Hard-Core Sushi

Sebo raises the bar for quality and variety

On my other visit, when we ordered à la carte, the highlight was Hokkaido sea urchin (uni). This was a revelation, far sweeter and more delicate than I've encountered elsewhere. Much the same went for the wild Japanese freshwater and saltwater eel (unagi and anago). A slightly different sunomono had the squid cut into wide strips that highlighted its startling creaminess, some chewy tentacles (tricky to eat), and lots of salt plum (ume). After eating one of the few cooked items, ayu shioyaki, a whole freshwater sweetfish salted and grilled with its innards left in (the chef offered to clean it, of course), I finally understand what the Iron Chef judges meant all those times they talked about "subtle bitterness."

Sebo's as hard-core about sake as it is about fish. The short, all-Japanese list is curated by Beau Timken, proprietor of True Sake across the street at 560 Hayes, the only store in the world that sells nothing but sake. His descriptions are as over-the-top as any wine writer's — Narutotai Beau-Shu has "a nose of strawberry, watermelon, sweet rice, and cinnamon" — but, in fact, some of the obscure sakes he imports have far more depth and complexity than I've encountered previously, and I did smell and taste some of those notes. Stop by True Sake (open noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday) for a free flier that briefly explains the various types of sake and some of the geeky terms used in Sebo's list.

Following Timken's advice, Sebo's sakes are, unless you insist otherwise, served just slightly cool for maximum flavor. When we went the omakase route, the chef paired six sakes to follow the progression of the meal, which was great fun and educational — as well as enough alcohol to mandate public transportation or a designated driver.

Sebo: It's all about the fish.
Jen Siska
Sebo: It's all about the fish.

Location Info



517 Hayes
San Francisco, CA 94102

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin


Open from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 21. Noise level: quiet.

Unagi $5-8 per pair

Bluefin unagi $14 per pair

Maki $4-16

5-piece sashimi $12

9-piece sashimi $19

Ayu shioyaki $8

Sake $8-14 per glass

Orion beer $7 large bottle

517 Hayes (between Octavia and Laguna), 864-2181

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There's only one thing wrong with Sebo: I'm never going to be happy with my local sushi joint again. Not unless they just received a shipment from Japan.

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