The traditional dietary culture of the Japanese (washoku) is loved the world over — so much so, it holds a place on the United Nation’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. And there is no denying that here in New Zealand, we are as impassioned by the cuisine’s custom of celebrating seasonal produce on impeccably presented plates. From supremely-fresh sushi rolls and sashimi platters to tantalising izakaya menus and delicious yakitori, here we present our definitive guide to the best Japanese restaurants in Auckland.
At this widely-acclaimed, fine-dining Japanese restaurant (located at SkyCity), expect to be wowed by an array of meticulously crafted dishes that put fresh, seasonal ingredients at the forefront and showcase an impeccable level of culinary skill at work in the kitchen. Putting a more contemporary twist on the traditional robata style of cooking over an open charcoal grill, this restaurant offers delicious food served in a lively, relaxed atmosphere, in the heart of Auckland City.
In Japanese mythology, Ebisu is one of the Shichi-fuku-jin (Seven Gods of Luck). Named after the patron of fishermen and merchants, it makes sense that the seafood dishes are second to none at this world-class waterfront eatery in Britomart (like the famous Ebi Mayo Roll with Black Tiger prawns and the crisp soft-shell crab). That said, even the non-seafood-centric options are showstopping. From the miso-glazed eggplant to the mouth-watering, chargrilled Angus Beef Scotch fillet with wafu sauce and wasabi ponzu, the fare at this exceptional restaurant is utterly moreish, and the elevated vibe has us booking a table here whenever we get a chance.
Combining Peruvian Nikkei flavours with Tokyo-style sharing dishes, the lively menus at Azabu and Azabu Mission Bay — designed by Executive Chef Yukio Ozeki — have long made these restaurants favourites on the Auckland food scene. And while the menus at both are largely the same (with slight variations), everything at both locations is made using fresh, seasonal ingredients and utterly moreish flavours. We will always order the warm tostada, with tuna sashimi, beef tataki or tomato (or lobster, too, if dining at Azabu Mission Bay), and can rarely pass up the Lamb Chuleta — a mainstay at both restaurants.
Combining the deliciousness of traditional Japanese cuisine with healthy, local produce, Janken is a thoughtful eatery that caters to various dietary needs, including vegan and an array of allergies (even soy). Despite having recently transitioned from predominantly a nighttime restaurant to more of a daytime cafe (only open for dinner on Friday nights), Janken is still offering its signature healthy dishes, although with more of a focus on Japanese-style breakfast, fresh coffee and sweets with a deliciously Japanese twist.
Cocoro loosely translates to ‘the heart and soul’ in Japanese, and the Ponsonby eatery pours its heart and soul into every intricate dish. Voted one of Auckland’s best celebration restaurants, its elevated offering will make any milestone feel special. While there are a raft of fine and flavoursome Japanese dishes to choose from here, don’t go past the famous sashimi platter — a symphony of colour, texture and crustacea with over 25 varieties of seafood, including clams, crayfish tail and sea urchins.
Holding its own along Ponsonby’s line-up of polished establishments is cult-favourite Yuzu. With a menu including izakaya, sizzling hot plates and rolled sushi — there is truly something here for everyone to enjoy. The perfect stop-in for a quick lunchtime bite or an easy go-to for a quick dinner, Yuzu has long been a favourite neighbourhood spot for those who live in Ponsonby and the surrounding areas — and for a very good reason.
If you fancy a journey south, Izu is a modern-Japanese eatery in Papakura serving some of the tastiest fare in town. With a focus on offering dishes that combine traditional Japanese elements with a European twist, and only using the freshest, locally-sourced ingredients (including one of the best octopus dishes we have ever tried), this delicious spot is worth the extra effort.
This iconic yakitori and kushiage bar on Queen Street celebrates 25 years this year, which, considering the quality of its offering is hardly surprising. For a long time, Tanuki’s Cave has been the go-to for those seeking delicious Japanese in Auckland’s CBD (and has proven a particularly handy place to pop into for dinner should a show at Q Theatre or the Auckland Town Hall be on the cards). On the menu, tantalising yakitori dishes meet donburi and indulgent, deep-fried kushiage, all of which are perfectly complemented by a selection of palate-cleansing salads and sides. If you are yet to experience Tanuki’s Cave, you are seriously missing out.
Located cityside at City Works Depot, Newmarket, Britomart, Eastridge and Smales Farm &Sushi has carved out a reputation for serving some of the most delicious, intricate pieces of sushi around. Build your dream lunch box from the enticing cabinet of sushi, nigiri and inari, or order a bowl of teriyaki chicken donburi or tofu yakisoba. Open for lunch and for dinner and with both eat-in or takeaway options, &Sushi is a simple, delicious go-to that never lets us down.
Located on the bustling strip of Karangahape Road, this convivial stop-in is bringing something totally unique to Auckland’s Japanese food scene. Acho’s is something between a bar and an izakaya, offering a lively spot at which people can enjoy music, partake in Acho’s delicious food (including its famous, signature Acho’s Bun) and indulge in its extensive range of Japanese whisky, sake and craft beer. With tasty bites and a laid-back, welcoming vibe, Acho’s gets it right every time.
Oji Sushi strives to serve locally-sourced and sustainable bites, with fresh, seasonal ingredients including Big Glory Bay salmon from Stewart Island. Offering everything from rolled sushi to delicious sandos and rice bowls, the focus here is on vibrant food for vibrant tastes, and a more healthy reimagining of the classic takeout, with a menu that is utterly simple but undeniably flavoursome.
This Parnell favourite has long been a go-to of ours for simple, delicious, no-fuss Japanese fare. With a menu that runs the gamut of Japanese classics, including sushi rolls, fresh sashimi, a raft of bento box options (for an easy, well-rounded meal), satiating udon and ramen dishes, tempura and donburi, Moto Sushi is undoubtedly the perfect spot to drop into for a quick lunch or dinner.
Born from the vision of Makoto Tokuyama and Jason Lee, Remuera’s Waku Waku offers an approachable (but inspired) dining experience perfect for the whole family. Treating traditional Japanese fare to some delightfully modern twists, the menu is flavoursome and unique, created by Tokuyama who pulled from his experience at the likes of Cocoro to create a raft of special dishes. In the kitchen, these dishes are perfectly executed by Chef Lucas Lee (ex-Clooney, The French Cafe and Cocoro) and include the likes of Kara-age chicken with tapioca and smoked yuzu mayonnaise, and market-fresh fish with yuzukosho dashi, choy sum and daikon puree.
Find some of the best Japanese fare in town at this undercover, inner city spot, where classic dishes collide with unexpected, contemporary flavours. During the daytime, hungry punters can find a cabinet packed with freshly-made sushi rolls or choose from a menu of rice bowls and satiating salads, while in the evenings an izakaya menu of mouthwatering dishes is available, with options like the Tokyo Chicken Wings and the Beef Yukke Tartare almost impossible to pass up.
Opened by Chul Han Lee last year, Ponsonby newcomer Gurume offers premium sushi, nigiri and katsu donburi in the style and quality you would expect of a sit-down restaurant. Lee only selects the best ingredients, including fresh whole salmon (as opposed to fillets), halal chicken, hand-picked Seeka avocados, award-winning Olliff Farm eggs, and premium vinegar and rice. On the menu, classic flavours meet more unique elements, as seen in the Mango Sushi Roll (with salmon, prawn tempura, crab meat and avocado with a slice of mango circling it) and the Soba Sushi (which uses soba noodles instead of rice).