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SF Japanese Restaurants Over the Last Three Decades

In the last 5-10 years, San Francisco has gotten some hella good to decent places that make putting up with all the tech douchebags slightly more bearable

Having lived a decade in the S.F. Bay Area during the ’90s, I have seen San Francisco change in the last three decades.

For proof of that, I am sure if you were to talk to a native, they would tell you of the good ole days when the tech industry (Silicon Valley) was primarily in the Santa Clara valley before it shifted its way into the city.

Photo Description: one of the major thoroughfares for SF Japantown where you can see a tower, a multiple shops with a pedestrian walkway.
Back in the day, there was a Thai karaoke bar in SF Japantown that we would hit up (Thai people can do a good rendition of Hotel California).

Hella Expensive

I think migration is generally good, but in the case of SF, it has displaced many of the natives who do not work in the lucrative tech industry.

SF has always been expensive, but now it is the most expensive place to rent in the US, and the second-highest in the world, right behind Hong Kong which is number one. Add in the lack of local job opportunities for the rest of everybody else, and you have a city that is longer how it used to be. This lack of opportunities, I think has changed the communities that once made the city what it was.

Yes, all cities change, but the way I see it, it has impacted the businesses because Japanese restaurants in LA cater to a large population of Japanese (thank you Toyota Motor Company) whereas, in SF, they are now catering to the tastes of their newfound residents. Residents from Iowa, Kansas, to India, although I am not saying these places do not have any legit Japanese restaurants, it is just highly unlikely they do.

That’s hella Bay Area. Image by ©-Joshua-DickensFlickr

Recommended Spots in San Francisco

Over the years, these are the places that I think have epitomized Japanese food or a good compromise of food and drink.

Must Go to Neighborhood

Little Tokyo
(neighborhood)
SF Japantown

Highly Recommend

Mensho Tokyo SF
Lower Nob Hill
(415) 800-8345

Kusakabe
Financial District
(415) 757-0155

Places to Try

Maruya Sushi
Mission District
(415) 503-0702

Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodles
SOMA (Metreon)
(415) 757-0092

Hinodeya Ramen
Western Addition (Japantown)
(415) 757-0552

Spots For a Drink and Maybe a Bite to Eat

Hitachino Beer & Wagyu
Lower Nob Hill
(415) 624-3580

Izakaya Ginto
Financial District
(415) 530-2466

Izakaya Sozai
Sunset District
(415) 742-5122

Izakaya Rintaro
Mission District
(415) 589-7022

New Spots I Want to Try

Mamanoko (an izakaya?)
Marina District
(415) 346-8494

Izakaya Roku
Mission District
(415) 861-6500

Izakaya Mayumi
Richmond District
(415) 742-4159

Haha, yea, this is good, but I wish “nope” was yes for me tho. It was uploaded by Marco Di Marco on Pinterest.

I love these types of maps because they help make understanding the city understandable from knowing that they have buffalo in Golden Gate Park, or the vibe of each neighbor’hood’ like the Mission, the Richmond, to the Sunset although “ships and stuff” sounds a little too nice.

Image Gallery

I have ordered these businesses so that you can walk with a minimal amount of driving or rideshare.

The first area is the Financial District and Lower Nob Hill/Tenderloin which can be sketchy even though this is a tourist heavy area, but if you want to visit Japantown, you will want to Uber it between these two neighborhoods.

Finally, the Richmond, Sunset, and Mission district will require you to take a rideshare to and fro.

After you dodged a number of tourists and mentally ill homeless, this what the front entrance looks like.

Located right on Market street which was surprising because it’s such prime real estate until you know the money that is behind the restaurant (big money).

When they first opened, their bartender struggled just to interact with people.

Ginto is by one of Japan’s largest restaurant groups Ramla which was started in 1980, although I do not expect much from them or any other large Japanese restaurant group. Tori doll, Yoshinoya, to Ramla all fall into this group, and they always come off as though they have no clue what they are doing. Maybe, that is why I typically only drink here.

Mensho Tokyo SF in da hood.

The Tenderloin and Lower Nob Hill was a fun neighborhood to drive through as a horny twenty something, now it’s a good spot to drive through as a hungry and horny adult.

Mitsunori’san putting on the final touches.

Oh how far my tastes have come, from Miyake in San Jose/Palo Alto to Kusakabe sushi just right across from the Transamerica building.

Both Miyake’s are sadly closed now, but they were all about cheap kaiten sushi in a fun atmosphere which was taken up a notch on Halloween when all the male sushi chef’s would dress up as females (the staff was almost completely male, so when they said “lovely young ladies will be serving sushi” it sounded too good to be true, and it was).

This image brings back some memories of back in the day.

I had to include this pic because out of all the places, this place used to be constantly busy. They opened in 1982, but unfortunately they are now gone, so they had a good run.

If you want to know the impact it has had, here is a post by Carlos H. (Carlos Eats) of how it was the first sushi bar he had tried as a five-year-old kid in 1994.

The San Francisco Peace Pagoda

If you did not know, the Peace Pagoda in SF Japantown was designed by Japanese architect Yoshiro Taniguchi (those Taniguchi’s are legendary, well some more than others).

I have walked by this restaurant a million times.

Another old school restaurant that has been in Japantown for a long time, and if you’re in Japantown, it’s a must that you wander through the Japan Center located at 1737 Post Street, San Francisco, CA.

I-zu-mi-ya… that’s how slowly I read hiragana. BTW, in the Bay Area, that’s “Hella” Kitty.

This is another restaurant that has been around forever although like many of them, the ownership may have changed throughout the decades.

There has always been some very distinctive places in the Japan Center.
Is this my obachan’s house or Narumi.

Sadly Narumi Japanese antiques and dolls are no longer in business.

It was always fun when I had my ex pose next to the dolls (she had a matching look).

I have so many more pics, and I should just upload them to Flick’r, but most of my shots are sloppy (snapshots). That is why most of you probably would not believe I did product photography for well over a decade.

Crispy and creamy, sort of like tofu, so you’ll want a mouthful.

Try finding fish sperm at an Americanized Japanese restaurant, you won’t. So if you will have to go to Izakaya Sozai to satisfy your cravings.

Another Sozai pic that I wanted to throw in.

I was hoping it would be good for the hefty price, but I would stick to their other menu items.

That’s a whole lot of work, no slackers here.
Perfectly prepared.

Rintaro’s $25 gyoza is pricey, so hopefully your tech stocks have already vested, and if they have, you can cash out and buy all the gyoza you want.

Yakitori is my go to item at Rintaro.

The one type of restaurant that I thought the Bay Area lacked were izakayas (a Japanese style pub), but it seems as though within the last 3+ years, there have been a number of them opening. Now, I just wonder if they’re anything like a real Japanese izakaya, or at the very least like the ones in Los Angeles (my favorite is Hachi in Torrance).

Check out Tabemono Journey

If you want to know from somebody who knows the Bay Area and Japanese food, check out Tabemono Journey, and I’ll let them say it in their own words (I don’t know them, their gender, or ethnicity, but I like their blog):

“My home town is in San Francisco, which arguably has some of the best restaurants in the USA.  While there are many Japanese restaurants, only a handful are truly wakusho, which is the true art form of the food of Japan. Wakusho is about the focus on perfection and taste, with that hint of restraint in seasoning to allow the umami of the flavors to come out and permeate the taste buds.   In recent years, there has been a growing list of restaurants offering excellent true Japanese food, where the chefs have been trained in Japan.”

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