SAN DIEGO — The venerated Japanese dining tradition omakase translates loosely to, “I leave it up to you,” reflecting a patron’s willingness for an expert chef to whisk them through a meal at their own culinary whims.
You’ll be in good hands if you dine at Soichi in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood. The intimate little shop on Adams Avenue was just named Yelp’s top-ranked omakase dining experience in the entire country, based on a glowing five-star rating from over 300 reviewers.
Soichi and Raechel Kadoya, husband and wife and co-owners of the 3-year-old restaurant, are honored. They’re also a little uncomfortable with the idea that anyone declares them “best in the country.”
“There are a lot of other great restaurants,” Raechel was quick to add, when FOX 5 called to let the couple know about their top spot on the list.
It’s true that a Yelp rating is just one data point for measuring the best restaurants around, but the list isn’t the shop’s only major accolade. Last year, Soichi received a highly-coveted Michelin star, reserved for only the best culinary experiences in the country. Again, the couple received the honor humbly, enough so that the San Diego Union-Tribune dubbed Soichi San Diego’s “most-reluctant Michelin-starred restaurant.”
Dining at Soichi is an authentic experience that’s typically split into two-hour seatings for about 20 people at a time. In the omakase tradition, each meal is unique, with plenty of room for improvisation on the part of the chefs. Soichi and his team work from behind the sushi bar, preparing delicious, seasonal dishes with fresh fish — some raw, some cooked.
The restaurant is a family passion project. Soichi and Raechel, who met when Raechel’s father was based in Japan for the Navy, have three daughters who work at the shop. The staff consist of only about 10 people, a tight-knit group that has remained largely unchanged since the restaurant opened.
“We feel like we’re inviting people into our home,” Raechel said, a feeling bolstered by the fact that Soichi himself worked with partners to paint and build many parts of the restaurant.
At dinner, Soichi is head chef and entertainer — he’s known to grab his guitar off the wall and perform a song for a diner’s birthday, if it’s not too busy. His role goes far beyond preparing the food, Raechel says. He also helps create the jovial atmosphere, joking with customers and explaining their dishes.
Raechel handles business and front-of-house operations. “He’s the artist and in order for him to be able to focus … I take care of everything else,” she told FOX 5.
The couple dreamed of opening a restaurant together since before they got married in 1997. Raechel, who is a San Diego native, pushed her husband for years to open his own shop after they moved back to her hometown. It took a while for Soichi, who worked at other well-respected sushi restaurants in town, to feel confident headlining his own eatery.
When he did, the chef already had a customer base, made up of friends and regulars who knew his work. Still, “we thought we would be this little tiny hole in the wall,” Raechel said.
Instead, the restaurant quickly became one of the hottest reservations in town.
“Our customers are really amazing people,” Raechel told FOX 5. “We’re really blessed.”
That loyal fanbase can make it difficult to get seated at Soichi. The restaurant typically releases reservations at the start of each month, offering seatings for the following month. You can sign up for a mailing list and learn more on the Soichi website.
The full eight-course omakase experience costs $135. You can also select a nigiri omakase option for $95 and a special “petite” omakase experience for $48. The menu of farm-to-table and sea-to-table dishes varies day-to-day, and the chefs are happy to accommodate special diets. The menu features drinks and a la carte options, too.