7 Japanese-inspired restaurants in Madison
Satisfy a sushi or ramen craving
If you’ve got a craving for sushi, rich bowls of ramen or a pint of Sapporo, chances are one of these restaurants can satisfy it. Madison is home to twenty-some restaurants with Japanese-inspired cuisine—this list will just get you started—so grab a friend, order some rolls or steaming bowls of wavy noodles, and dig in.
A low-key spot, Akari is great for those looking for a casual sushi experience. Located on Gammon Road, Akari focuses mainly on carry-out and delivery service but there are a couple of small tables for those looking to dine in. In addition to a large selection of sushi rolls, Akari offers sushi entree combinations that can be shared. Look for the Love Boat—for $38.95 this entree includes 14 pieces of sashimi, 8 pieces of sushi and a specialty rainbow roll. Other menu items include a “bento box,” a Japanese lunchbox traditionally consisting of rice, meat or ﬁsh and pickled vegetables. At Akari, bento boxes—choose from a number of options including vegetable tempura, shrimp tempura and beef teriyaki— come with rice, choice of salad or spring rolls and a four-piece California Roll. 811 S. Gammon Road
Morris Ramen has quickly climbed its way to the top of Madison’s ramen scene since opening on King Street in December 2016. With the motto “sip, slurp, repeat,” Morris focuses on a few ramen options including a vegetarian version with a veggie miso broth. Morris co-owner Francesca Hong says she fell in love with ramen when she was traveling in Japan with her husband and Morris co-owner, Matt Morris. “No matter what we ate during the day, we always ended up having a bowl of ramen for second or third dinner,” Hong says. “There is something about soup and noodles that always comforts the soul and brings you home even when you’re away.” In addition to ramen bowls, Morris serves up donburi—large rice bowls—and a selection of buns with ﬁllings like sliced beef rib-eye and squash with yogurt and chutney. With its lively atmosphere, mouthwatering dishes, innovative cocktails and solid tall boy beer choices, Morris is a great spot for a memorable meal. 106 King St.
Shinji Muramoto, originally from Sapporo, Japan, originally came to Madison to pursue a business degree at Edgewood College. After a part-time stint at Wasabi, the former Japanese restaurant on State Street, Muramoto discovered a talent for rolling sushi. In 2003 Muramoto opened his ﬁrst restaurant—Restaurant Muramoto—at 106 King Street. After moving down the block for a stint, Restaurant Muramoto, now Muramoto Downtown, landed at 108 King Street where people ﬂock to for its sushi rolls and Asian fusion cuisine. Don’t miss the Asian slaw, a colorful stacked salad made with cabbage, daikon, wonton chips, nori and sesame dressing. After a roll or two, make sure to order dessert: the ginger ﬂan with miso caramel sauce is a must. Struck by the restaurant bug, Muramoto opened a second location, Muramoto Hilldale, at Hilldale Shopping Center several years later. A modern and romantic space, it’s possible to feel transported when dunking sushi in soy sauce (but not too much!) in the dining area. Or pull up a seat at the tucked-away bar and sip on a Morning Dew, a cocktail made with cucumber, lemon, ginger syrup and barley shochu, a popular Japanese distilled liquor. 108 King St., 546 N. Midvale Blvd.
A no-frills ramen spot on Park Street, Ramen Station features ramen, skewered meats and other Japanese food items. Best known for having a larger, unique selection of different kinds of ramens than a lot of other noodle spots in Madison, Ramen Station has about 16 different styles of ramen on its menu. There is the Tonkotsu ramen stand-by, made with a rich pork-based broth, but there is also lesser-known Gyuunika ramen featuring noodles in a spicy and rice pork broth with beef, soft-braised egg, scallion, beans, sprouts, seaweed, ﬁsh cake, and bamboo shoots. Another favorite menu item at Ramen Station are the Gyoza, or pan-fried dumplings. Finish your meal with Mochi, a Japanese-style ice cream. Flavor choices include green tea, vanilla, strawberry and mango.
RED—which stands for Refreshing, Elegant, Delicious—became an instant darling of Madison’s sushi scene when it ﬁrst opened on King Street in 2011. When it became clear that the restaurant had outgrown its cozy, 50-seat space, owners Tanya Zhykharevich and Jack Yip decided to move to a more spacious spot on West Washington in 2016. In addition to gaining a dining area separate from the lounge—not to mention an outdoor patio with Capitol views— the restaurant added more Japanese-inspired dishes to its sushi-focused menu, including ramen with spicy miso broth, ground pork and marinated bamboo. But sushi is what made RED popular, so be sure to try one of the 50-some rolls on the menu which include cooked, raw, vegetarian and vegan options. Newcomers might want to try the $15 lunch special or RED’s happy hour from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. 316 W. Washington Ave. Suite 100
Takara 88 owner Brian Ni spent time working as a sushi chef in Japan before he ultimately moved to Madison and opened the original Takara location on State Street. Located in downtown Middleton, Takara 88—Ni’s third location that he co-owns with his wife (the original Takara has since closed; another Takara remains open on Whitney Way in Madison)—is a stylish, contemporary space for traditional Japanese cuisine. Choose a seat at the sushi bar and watch the chefs create colorful and innovative rolls like the Spirit Roll, avocado and spicy tuna rolled up in rice and topped with yellowtail, caviar and a slice of jalapeño. Known for great lunch specials and a friendly staff, Takara 88 has stolen sushi-lovers’ hearts in the Middleton area. 1900 Cayuga St., 696 S. Whitney Way
Tavernakaya, a casual Japanese-style tavern from Michael Ding, the owner of Umami Ramen and Dumplings, opened on the Capitol Square in December 2015. One of the most loved menu items at Tavernakaya is General Tso’s Cauliﬂower, a vegan version of the popular chicken dish made with fried cauliflower served in a sweet and spicy sauce with scallions and rice. There are also several noodle and ramen bowls made with Umami’s homemade noodles (Psst: On Mondays, order a bowl of ramen for $10 and get a free pint of Sapporo). Shareable snacks—great paired with a cup of chilled sake or a Japanese beer— include togarashi fries, hand-cut fries spiced with togarashi, a Japanese spice mixture, and tempura cheese curds with spicy mayo. If sushi is what you are after, don’t miss the Wednesday sushi special—select rolls, including spicy tuna, Boston, Alaskan, shrimp tempura, California, fried salmon skin, vegetable tempura, shiitake and asparagus, are only $5.
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