Japan is one of the most alluring destinations in Asia. It’s one of the few places that successfully marries creates harmony from contradictions. Part of being enamored by Japan’s mystical appeal is enjoying its cuisine that seems to have a global appeal. If there’s one place that perfectly captures the artistry that Japan exhibits even on its cuisine, it is Sushi Dai.
If you deem yourself a foodie, you must have already heard of Sushi Dai.
Sushi Dai is perhaps one of the most popular sushi restaurants in Japan. It’s a tiny, unassuming restaurant in the heart of Tokyo. If it weren’t for the extremely long lines outside, regular passers-by probably wouldn’t give Sushi Dai a second look.
But the legend of Sushi Dai goes beyond its humble interiors. An Omakase set at Sushi Dai that costs JPY 4,500 will set you back anywhere between JPY 10-15,000 somewhere else. While the cheap price is definitely attractive, it’s the quality and artistry that goes into the making of the sushi that draws unimaginable crowds.
Sushi Dai used to be located at the famed Tsukiji Market. However, in October 2018, the inner market was shut down due to its aging structure. Together with the world-renowned fish auction, Sushi Dai and several other notable restaurants relocated to the Toyosu Fish Market in Koto City.
The outer Tsukiji Market remains open and still is a go-to place for local produce and street food. But Toyosu Fish Market, as the name suggests, is the new home for all seafood products. The market has three blocks:
The best way to get to Toyosu Market is via taxi or ride-sharing services. You can book a ride via Blacklane, Talixo, or Uber. Tokyo trains open at 5:00 AM, and you will need to get there way earlier if you want to guarantee a seat or cut the waiting time. Of course, it’s more than possible to catch the first train to Sushi Dai, but prepare for a longer waiting time (more on that below).
After your Sushi Dai experience, just hop on the train at the Shinjo-Mae Station to cut transportation expenses.
It’s also not a bad idea to book a hotel nearby, especially if you’re gunning for the 3:00 AM queue. Transportation in Japan is extremely convenient, and you can around several places of interest in no time. There are also several museums around the area and the famed Megaweb Toyota City Showcase is also within walking distance.
Some of the nearest hotels you can book are:
Sushi Dai opens as early as 5:30 AM and closes at around 2:00 PM. Don’t let these long opening hours fool you, though. The restaurant only serves a fixed number of sets per day with only around 10 seats inside. It’s also one of the most popular restaurants in all of Japan. This means that you better be there early if you want a chance at dining here.
The wait is no joke; it can take anywhere between 2 to 5 hours waiting in line. It depends on the season, as most of the diners are foreign travelers. Arrive as early as you can, which means as early as 3:00 AM, or earlier if you can manage. By then, there is sure to be a long line already.
There is no set time for the last cut-off. It depends on how many sets Sushi Dai has already served. Usually, around 11:00 AM, they already close off the line. Why? Because they have already filled their seats for up to their 2:00 PM closing.
If you’re thinking about visiting during the low season, there’s no such thing. Sushi Dai is full to the brim all year round.
The good thing about relocating to Toyosu Market is at least the whole area is covered. At Tsukiji, the line is right by the street. At Toyosu Market, those in line are no longer exposed to the heat of the sun or under the rain. Sushi Dai also now has a few stools outside the restaurant. The next set of diners get to have a seat while the rest will have to make do with standing for hours.
Sushi Dai is closed on Sundays.
No matter how dedicated you are to amazingly fresh food, a 2- to 5-hour wait is still enough to drive anyone mad. There’s no escaping the line, either. If you feel that the queue is worth doing, here are a few ideas to make the wait a little bit more manageable:
There are two ways to dine at Sushi Dai.
The Omakase set costs around JPY 4,500 and gives you 10 pieces of nigiri, plus a sushi roll, tamago, and miso soup. The chef decides what to serve depending on the freshest catch of the day.
The Jyou or standard menu costs JPY 2,600 and includes 6 pieces of nigiri and sushi rolls, plus miso soup.
Of course, diners are more than welcome to order more sushi outside of the set menus. After 4 hours of waiting, might as well make the most out of your dining experience, right?
If you know sushi, one look at the nigiri and rolls served at Sushi Dai already tells you about the skills that the chefs possess. Working with fresh fish is tricky, but if done well, it definitely shows in the taste. The fish smells less fishy and tastes much sweeter in this restaurant.
After your long wait, a host will already take your order around an hour before you get in. If you choose the Omakase menu, you get to choose one item from the menu while the rest of your food will be up to the chef. You can also tell the host if there are items you don’t like, such as sea urchin or octopus, and they will be happy to accommodate your request.
Despite its popularity, Sushi Dai is not intimidating. The chefs are kind and humble, and all they’re after is for the guests to have a good time.
Most importantly, bring cash. The restaurant does not accept credit cards for payment.
The dining experience in Sushi Dai is like no other. With just around 10 people at a time, diners get to really see the process and art of sushi-making. The chefs are not shy to interact with the diners, either. The atmosphere is very casual and friendly, making the dining experience a lot more fun.
If you’re not a sushi fan, this is not the place for you. If you can’t tell the difference between different kinds of raw fish, you should give this a pass. The biggest drawback is the waiting time, and many guests tend to give up halfway. After 4 hours of waiting and you can’t really determine the nuances of freshly caught fish and artfully-made sushi, the experience won’t be worth it.
There are several other sushi restaurants at the Toyosu Market, and of course in the whole of Japan for that matter. It’s really up to you how much you love sushi and how patient you are to get the best one.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.