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LA’s Ultimate Sushi Guide: 30 Restaurants For Every Occasion

By Lesley Balla
July 29, 2013

Los Angeles isn't the birthplace of sushi, but we are responsible for bringing sushi bars to the U.S. (the first, Kawafuku, opened here in the 1960s). Today, you can throw a chopstick in any direction and hit a sushi bar around LA, with offerings from Zenlike omakase experiences to over-the-top untraditional rolls. Whether you're looking for happy-hour specials or the best konpachi or kaiseki, here's a primer on where to go for every budget and sushi craving.

  • On a Budget

    “Budget” is relative, but some sushi restaurants are easier on the wallet than others, especially if you’re just craving the basics but don’t want to break the bank. Created by the esteemed Kazunori Nozawa, who closed his famed eponymous Valley sushi spot in 2012, the growing SugarFISH chain defies convention with its lack of an actual sushi bar, but still offers quality sushi at a very affordable price. Little Osaka’s Hide Sushi is known for its rules (no cell phones, cash only) but also for its super-fresh sushi and more. Hama Sushi’s “No Tempura, No Rice Alone, No Teriyaki” sign lets you know what you’re in for. What you don’t know? You get in and out with very full bellies for under $50 per person.

  • Great Lunch Deals

    The $15 sashimi lunch - the platter of sparkling yellowtail, tuna, salmon and chopped spicy fish - at Little Tokyo’s Sushi Gen is worth the hour-long wait you might endure. Deals run from $22-$40 for the combo and omakase lunches at Kiriko, and you’ll get a good array of fresh yellowtail, tuna and salmon nigiri plus rolls and other specialties from chef Ken Namba.

  • Photo by: Lesley Balla

    Spendy

    You have to pay to play at places like Asanebo in Studio City, Mori Sushi in West LA and Sushi Kimagure Ike in Pasadena. All three are known for exquisite presentations of fish that are plucked daily from the markets. Although Mori Onodera is no longer with his namesake restaurant, the superb omakase lives on, all served on Onodera’s hand-thrown plates. Sushi Kimagure Ike is the new home for Ike-san, whose former Hollywood strip-mall spot (Sushi Ike) is still packed even though he’s no longer there. Your best bet is omakase here, which ranges from $60 to $80 per person.

  • Most Expensive

    Often ranked in the top five of any Zagat list - food, restaurant, sushi - Urasawa is definitely the most expensive restaurant in town, let alone most expensive sushi restaurant. The 10-seat bar is a serene stage for Hiro-san, who delicately slices and plates gorgeous fish and meat dishes, all set to the rhythm of the season and which change daily. The 30-course extravaganza will set you back at least $500 or more per person.

  • Great Kaiseki That’s Not Urasawa

    You’ll have a hyper-seasonal Japanese experience at Niki Nakayama’s N/Naka in Palms. The Los Angeles-born chef is one of the few female sushi chefs in the country, but her expertise goes far beyond that. Every day the menu changes according to what Nakayama has growing in her gardens or what comes out of the sea, and each course is beautifully presented in unique ways, from cooked dishes to sushi and sashimi and gorgeous desserts. At Shunji, chef Shunji Nakao also blends California seasonality with his traditional Japanese menus, rolling out dishes like fresh baby yellow squash with silky sweet corn soup; seared kanpachi with squid ink and a quail egg yolk; stuffed squash blossoms; and shrimp stuffed with mashed sweet potato.

  • OMG Omakase

    Omakase, much like kaiseki, is the multicourse meal where you “trust” the chefs, often served at the sushi bar. At Nozawa Bar, hidden in the newest SugarFISH location in Beverly Hills, dishes change based on what the chefs find at the fish markets that day, and each course is served to all 10 guests at once. Allergies or dietary restrictions? This is not your place. You’ll also find incredible dishes and impeccably fresh fish on the omakase menus at Hirozen, Sushi Park and Kiyokawa.

    (Photo: Trixters/Flickr)

  • Crazy Rolls

    Visiting over the years has paid off for the elite celebrity clientele that’s been going to Hamasaku, at least on the menu. Many have rolls made for and named after them, not a one as pedestrian as a piece of fish on rice. Think: shrimp tempura, crab, spicy tuna, asparagus and avocado in soy paper topped with sweet soy and the like, all made with quality fish and ingredients.

    The name kind of says it all for California Roll Factory. You’ll get wacky rolls stuffed with fish, texture and flavor that are so big, you practically need a knife and fork. Don’t forget to look at the crazy wall menu.

    If something like The Black Pearl - salmon, tuna, yellowtail and cream cheese tempura-fried and topped with black sesame and garlic butter - is your thing, seek out any of the Wokcano locations around town.

  • Kanpai! Happy Hour

    If it’s not hard to swallow the words “cheap” and “sushi” in one bite, hit a sushi happy hour where rolls and more hover around $5 and less. At Chaya Venice, spicy tuna and whatever the chef has on special go for around $4.50 nightly (happy hour starts at 5 PM), and cocktails and sake are around $6. At Takami in Downtown LA, the deals - all happy hour rolls and snacks are $4 - go well with the view from the 26th floor. And select rolls at Crazy Rock’N Sushi, which are generally crazy tempura-ed beasts, are half-off for happy hour.

  • Hot Scenes

    There are sushi restaurants that are difficult to get into, mostly because the storefronts are so small and minimal, but the sushi so pristine that fanatics will wait hours for a table. And then there are the bustling places where it’s more about the scene than the food, but even the food is passable. Katsu-ya in Valley is always hopping, tables and the sushi bar covered in good quality nigiri and baked crab rolls. It’s a much flashier experience at the SBE-owned Katsuyas in Brentwood and Hollywood (and Downtown and Glendale), where California rolls, bowls of edamame and sweet cocktails rule Koi and Katana still pack in the hot, young and trendy West Hollywood set.

  • Hidden Gems

    Many praise Shibucho, hidden in Koreatown next to a 7-11, for Shige-san’s staunch rules (no phones, photos, etc.) impeccable fish, and passion for red, especially French, wines. Wa, on the second floor of a strip mall in West Hollywood, consistently doles out some of the best dishes in town. Sushi Yuzu is a wonderful find in Toluca Lake, a bright friendly spot near The Counter and Trader Joe’s that’s constantly bustling. As with most sushi bars, the best seats are at the bar where you can ask the chefs for their recommendations.

  • The Zen Masters

    Hiko and Sushi Zo: These guys don’t mess around. They don’t want you on your cell phone and they don’t want to share a beer with you (unless it’s off the clock). It’s all about their mastery with knives and the freshest fish possible. Let the chefs guide you, follow the rules, take in the serenity and you’ll be in for transformative sushi experiences.

    (Photo: Ron Dollete/Flickr)

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Places Mentioned

Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa

Sushi • Downtown

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$42
 
 
 
Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa

Sushi • Calabasas

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$42
 
 
 
SUGARFISH by Sushi Nozawa

Japanese • Beverly Hills

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$42
 
 
 
SUGARFISH by sushi nozawa

Japanese • Brentwood

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$42
 
 
 
Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa

Sushi • Santa Monica

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$42
 
 
 
Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa

Japanese • Marina del Rey

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$42
 
 
 
Sushi Gen

Sushi • Downtown

Food26 Decor17 Service21 Cost$47
 
 
 
Hama Sushi

Japanese • Venice Beach

Food23 Decor16 Service20 Cost$38
 
 
 
Hide Sushi

Japanese • West Los Angeles

Food24 Decor12 Service20 Cost$32
 
 
 
Kiriko

Japanese • West Los Angeles

Food26 Decor16 Service21 Cost$70
 
 
 
 
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