Much More than Maki at Twin Cities Japanese Spots

By James Norton

Just because visitors don't typically come to Minneapolis-St. Paul to eat Japanese food doesn't mean that they shouldn't. The metro area boasts more than just respectable sushi — from warm, soothing bowls of noodles to fried pub delicacies to skewers of marinated meats to sustainable seafood with a modern story to tell, there's something in Minnesota — by way of Japan— for every diner's taste.

Origami
Sashimi at Origami / Photo by Becca Dilley

Tanpopo, St. Paul

The austere simplicity of Tanpopo's food — particularly its udon and soba noodle dishes — is true to its Japanese roots, and makes for a sophisticated and soothing way to enjoy the contrast between warm food and cold weather. And while noodles are the menu's centerpiece, the restaurant's teishoku (set meals) are a great gateway to many of Japan's best-loved flavors. Diners ordering teishoku get a bit of everything: rice, soup, pickles and an entree.

Fuji-Ya, Minneapolis & St. Paul

The great-grandaddy of Minneapolis-St. Paul sushi restaurants, Fuji-Ya was founded in 1959 and continues to churn out hits. The restaurant sports big, beautiful sushi rolls and a hospitality ethic that won't quit, and it's an ideal location for big groups who want the food and drink to keep coming, wave after wave. Its private rooms are perfect for those who want a quieter (or more discreetly rowdy) experience.

Haiku Japanese Bistro, Minneapolis & St. Paul

The unpretentious Haiku offers some standout elaborate rolls and the bizarre-but-lovable spicy tuna pizza that is good enough to demand a repeat visit.

Kyatchi, Minneapolis

Opened in 2014, Kyatchi represents a new ethic in Japanese food, placing an emphasis on using fish that is sustainable and responsibly caught. Its cozy baseball-meets-Japanese-food atmosphere feels simultaneously exotic and welcoming, and its daily sushi specials are some of the best in the city — smart, beautifully presented, and invariably fresh. Don't skip the baseball-inspired hot dog section of the menu — they're some of the tastiest dogs in town.

Kyatchi hot dog
Japanese "hot dog" at Kyatchi / Photo by Becca Dilley

United Noodles, Minneapolis

To describe United Noodles as a "grocery store" would be like describing Mall of America as a "shopping mall." It's both accurate and a dramatic understatement. Sprawling (but well-lit and clean), United Noodles is organized by place of origin, allowing shoppers to cruise the aisles for food from Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Hawaii and more.

Visitors can marvel at dozens of kinds of rice, hundreds of kinds of noodles, oodles of frozen dumplings and cases of frozen delicacies, among other attractions, and can also catch lunch at the store's in-house diner. One of the house specialties is SPAM musubi, a try-it-to-believe-it delicacy that marries processed pork from Austin, Minn., with a sushi-like rice and seaweed presentation. It's deeply savory and one of the best lunch deals in the Cities.

Masu Sushi and Robata / One Two Three Sushi, Minneapolis & Mall of America

Since it opened in Northeast Minneapolis in 2011, Masu Sushi and Robata has been one of the area's foremost pacesetters among Japanese restaurants, boasting sustainable sushi, a diverse selection of robata (small bites, mostly skewered and grilled), an outstanding sake program, and a vibrant nightlife feel that makes it one of the go-to party restaurants in the region.

And with three locations in Minneapolis (and more on the way), One Two Three Sushi is Sushi Avenue's (Masu’s parent company) foray into more casual Japanese food. Combining quality ingredients with a Chipotle-style counter-service approach to sushi, One Two Three Sushi is a good fit for a fast lunch or dinner for the Japanese food fiend.

Obento-Ya Japanese Bistro, Minneapolis

Catering to students and faculty from the nearby University of Minneapolis, Obento-Ya is one of the area's hidden gems — a charming spot (with a garden-like back patio) that specializes in Japanese small plates and skewers, with an emphasis on bright, fresh flavors and a simple-but-striking plating style.

Spicy tuna pizza Haiku
Spicy tuna pizza at Haiku / Photo by Becca Dilley

Moto-i Ramen and Sake House, Minneapolis

The on-site sake brewery sets Moto-i from all its peers — not just in Minnesota, but in the United States. Moto-i's sake emphasis carries through in its decor and music, which centers on good times and late nights. Small bites, legendary pork buns, and a surprisingly good weekend brunch make this one of Uptown's best stops for a creatively interpreted Japanese-American dining experience.

Origami, Minneapolis

Origami's focus on great fish and classic, clean presentation make it one of the primary temples of sushi in Minneapolis. The chef's choice (omakase) sushi flight here is one of the best in town: trust your sushi chef and enjoy an unparalleled tour of flavor. Origami's Uptown location offers a great range of Japanese whiskeys and a remarkable wine program that successfully pairs Italian whites with various cuts of sashimi.

Find more Minnesota Japanese restaurants in our Drink & Eat section.