Shop smart: Pop into bustling Suruki Supermarket for jewel-like takeaway sushi, fresh San Jose Tofu (coveted by those in the know, it arrives on Wednesday and sells out by the weekend), real wasabi root (not the typical green-dyed horseradish), noodles, and an unending sake selection. We love the packets of Japanese vegetable seeds. 71 E. Fourth Ave.; 650/347-5288.
Slurp a bowl of ramen: In San Mateo, you have your pick of spots: At Himawari ($; 202 Second Ave.; 650/375-1005), unapologetically rich butter-corn-miso ramen is a worth-it indulgence. Santa Ramen ($; 1944 S. El Camino Real; 650/344-5918) is a classic noodle shop, and the owners have now opened Ramen Dojo ($; 805 S. B St.; 650/401-6568), known for its spicy noodles.
Beyond sushi ... where to try more tastes of Japan
For prix fixe: Splurge on nine courses at Wakuriya, which recently snagged San Mateo’s only Michelin star. Owner-chef Katsuhiro Yamasaki dazzles with an intricate parade of dishes that blend European delicacies (foie gras) with traditional Japanese ones (sushi rice and miso). $85; 115 De Anza Blvd.; 650/286-0410.
For Japanese-style Chinse food: Chinese food isn’t popular just here; they’re also wild about it in Japan. The new Yu-Raku blends Chinese dishes (ma po tofu) with a Japanese flair (ma po tofu ramen?!?) Standouts include the buta kakuni (pork belly) and tan-tan men (noodles and pork in a chile oil–spiked broth). $; 104 S. El Camino Real; 650/558-8239.
For yakitori: Unabashed carnivores will fit right in at Yakitori Kokko. On the edge of downtown and open till 11:30 most nights, it’s a great spot to snack on chicken-thigh skewers while sipping a Sapporo. Balance out the protein with a savory oyster mushroom skewer. $$; 509 Second Ave.; 650/401-7008.
For shabu-shabu: Picky eaters can make everything to their liking at Shabuway. Razor-thin slices of Kobe-style beef, clusters of enoki mushrooms, and crisp napa cabbage come spread out on a plate. Using chopsticks, you dunk them in a boiling pot of broth. $$; 145 E. Third Ave.; 650/548-2483.