Fresh and light as air, Japanese food is one of the most scrumptious yet healthiest meals around. And Auckland has embraced Japanese restaurants with gusto. While there’s some incredible high-end establishments in the CBD (with price tags reserved for a special night out), we also love the fact that there are so many grea hole-in-the-wall gems in the suburbs. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you and found our 10 best Japanese restaurants in Auckland.
Kintaro on Fuji reviewed by Kylie B.
Formerly known as Sansui, this delightful hole-in-the-wall in Auckland’s CBD has a new chef, a sassier attitude and is now known as Kintaro On Fuji. Tucked down a side street next to the NZ Herald building, you could almost miss the little front door amongst the city’s hustle and bustle. But cross the dark wooden-planked bridge delicately laid on a carefully crafted sand garden, head upstairs and you are instantly transported to a quiet dining area full of private booths. Paying homage to their hometown of Fukuoka City, the menu is full of fresh seafood dishes, tonkotsu ramen and donburi. And the food is as fresh as its surroundings. It also seems to be where Auckland’s Japanese businessmen choose to go (always a good sign!) to enjoy a quiet lunch. I opted for the salmon sashimi don ($14.90) and it was a taste triumph. The bento boxes at $25.90 also looked like an excellent deal. And while you might be tempted by a booth, don’t do it. Instead sit up at the bar and watch the chef hand-craft the delicate delights.
Sake Bar Icco reviewed by Kylie B.
This is where Auckland’s top chefs go to get their fix of Japanese food in an unassuming, suburban setting. Tucked away behind frosted glass on a busy Morningside strip just past Kingsland’s main shops, owner Hiroshi Miyata - who previously was head chef at Katsura restaurant in Stamford Plaza - prides himself on tracking down some of the freshest fish in the city, as well as serving up a wide selection of premium Sake and Japanese plum wine. And this combination is what makes Sake Bar 601 the perfect destination for affordable after-work dining or a casual date night. But be warned - it pays to book well in advance because the stark yet simplistic dining room seats approximately 20 people. Alternatively, it also does a rollicking lunch trade.
Opened in 2013, Janken is no longer the new kid on the block but already there are loads of loyal, die-hard fans of Auckland's finest proponent of fuss-free Japanese fusion. It's the kind of place you can visit every day for lunch, without breaking the bank. The nori salads are a quick, healthy solution and their lunch-box specials are priced at just $13.50. But what makes Janken stand-out most is that quality is at the forefront of everything this organic eatery do with its focus on macrobiotic food, meaning there is no dairy, eggs or white flour and sugar used in their meals. They've also just introduced a new range of sake so we suggest gathering together a few friends and enjoying a top-quality, giggly night out.
Musashi Japanese Cuisine St Heliers reviewed by Kylie B.
Chef Satoru Aoki has hit the nail on the head with this incredible suburban Japanese experience that has also extend it’s well-crafted tentacles into branches in both Milford and New Lynn. But it’s the original Musashi in St Heliers that Auckland’s continually rave about. With Japanese fusion at the forefront, this restaurant gets the right balance of taste and flavour while being kind to the wallet. Traditional favourite - Agedashi Tofu ($9.80) - is some of the best in the city, while the flame-grilled sushi is a triumph. It’s easy to see why it’s where the locals go.
If you really want to impress someone with your underground knowledge of Auckland’s Japanese restaurant scene, take a turn off Ponsonby Road and down Brown Street to this establishment showcasing a sexy, modern take on traditional flavours. Cocoro is definitely a treat but well worth every penny. The marinaded octopus salad is one of the best seafood dishes in this city. The sashimi is melt-in-the-mouth perfection and the tempura has exactly the right amount of crunchy crispiness. The Japanese-farmed bluefin tuna and chives finger roll ($17) is also one of the best examples in the city.
Industry Zen reviewed by Kylie B.
For something a little bit different, this is a Japanese-style tapas restaurant that has a focus on quality and freshness, as well as just the right amount of theatre and presentation. In fact, the presentation of the food at Industry Zen is second-to-none, not to mention the cute, quirkiness of the restaurant. And with a tabletop charcoal grill, they can also create a pretty amazing at-table experience. The dishes are also well-priced, meaning it’s an affordable night out. If you had to choose just one thing on the menu, opt for the sashimi boat ($18), which features clever takes on tuna, salmon, kingfish, scallops and many more examples of fresh kaimoana.
Tanuki's Cave reviewed by Kylie B.
One of Auckland’s most iconic Japanese restaurants, no article would be complete without the inclusion of Tanuki’s Cave. Descend down the stairs into the hustling, bustling environment of this great example of an Izakaya eating house in action and munch on as many sticks of Yakitori as you can muster or opt for their legendary karaage fried chicken ($14.50). For anyone who loves Japanese, you have to experience the vibe of Tanuki’s Cave at least once, and you’ll probably end up coming back many more times.
Prepare to open your wallet for a night out at Ebisu but know that you will never, ever be disappointed by this smart, expansive Britomart beauty. Fusing delicate Japanese flavours with a clever European twist, this is the place to go with a group of die-hard foodies because it’s shared plate territory. The two best shared dishes served up by legendary sushi master Yuki Ozeki and head chef Murray Wiblin have to be the crisp soft shell crab with delicious orange ponzu sauce ($20) and the tuna ceviche salad with yuzu lemon dressing ($24). For mains, it’s pretty hard to go past free range teriyaki chicken with furikake rice rolls ($34).
Yaruki Japanese Restaurant - Henderson reviewed by Kylie B.
If you want the best-value bento boxes in all of Auckland, get on the North-western motorway and hoof it to Henderson. Yaruki is hard to find, which is why it is one of west Auckland’s little gems. But locals know that if you locate the Dutch Cheese shop on its main street, you’ll find the little door that takes you into the world that is Yaruki. There is only one thing to order here - their lunch or dinner box, depending on what time of day it is. Because the lovely thing about these great value boxes (from just $25.90 each) is not just the traditional Japanese favourites that arrive at your table - think succulent teriyaki chicken, light yet perfectly crunchy tempura and katsu and lip-smackingly good sashimi and sushi rolls. There’s also a wonderful theatre to the whole evening because the contents of Yaruki’s bento boxes just keep on coming - a never-ending story of awesomeness! Plus if it’s your birthday, the staff will gather around and sing happy birthday loudly before offering up a complimentary sweet treat. There’s also another Yaruki on the North Shore in Brown’s Bay.
Masu Japanese Robata Restaurant & Bar reviewed by Kylie B.
If you’ve got a special occasion and love to eat Japanese food then there is no place that offers a better dining experience in Auckland than Masu. From the moment diners enter the glass doors, situated next to the SkyCity Grand Hotel, and into the delicately crafted space, it’s clear that every detail has been thought through. That same kind of attention extends to the quality and freshness of the food, not to mention the cleverly designed table settings. Chef Nic Watt is well-known for his signature flavours and Masu is a Japanese restaurant dining experience that’s all about doing things differently. Don’t miss the taste sensation of refreshing the palate between courses with their most delicious non-alcoholic cleanser. The pokka - a creation of red grapes muddled with lime and aloe vera juice - is a juicy creation of epic proportions.