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Sebo Sushi: opinions? [San Francisco]

Am headed to SF for a long weekend on Thurs. to celebrate 5th anniversary... we're looking for a stellar sushi experience and need some local opinions on what is the best. We've heard from a few boards and acquaintances that the following are excellent:


At home in Denver we frequent Sushi Den, which gets their daily fish shipped directly from the owner's brother in Japan, who hand-selects the fish from the Tokyo fish market. So absolutely fresh fish is paramount. Also, my husband is allergic to shellfish and frequently orders a lot of all-vegetable sushi...so interesting vegetarian choices would be a plus. We are prepared to spend around $100 per person, so price isn't too much of a concern, within reason. Can anyone comment on the above 3, or is there another sushi temple out there that we absolutely must try?

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  1. I absolutely LOVE Sebo. I followed Michael from his previous restaurant, hounding him with "when are you opening" emails for the year between places. I wish I could afford to go there more often.

    1. I adore Sebo. The fish is amazingly fresh and the restaurant is really intimate, maybe 20 or 30 seats at the most?

      1. Sebo, Murasaki, and Kiss are all very good and quite different. If you're just in town for a few days, and you don't mind spending $100/person, Sebo is a good option. The two chefs there, Danny and Michael, are helpful and friendly. The best experience is really to sit at the bar, where you can interact with them directly. Some of the items at Sebo are more expensive than what you would find, even at sushi bars with comparable quality fish, but $100/person will do you quite well there, even if you get alcohol -- and they regularly stock fish that most places would have on their specials board sometimes, or perhaps not at all. One note though: Sebo is closed Sunday and Monday, so you'll want to plan that into your schedule.

        Murasaki is excellent, but I've found you get the best experience there after visiting repeatedly and cultivating a relationship with the itamae. Since you won't have the time to do that over just a long weekend, I'd be tempted to recommend Sebo over Murasaki. Also, I'm not sure where you're staying, but if it's anywhere in or near downtown, Murasaki is also quite a bit more out of the way than Sebo. Sebo is closer to more public transit options.

        Lastly, on Kiss: if it's sushi you're after, I would not put Kiss at the top of the list. The real draw at Kiss is the omakase menu, which does include sushi/sashimi dishes -- and the fish is fresh, but the sushi is not really *stellar* here. The chef's strengths lie more in the preparation of the cooked dishes in the omakase. So if it's sushi, in particular, that you're after, you would do better at one of the other places. The omakase at Kiss is very good, though, especially if you want something beyond just sushi and sashimi.

        If you decide on Kiss, you should definitely make a reservation. It is a tiny restaurant, and they usually just flat out refuse anyone without a reservation.

        4 Replies
        1. re: shortexact

          Could you elaborate on Sebo? What would you consider "unique" or "exotic" selections that you've had there? On a typical evening, how many types of fish do they stock? Do they use fresh wasabi? How's the sushi rice?

          If you've been to Hama-ko, how does it compare?


          1. re: Porthos

            The selection of "unique/exotic" fish in no way rivals what one used to find at Takahashi-san's bar at Anzu, but they do regularly (season permitting, of course) stock items that one usually finds at better places. On different visits, I've seen kanburi, kamasu, tairagai, kohada, real suzuki and real tai, nama tako, iwashi, kibinago, sawara, sanma, kurodai, madai, and others. Of course they stock akami, chutoro, and otoro hon maguro (supplies usually seem to be from Canada or Croatia). There's a nice ankimo (though I prefer Ino's).They also carry ikura no shoyu zuke, though not my favorite version of it. On a typical night, there will be something on the order of 20 types of fish, so it's a more interesting selection than what you'll find most places in these parts. They do use fresh wasabi.

            On the point of rice, it has been decent, but just for point of comparison, I prefer Takahashi-san's rice at Anzu, or the rice at Hama-ko. I've had some great experiences at Hama-ko, but the two places are quite different. Getting the really good stuff at Hama-ko can take some time investment, while at Sebo, everything is in front of you, and it's all easily accessible, even from a first time, which is why I thought it would be a nice spot for the OP to visit.

            1. re: shortexact

              Sounds like a nice variety across the board. There are a small few South Bay and Peninsula sushi restaurants that also source a similar variety.

              Any sushi restaurant in the Bay Area could open up an account with either or both of the two largest wholesalers (True World who apparently have expanded into the Bay Area with more resources and contacts/buyers to distribute fish from Tsukiji and the ever popular IMP) and if a business owner is willing to pay, he/she could get those afforementioned fish in wider variety, quality and quantity on a semi to regular basis (also depending on the season), unless they have other independent sources, but the problem is with such a variety and/or quality of stock easily translates to higher prices for the consumer. This is why some of the best or best known places around that have the top stuff and variety are never cheap (unless you have a hookup but those are exceptions).

              My understanding is that those who can buy in volume and have a great line of credit (ie long term business) will have the best access to the good stuff, which oddly enough isn't that different from a retail standpoint of a frequent customer who develops a good relationship with the sushi chef (and thus getting the choice and/or rare cuts) for omakase.

              Other than the quality of the fish, the rest is up to the chef's skills, all other beings being more or less equal.

              Just out of curiosity, for those who count # of fish available, do you include the standardized stuff like tuna, hamachi, cooked shrimp, cooked octopus, salmon, hirame, unagi, and saba?

              1. re: K K

                I don't like counting cooked items (unless it's grilled fresh eel or torched toro) and I don't like counting halibut, ika, salmon, ebi (even if it's live...unless it's live japanese prawn), and your run of the mill tuna.

                You should read about sushi on www.sushiyasuda.com (under "restaurant"). He talks about "aging" fish to get rid of rigor mortis and allowing the flesh to relax. The chef's skills and knowledge, like you said, plays a HUGE role.

        2. Ah, and one point I forgot to add. You might also want to add to your list Koo, which is in the Inner Sunset (408 Irving Street), right on the N-Judah line. This is one of my very favorite Japanese restaurants in the city. It's a restaurant which appeals to modern sensibilities, in terms of creative touches, but it is an excellent place to get traditional nigirizushi, which is my personal preference. They've got a great menu, deeper and more varied than what you'd find at Sebo. They've also got a mean Mt. Fuji chocolate cake, which is great.

          1. Thank you very much to all for your responses, especially shortexact for the detailed comparison provided. I think it's between the omakase at Sebo or Kiss...both sound intriguing and worth a visit. Tough choice! Also, I'm looking for a good dim sum, if anyone has a favorite to suggest, as well as opinions on Samovar. Thanks everyone!

            10 Replies
            1. re: chicachef

              Just want to second all of shortexact's points on the relative merits of Sebo and Kiss. I had the good fortune to eat at them back to back, and the fish at Sebo was noticeably better--sometimes embarrassingly so. The cooked foods, especially chawan mushi and the cooked prawn, were excellent at Kiss but more good to great at Sebo.

              If you drink, the list at Sebo is much better curated than the options at Kiss.

              I like Hama-ko quite a bit, but it's a small mom and pop place where if you wander in for the first time and they're super busy or in a bad mood, you will not have an enjoyable experience. Sebo would be much more reliable for a first timer.

              1. re: SteveG

                Note that Sebo has hardly any cooked food, except on the Sunday izakaya menu.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Sorry, that could have read as if I had chawan mushi and a cooked prawn at Sebo, which I did not. I ate at the bar at Sebo, and the chef made a few cooked things (like a tuna melt using fatty tuna, essentially white bread, sesame oil, scallions, and tuna scraps that were so luscious they got soft and melty between the warm pieces of bread). The focus at Sebo is really on the raw fish, which is exceptional and has totally spoiled me for all but a few other sushi places in town.

                  1. re: SteveG

                    Yeah... sort of a double-edged sword, isn't it? :) Sebo, Ino, Kyo-ya, and Murasaki are pretty much a complete list of the places in SF proper that I would seek for sushi. That said, I still have yet to try the infamous Zushi Puzzle to see what the fuss there is all about.

                    1. re: shortexact

                      Short. I would have to recommend against Zushi Puzzle. It's more for the interesting rolls than traditional nigiri. And while Roger does get some interesting stuff once in a while (pencilfish and japanese uni) the quality isn't up to snuff.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        This is about what I had expected, but I was beginning to doubt that instinct just from the sheer volume of people extolling it and mentioning that the chef also carried many "special" items. Then again, I don't think I've heard anything at all about the sushi rice, which to my mind is at least as important as the neta.

                        Thanks for weighing in, Porthos.

                        1. re: shortexact

                          I for one would love to hear a back to back comparison review from a serious nigirhound who has tried:

                          Sushi Ran (at the bar only)
                          Sakae Sushi
                          Kaygetsu (at the bar)
                          Kyo-Ya (with Tonai-san at the helm)

                          and do an indepth comparison. One hound recently did a debate saying Sushi Ran had the best in SF, over Sebo, Kyo-Ya, Ino etc.

                          Sadly I'll never get a chance to go to Kyo Ya or Sushi Ran (too far away) so I'll let others chime in.

                          1. re: K K

                            Sushi Ran? Really? I've never been, but I had heard reports that its strengths were more in the realm of nouveau/fusion/etc, rather than traditional nigiri. The last time I was north of the GG Bridge was maybe... a decade ago? So I probably won't be getting there anytime soon.

                            I've been to the other four, but Sebo would be the only one with any frequency. Sakae and Kaygetsu (at the bar) were maybe a few years ago. Kyo-Ya, I've only been once at lunchtime, at the bar. There was a division of labor in which Tonai-san handled sashimi, and his co-chef did the nigiri. So I didn't get to enjoy Tonai-san's nigiri crafting, but the marked difference in slicing skill between the nigiri and sashimi made it clear that at a return trip would be a good thing to do at some point.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Mentioned in my first post... pretty much Hama-ko and Sebo. I haven't been to Kyo-ya, Ino-san's sushi place, or Murasaki. The fish at Kiss was good, but it suffered in comparison to the fish I had the night before at Sebo so I'm probably not giving it a fair shake, for instance I'm sure it was as good as Hama-ko's with the exception of the salmon.

                        We lucked out our first night at Hama-ko, because we arrived with chowhound tips (you are there for fish, not foofoo rolls or tempura, be polite, wait at the door until invited in, etc.), I brushed up on basic restaurant Japanese (good evening, thank you for the nice food, beer please), and we complimented them on the miso dressing on the seaweed salad, which happens to be house-made. We also must have passed the fish taste test, because when we complimented them on a few particular fish on the plate they beamed and seemed to think they were the best that evening as well. Then they offered us tastes of their special cured salmon, since the fresh season was over. Their best was supposedly from the same supplier used by Chez Panisse and the French Laundry, and that they get lots of it when it is in season and cure/smoke it themselves to stretch out the bounty.

                        That said, the entire experience at Sebo is much more reliably pleasant than at Hama-ko, where they seem to have cranky days pretty often and there's a huge risk of a "no soup for you!" experience, especially if you go with more than 2 people. Of course, at Hama-ko we spend about 50% of what we spend at Sebo; the fish isn't twice as good at Sebo, but the high end of any cuisine never has a linear price vs. quality relationship. That upper 10-20% on the quality range gets really expensive really fast.

              2. I hope you enjoy your trip Chicachef! Please report back with your experiences, if you can.

                As for dim sum -- I don't know if you have done this already or not, but since your dim sum question is more general (as compared to your very specific sushi question), you might want to do a search of the board first. Dim sum is a topic near and dear to the hearts of many SF chowhounders, so the topic has come up a lot. There are some quite extensive threads on dim sum.

                1. The search feature here seems to be kinda funky still, so as a starter, here's a long thread on SF dim sum from just a few months ago. A lot of the popular contenders come up in this thread:


                  1. Koo and Hama-Ko are both good sushi places, but I wouldn't consider them "destination" places if I were a visitor to SF. Sebo is amazing; it's now my #1 favorite in SF. If money is no concern, I can blow $200 per person there (with unlimited selection of my favorite sakes there). If I show some restraint, like when my buddy treated me last time, it can be down to $60 a person (sharing a bottle of nice but not extravagant sake).

                    Kiss is famous for its 6-course omakase meal, which isn't a lot of food. Sushi is still of amazing quality (sorry have to disagree with with one of the posters), but it's super-expensive, especially considering its more regular (i.e. not Americanized) size. The variety can't compare to Sebo as expected, since it's an ultra-tiny restaurant.

                    Kiji in the Mission district is great as well, and compares well to the best sushi houses in this city.


                    3 Replies
                    1. re: vincentlo

                      What would you recommend at Kiji ? I've always wanted to try it, but am a bit hesitant because of mixed reviews.

                      1. re: osho

                        We ate at Kiji for the first (and most definitely the last) time last night.

                        The FOH service was excellent, but I'm afraid that most of what the waitresses are doing on a busy Friday night is apologizing. The sushi chefs are the SLOWEST I've ever experienced in my life. This would be all right if the sushi was good, but it was absolutely terrible. This is the worst sushi place I've ever been to, bar none. Everyone, including us, was waiting a full hour for small orders. We got the following nigiri: Tamago (egg), which was the old and crusty end, not fresh at all; hamachi, the most stingy portion I've ever received anywhere, ever; saba (mackerel), which had zero taste of mackerel at all, worst I've ever had in my life; ikura, which looked and tasted very past its prime.

                        The sushi chefs don't greet customers as they come in, which seems odd because, well, it's a custom, the restaurant is a small neighborhood place, and the bar is in very close proximity to the front door. This is a small nitpick, but I thought it was strange.

                        I will say the sake was good, and cooked items come out of the kitchen very quickly. The hold-up at this place is the sushi chefs. TERRIBLE. I can't imagine how this could be anyone's favorite place.

                        1. re: Atomica

                          Atomica, sorry to hear about your experience, but at the same time please accept my thanks for posting this and saving me and other 'hounds from a dismal meal. I will document my experience at Domo in Hayes Valley very shortly, I was there last week.

                    2. Hama-Ko is very good, also a place I wouldn't recommend to a visitor, since it's also the sort of place where to get the very best experience, it's best to be a regular.

                      1. I'm not the most sophisticated sushi eater, so perhaps that's why I didn't like Sebo more. The food was good, but not markedly better than other sushi I've had in the city. And I had a hard time getting over the price, especially given that I left hungry.

                        1. Don't forget that the Michael and Danny both speak perfect English and are super-nice. Naka-san at Kiss speaks OK English. Most sushi chefs of Japanese ancestry and who didn't grow up in this country speak limited English. Take that into consideration if you enjoy talking with your sushi chef.


                          1. So OP, where did you end up going?

                            1. Sebo is the most pretentious, over-rated restaurant I've been to in years. The service sucks, the waitresses know nothing, and there aren't enough of them. You should go to some of the places in Sunset or Richmond for better Sushi and better service.

                              This is the sort of place where Westerners go because they don't know any better.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: stirland

                                stirland, Where would you go in the Sunset for sushI? I'll be there next week and it's just what I'm looking for. Non-pretentious sushi restaurant with fresh fish and realistic prices.

                                1. re: jfrye5

                                  I'm not stirland, but in the Sunset, Koo is probably your best bet. Steer clear of that whole Okazuya bunch!

                                  1. re: jfrye5

                                    I literally just ate at Koo last night, co-incidentally. I am happy to report it's the BEST sushi I've had in SF, and possibly *ever.* Absolutely delicious.

                                    1. re: stirland

                                      That's quite an endorsement! What did you have?

                                  2. re: stirland

                                    People go to Sebo for the quality of their fish.

                                    For the best experience at Sebo (or any sushi bar), sit at the bar. The service is good there. Unlike most other places with top-quality fish, you don't need to know Japanese to get answers to complicated questions.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I have to agree. I ate at the bar at Sebo with my brother in December and came away very happy. The chefs are extremely knowlegable/approachable and there is no language barrier which is nice. It certainly wasn' t cheap, but I can't remember the last time I tried over ten different kinds of nigiri and was completely satisfied with every one.

                                      Unlike a couple of other posters, I am also a big fan of Zushi Puzzle which I used to frequent a couple of times a month when I lived a block away. While the fish level is not up to the Sebo standard it is still excellent for the most part, and having rolls and cooked food makes it easier to take friends who are not sushi purists. Having been recently, the selection of fish has been expanded and the quality is still there. Also, my wife can get one of their crazy rolls and be happy.

                                  3. Just went to Sebo last night and wanted to share a perspective.

                                    Fish - across the board very fresh and tasty. Cuts were on the smaller side. (Had nearly all the maki - medium fat toro, fresh water eel, scallops, horse mackerel, half beak, etc...).

                                    Service - to me pleasant and relatively knowledgeable when i had a few questions.

                                    Ambiance - subtle, not overly noisy, dimly lit.

                                    Cost - about $125 without tip or alcohol.

                                    Thoughts: I've been a lurker on this board picking up recommendations for the past few months and generally enjoying them (Koo, Kingdom of Dumpling, the pretzel croissant at the Berkeley Farmer's market, etc...). Sebo was the first place that inspired me to post a comment.

                                    In my opinion, not worth it unless you have a lot of money to burn. Yes, the fish was very good and there's a pleasant overall experience. There are also nice touches like the fresh wasabi. However, I think the value for the cost wasn't there for me to warrant a return. I say this is mixed, because though I liked it overall, I don't value the experience over the fish and cut size to justify the expense.

                                    As others have noted, this is a very specific kind of experience that's best reserved for those times this is exactly what you want.

                                    Ps. One caveat is that I would consider going back and eating at the bar, which I think is a different experience at sushi bars.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: leefc

                                      Welcome out of lurkdom. Thanks for the report.

                                      517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                      1. re: leefc

                                        I agree with this assessment. I've had several extraordinary meals at Sebo (sitting at the bar) with extraordinary bills to match.

                                        And several unimpressive meals that still cost $60-90 per person, with inattentive service. It is a shame to go to Sebo and not try the sakes.

                                        1. re: Windy

                                          I don't know if this has been publicized widely or not - but here goes.

                                          Sebo does not charge a corkage fee for sake that is purchased at True Sake - across the street. True Sake has an excellent selection of sake, and are very friendly and knowledgeable.

                                          As RL has mentioned previously in another post, True Sake closes at 7 PM, so if you make it to Sebo before then with a few bottles ....

                                          1. re: osho

                                            Sebo and True Sake are a brilliant combination. I highly recommend them as a team.

                                      2. The closing of Sebo is, for me, sad news indeed. For years I considered it the best sushi in the Bay.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: dunstable

                                          I have been a fan of Sebo since they opened. Of course, many sushi fans on CH have not shared by enthusiasm. I thought that the introduction of the Izakaya menu on Sundays was a brilliant stroke. Good luck to Michael Black in the future.