentive. Kaji has fish flown in directly from Tokyo Bay within a 24-hour period, refusing to serve anything to customers that isn’t as fresh as possible. This is but one painstaking approach that yields perfection, which comes from years of training starting at the age of 13. Scallop, sea bream, shrimp, fluke, sea eel are some of the fishy offerings that have graced the seasonal menu.
The cost: Full tasting menus from $140
The atmosphere: Chef Jackie Lin, who worked his way up at Markham’s famed Zen Japanese Restaurant, opened his shop on the upper stretches of Yonge. His deft skills with fish managed to pull the fine dining crowd away from their central hub and into his hallowed space.
The sushi: Patrons sit at the hinoki wood counter and wait until chef Lin presents them with his perfect pieces of sushi. Most of the seasonal seafood is sourced from Japan, all wild-caught and mostly line-caught, while tuna hails from Canada’s east coast. Depending on the season, patrons may be treated to golden eye snapper, sea perch or Hokkaido uni (aka sea urchin), delighting true sushi aficionados.
The cost: $185 or $285 per person
The atmosphere: With only an adorable whale graphic hinting at its presence, JaBistro is almost missable to pedestrians cha-cha-ing down Richmond Street. The subterranean space had many a sushi adorer gabbing back in 2012 when it was the first in town to nail aburi-style sushi. Blowtorch in hand, chefs flame sear the fish on nigiri, adding that umami—the sixth taste—flavour to the pieces. Fast-forward a handful of years and the place still fills up rapidly with the after-work crowd. Lovers of alfresco dining come warmer temps can head to the spacious rooftop patio dressed in wood and twinkly lights.
The sushi: Acting as a bridge between a pricey omakase meal and all-you-can-eat, the eatery dishes out high-end sushi at a more affordable price point. Signature dishes include the JaBistroll: salmon, snow crab, uni and tobiko tied up in an incredibly tasty package. Perfectly rectangular oshizushi is the result of vinegared rice being packed into a wooden mold and topped with fish; here it emerges with a roof of cured mackerel. The kyukyoku set is essentially omakase’s younger sister, with chef handing his freshest fish over the counter. Increasingly fatty tuna nigiri arrives as a trio, with the final oh-so-buttery o-toro (fatty tuna belly) bite being the dreamiest.
The cost: $55 for the kyukyoku pieces; $77 for the 5-course omakase
The atmosphere: Chef David Lee wowed Toronto foodies with Nota Bene, his Queen Street resto where well-heeled locals would head for the tasting menu. In a bit of a surprise move, the chef opened Yorkville’s Planta in 2016, a plant-based resto for the same style of patron. It has done so well that Nota Bene has been transformed into Planta Queen. While the original Planta plucks culinary inspo from across the globe, this one sticks to Asia, with walls papered in dragons, faux-trees dotting the space and eats including vegan sushi.
The sushi: At the original Planta, watermelon has worked well in poké as a play on tuna, so it made sense to incorporate it into sushi. While chef Lee isn’t trying to replicate real fish, he is aiming to add more body and flavour to vegan sushi. Dehydrating intensifies the flavour of the watermelon while lending it a unique texture that’s comparable to raw fish. Find the fruit in the ahi watermelon nigiri as well as in spicy maki, where the watermelon is both dehydrated and pickled, with chickpeas taking on the role of the mayo in the spicy aioli sauce.
The cost: $5.25 per nigiri, $15 per maki roll
The atmosphere: There’s something about ordering sushi on a screen, waiting and then seeing it zoom down a laneway and land tableside, that brings out the kid in everyone. Younger sis to downtown’s respected Miku—a popular Vancouver transplant—this sushi is kinda the opposite of AYCE conveyor belt sushi, ensuring all bites are super fresh and haven’t done a few laps around the track.
The sushi: Miku made a name for itself with its blowtorched sushi and thankfully they’ve carried this over to Tora. Salmon aburi oshi is of the both pressed and torched variety, with salmon found both within the rice and on top, along with a round of jalapeno. Special only to Tora is the albacore tuna oshi, flame-seared tuna is paired with asparagus and ginger sauce. The Edoprime part of the menu highlights their very best finds from the sea—such as Japanese sea bream and madai—and comes courtesy of tight relationship with Japanese fish markets.
The cost: Aburi salmon oshi $3.75; Edoprime nigiri from $6