First off, if you haven’t heard of Sushi Dai (寿司大) here is the quick and dirty – It’s a small 12 seat, bar top, sushi shop near the Tsukiji Fish Market that’s known for outstanding fish. It is open Monday – Saturday from 5am to Noon. This place pops up on every Tokyo food list, every “must dine” list etc, etc. so of course we had to check it out! Plus, sushi for breakfast? That’s not easily found outside of Japan! As J said, anywhere with a line out the door sounds “fishy…”
6 Tips for your Sushi Dai Experience:
- Come early, preferably hours after you land, and before becoming accustomed to the time change. This is a great way to keep yourself going and awake while you force an adjustment to Japan time.
- Arrive before 4am, otherwise, be prepared to wait until 6:30am to eat. Also, we were advised not to come on a weekend, which makes sense after seeing the 3:30am line…on a Wednesday…in the middle of winter!
- Spend the night nearby, so you can walk over. For reference, we stayed at the Marriott Courtyard in Ginza and only had to walk 15 minutes. HIGHLY suggest using Google Maps instead of relying on street signs. It will be early and you will likely be jet lagged.
- Dress warm if it’s not the middle of summer…it was 35* while we waited outside in December. Wear comfy shoes too, as you will likely be standing for a while. There are several nearby fooderies that serve coffee to go, but they are cash only and bathrooms are not exactly plentiful so empty your bladders and open your hearts before heading out.
- Bring good company or some earphones and tunes. We did not get any publicly available WiFi, but we use Verizon and you can get a travel pass to use your same phone plan for $10/day. Alternatively, you can also buy a local sim card if you have a travel phone and go that route. Plan to spend a minimum of 1.25 hours waiting.
- Do not confuse Sushi Dai with Sushi Daiwa next door. Without reading the signs, Sushi Dai is at the end of the street, closest to the water, and has several plastic crates out front that the next group up can use as “seats.”
Our Experience at Sushi Dai
Unfortunately, Sushi Dai is not one of those meals where you decide to go, show up, and get seated in one smooth process. On most, if not all days, there is a line to dine prior to opening. Since the subway does not begin running until 5am you’ll need to find another way to get there (car/taxi), or stay the night in Ginza so you can walk over.
Our experience was fairly smooth since we knew what we were getting into and had a close friend visit several weeks prior to our trip. It was pretty neat to see all the hustle and bustle begin in the market and all the stalls opening for the day. Beware of the many fork lifts racing around. They seem to avoid human collisions where possible, but why tempt fate by failing to pay attention 😊
Once we arrived at Sushi Dai at 3:50am, we noticed that there were around a dozen people seated in front of the restaurant on stools/milk crates with blankets.
We were 5th and 6th in the extended line, which meant we’d get into the second seating. Yippee! Each seating lasts around 45 minutes. The staff comes by ahead of time to find how many in your group, show you the menu, ask about allergies or dislikes (e.g. Soy, wasabi, shellfish, shrimp, sea urchin etc), and take your order. If you’re flying solo, you may be able to get an earlier seating as they try and fill the place to capacity at each seating. The menu consists of only a few items including what most people order, the Omakase (chef’s choice) of 9 pieces plus 1 piece of your choice, some sushi rolls, rolled egg, and miso soup for 4,000 Yen per person. The other options are a children’s 12 and under set, and a course for those who cannot (or don’t like to) eat raw fish. You can always order additional pieces if the 10 are not enough for you. Most importantly, this place is CASH ONLY!
Right before our seating we were given small bags to put our jackets and any items we were carrying so we didn’t take up extra space at the bar. There’s a shelf behind the seating area where you can put your jacket and bags. After eating sumptuous nigiri, psychotically fresh and delicious fish, and taste bud explosion miso soup, our experience was almost complete.
The final course was the “your choice” in which you could choose to repeat one of the nigiri or choose something new off the list they present to you. Tough choices, but we went with the Salmon Roe, as we wanted to compare it to Mitch’s Fish Market (one of our favorite omakase experiences in Hawaii). The uni and scallop were markedly different than what you can find in the states and really stood out for us as two highlight dishes.
Was Sushi Dai worth it? YES! There’s nowhere outside Japan where you can find this quality at this price point. J and I believe this the freshest and best omakase you will find for 4,000 Yen (less than $40). Not only is the fish delicious, expertly cut (not too big, not to small), but the rice is flavored perfectly, and each piece sticks together without issue so it doesn’t fall apart on its way from the table to your mouth. There was no need to dip anything in soy sauce either, as each piece had a perfect amount of soy sauce / wasabi / other toppings. The toro was also some of the best we’ve had. Some fish are more flavorful than others, and some have more texture than others, which is the neat thing about any omakase experience.
Many people talk highly of Sushi Daiwa and often compare it to Sushi Dai. Sushi Daiwa is located right next door to Sushi Dai and supposedly often has a line. However, on the day we went, there was no line at Sushi Daiwa. We considered going after, to compare them, but we were so full from Sushi Dai, that wasn’t really an option. Guess we’ve saved it for next time!