In 2009, Mashiko Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar chef Hajime Sato, made a responsible but risky decision: go fully sustainable. This move meant eliminating some of the more popular sushi dishes, such as eel and shrimp, because of their endangered status. "You have to explain to people," he says in a video introduction to the restaurant. "People aren't going to eat whale because the media talks about it. But nobody talks about eel." Today, Sato and his staff pride themselves on running one of the few truly sustainable sushi restaurants in Seattle—or anywhere. He can trace each of his menu items back to its source and identify how it was caught. Seafood such as salmon and tuna are raised in farms that are free of antibiotics and designed not to disturb surrounding ocean life or dolphins trying to nap. The fishermen Sato works with pay equal respect to adjacent species by keeping bycatch—fish caught accidently—to a minimum. The policies and the resulting flavors alike have won praise from outlets such as Eater Seattle, which named Mashiko one of its 38 Essential Seattle Restaurants in 2012.
It was after several beer-filled evenings that Hajime Sato was finally hit with inspiration. After 20 years as a sushi chef, he was determined to devise a way to make his traditional Japanese cooking more accessible to an American audience. All at once the answer was clear: breaded deep-fried hamburgers or "katsu" burgers. Sato's menu features four types of crispy fried protein, including seasoned ground beef patties, hand-trimmed pork cutlets or chicken breasts, and organic tofu, each stuffed into all-natural, locally-baked buns. Toppings also combine flavors from all over the map, ranging from Japanese mayo and tonkatsu sauce, to cheddar, fried eggs, and bacon. And while sides like fries and coleslaw sound as all-American as apple pie and turkey pardoning, Sato updates his versions, adding spicy wasabi to his slaw, and flavoring fries with sea salt, curry, or nori.
The name Sake Nomi translates to “sake only,” which is pretty accurate since this business sells, well, only sake. Here, owners Johnnie and Taiko pour portions of premium sakes and foster a community where fellow enthusiasts can share their knowledge of the beverage with guests looking to foray into the sake culture. Passionate for all aspects of the drink, they revel in discussions about brewing styles, grades, regions, and health benefits of sake. But don't make the rookie mistake of ordering your sake hot. Sake Nomi's sakes are always served chilled—which the couple maintains is the only real way to truly appreciate the drink's flavors and aromas and keep it from turning back into rice.
Okinawa Teriyaki, a casual little lunch-through-early dinner spot, serves up quick Japanese eats in hearty portions. In addition to the marinated teriyakis that give the eatery its name, the chefs here also prepare steaming bowls of ramen that The Seattle Times called "divine" and Seattle Weekly deemed "a revelation." The latter also acknowledged the eatery's tendency to draw long waits at lunch, and recommends that diners call-in their order ahead of time or rent a cardboard cut out to hold their place in line.
When the staff at Umi Sake House say they want to make guests feel at home, they mean that quite literally. The entire layout mirrors a streamlined Japanese country home, which makes sense given the informal, izakaya-style dining experience the sake and sushi bar hopes to foster. Seated in a bright red modular chair or cozied up on a couch, diners taste 18 types of sashimi and nigiri and more than 50 varieties of roll. These delicacies are ballast for a huge list of hot and chilled sakes, available by the glass, bottle, or beaker borrowed from a Japanese scientist. Newcomers to this complex sip needn't fear: servers are happy to help guide guests' selections or delineate the difference between a nigori and a junmai sake. Summing up the Umi experience in naming it the city's Best Sushi in 2012, the Stranger concluded that "Umi Sake House is the whole package." That package can be sampled as late as 2 a.m., as CBS Seattle noted in placing Umi on its Best Late Night Eating in Seattle list.
'Ohana presents diners with an invitation to escape first by immersing them in tropical sights and sounds, and then by tempting them with a menu of Japanese-style sushi and Hawaiian entrees. In addition to rolling maki with scallops, peanut sauce, sea salt, and other ingredients, the chefs roast servings of Hawaiian-style pork and simmer big pots of curried stew. Beneath a thatched tiki bar, the bartenders pour sake and mix tropically themed cocktails with pass-o-guava juice and coconut rum.
These flavors spread out to add a distinctive tropical vibe to the entire dining room. A panorama of an island sunset dominates one of the walls and bamboo stalks surround each of the booths, which feature upholstery with leafy, flowery patterns. T-shirts and trinkets adorn almost every free surface, filling the space with everything from lava lamps to life preservers. DJs perform on most weekend evenings, and from time to time, the restaurant hosts live island music that occasionally makes the tribal masks hanging from the rafters break into songs that nobody can understand.