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I write about the San Francisco restaurant scene, from cheap eats to fine dining, ethnic foods to all-American, tried and true spots and soft openings of new places. Follow me on my gastronomic journey! Be sure to visit me at


Sozai Restaurant and Sake Lounge

 1500 Irving St
San Francisco, CA

Sozai - some of the best Japanese fare in town

When Ritsu and his wife took over Sozai on the corner of Irving and 16th in the Sunset, I was seriously doubtful that they could Gil and Mari’s (the former owners who now own Nombe in the Mission) food and sake offerings. Well, it turns out that the food may actually be a tad better than the old Sozai and is equally delicious with Nombe. The sake list is not as extensive as Gil’s, so Nombe is still the place to go for serious food and sake pairing in my book. Ritsu used to work at Blowfish to Die For and this is his first restaurant venture, and by the looks of it, he is doing amazing business. The tiny 30+ seat eatery was packed by 6:30 and there were people waiting for a table the whole time we were eating, about an hour! There were two servers/hostesses who circled around the dining room in a friendly and efficient manner, and our multiple plates came out remarkably fast considering how busy they were. All of the dishes were good, but some standouts included the skewered chicken meatballs, hamachi carpaccio with jalapeno and hamachi kama. The only potential downside is that feasting here can be pricey because it’s tapas/izakaya style here, so portions are, for the most part, petite. Two adults and two kids devoured numerous items plus sake and beer that totalled $188 before gratuity. That said, since this place is so close to our house, I am sure we will going back often. And we’ll make sure to have reservations!

Tofu Steak with Mushrooms

Three pieces of soft tofu covered in a sweet sauce with thin slices of meaty mushrooms, green onions, and shredded nori. Comforting!

Octopus Balls

Great batter – crunchy outside and creamy inside – but only a small piece of octopus inside. Yummy, though.

Fried oysters

A trio of big oysters comes with chili garlic sauce on the side.

Pork Belly Skewers

This was probably my least favorite dish, kind of plain, a bit chewy, with just two flat pieces per order.

Tsukune (Chicken Meatball)

These tiny skewered meatballs had good texture and a nice, slightly sweet flavor that was addicting. I think our son ate 24 of them in one sitting! Per order, you get two skewers with 3 small meatballs each.

Hamachi Carpaccio with mustard miso vinaigrette and jalapeno

Ever since Pres a Vi in the Presidio closed, I have been looking for a place that does a hamachi crudo with jalapeno that is just as zingy and delicious, and now I’ve found it. I absolutely love the thin, tender slices of fish with the mustard miso and small slices of jalapeno on top. Yum!

Tonkotsu ramen

Our daughter happily slurped up nearly the entire giant bowl of noodles with boiled egg and thick pork slice. We had to move the green onion slices out of the way since she doesn’t like onions, but that was no big deal. The broth was rich and almost creamy. Pretty good but not the best in town.

Hamachi Kama

We shared two orders of this divinely crisp-skinned, salty, meaty fish and nothing was left. Some places char it too much or not enough – this was perfection.

Duck Skewers

It was on the Specials board and the server suggested we try it. The meat was tender and served with a port wine reduction. Somewhat surprisingly, our daughter enjoyed it the most. To me, it was good but the sauce was a bit bland.

Gyusuji (Braised Beef Tendon)

If you enjoy tendon, then you will like this dish. But if you have issues with chewy textures, it may not be for you. It was a steaming dish of tender tendons sprinkled with chili powder and green onion. Really great!

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