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Japanese Restaurants in East SGV - What is happening?

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What is happening with all of the Japanese Restaurants in the East San Gabriel Valley? It seems that more than half are Korean or Chinese owned and the food quite frankly is TERRIBLE. In the City of Walnut, outside of Jubei (I think) every other "Japanese" restaurant is owned by a non japanese owner. The food is so bad that I drive miles away to get good Japanese food for lunch. For sushi just about every place out here that I have tried has rolls just drenched in sauces to cover up the cheap fish.

I guess it is just me, but especially with Sushi, I think for the health and safety of customers, a classicly trained sushi chef from Japan or someone who spent many years under that person is a must. It's so bad out here that for sushi, I will drive all the way out 35+ miles to Sushi Zo is West L.A.

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  1. And with the closing of Oriental Pearl in the center adjacent to the Hilton Hotel in San Gabriel, guess what is replacing it? Yup, a sushi bar! Not sure of the ownership; however, would not surprise me if it was Chinese owned. Sushi specifically has one of the highest profit margins in the restaurant business, so no surprise if everyone wants in on the action.

    2 Replies
    1. re: carter

      Oriental Pearl is closed? That's too bad, I really liked their Chungqing regional food.

      1. re: chinglish1

        I liked all their food, and was even disappointed when they relocated from Alhambra to that center with never enough parking. Hope they open elsewhere soon.

    2. Can a Swede be a great French chef?

      Since the diaspora of the _shosha_---overseas Japanese business community---following the downturn of the Japanese economy in the early 90s, a lot of our favorite Nihonshoku restaurants have bitten the dust.

      Recent stats say that upwards of seven out of 10 so-called Japanese eateries in Southern California are non-Japanese owned and operated.

      Trendy spots like Asahi Ramen in WLA and even the weirdly popular Todai buffet and Kabuki chains nowadays never see a Japanese in their kitchens unless they are passing through on their way to the restroom. And, I think their food sucks hard.

      But, on the other hand, did you know the FURAIBO restaurants were inspired an African American musician who fell in love with Japanese cooking while on tour in Japan? FURAIBO is cool.

      The Latino boys at KUISHIMBO in Koreatown are grilling up some of the best Japanesy lunches in town.

      In my opinion, Koreans seem to have an easier time mastering Japanese cooking than their Chinese counterparts. After all, Korea was a colony of Japan for nearly a half century.

      And as far as honmono Japanese food in SGV---have you tried YAMA on Main in Alhambra. Humble but decent.


      3 Replies
      1. re: Gohantabeyoka

        Thank you very much. Will have to try Yama. I thought it was just a little Japanese market.

        1. re: usapv

          there's two Yama's, the restaurant is between Garfield and Atlantic. It's older than dirt but the food is great. NObody can touch their chicken teriyaki(grilled, ot boiled with sauce pasted on)

        2. re: Gohantabeyoka

          "In my opinion, Koreans seem to have an easier time mastering Japanese cooking than their Chinese counterparts. After all, Korea was a colony of Japan for nearly a half century."

          So has Taiwan.

        3. There's a really good sushi place in Covina, on the east side of Citrus, about 3 blocks north of the 10 Freeway. I was really stunned by the unlikely location. As I recall the owner/chef has some major credentials and is definitely Japanese.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chandavkl

            750 Terrado Plaza
            (bet. Citrus & Workman Aves.)
            Covina, CA 91723

            i went there last year based on zagat food rating and the label "matsuhisa-lite". i was disappointed but i think it was my fault as i did not order omakase dinner. sat at the bar and ordered only sushi a la carte, which was probably my mistake.

          2. here's the deal with this. chinese and especially taiwanese youngsters are obsessed with everything japanese these days. japanese food, for instance, is now very hip out in the enclaves. but it's a safe bet that most chinese restauranteurs either don't know or don't care enough to source the premium ingredients required of a decent sushi bar. i know my peoples, and i'll definitely avoid bad sino-j food like the plague.

            can't speak for korean-j food tho. i DID go to a korean-owned chinese restaurant in rowland heights once and literally went crosseyed thinking "what the heck am i putting into my mouth?!?!?!

            after all that, bishamon in covina is japanese-owned, by the same owner behind daikokuya of all things.

            1. Thanks everyone for the great insight. I should probably say good Japanese food at Kyala, Hayakawa (the one north of the 10 freeway off off citrus) and Bishamon. Heard of another in Diamond Bar as well, but have yet to try it. I guess I will have to search hard to find a decent Japanese restaurant in the area.

              1 Reply
              1. re: usapv

                Hayakawa is pretty good for cooked stuff.
                Bishamon in one simple word is AWEFUL!
                Sushi Kamon on Gale between Azusa and Fullerton Road is very good for sushi and the such. Next door is/was Furaibo.
                Juibei on Gale and warm Sprinds (?) is also very good for traditional sushi stuff. The chef is very aloof but his food is good.

                Just my 2cents worth.

              2. I agree with others that Jubei has really good food.

                Yama's is one of the oldest J-restaurants in SGV.

                I used to know one of the cooks there and he used to brag to us about taking a small shrimp and making it into a huge piece of tempura.

                usapv, does a Japanese restaurant need to be Japanese owned or just have a good Japanese sushi chef??

                5 Replies
                1. re: kure

                  "I used to know one of the cooks there and he used to brag to us about taking a small shrimp and making it into a huge piece of tempura."

                  lol is that really something to brag about?

                  1. re: kure

                    I think Japanese owned and here is why. A chef creates what is given to him and is under the owner. The chef may or may not be the purchaser of the raw products. For instance if the owner is Chinese or Korean, he or she may prefer to purchase similar products of their own culture such as Nori (seaweed) or soy sauce. Althought the flavor may be close, it is probably not the same. Also the owner will make the final decision of where they purchase a certain product/fish/etc. not the chef and if the owner tells the chef to do something "their" way, he or she will have to make it that way.

                    I also like to taste something in their true ethnic format. We all cook different types of foods, but we all seem to put a spin on it which fits our own individual cultures. I just want to have some authentic Japanese food.

                    1. re: kure

                      We ate at Yama's tonight and it was good. We both had tempura and California rolls. The signs of this Japanese place being run by Japanese: they bring you rice in a bowl with a scoop instead of individual little bowls and they don't charge you extra for it; the tempura batter was genuine - flaky, light, fresh and crunchy, not made from corn starch; quiet and serene inside with waitresses who have been there a long time; and a kamaboko clock on the wall! When I got my order I looked at the shrrimp on the plate and thought about kure's post about making it into a huge piece of tempura. It was pretty good-sized! Anyway, I'd recommend this place if you're looking for a Japanese Japanese place.

                      1. re: monkuboy

                        I've been going here for ages and the place hasn't changed a bit. Absolutely no atmosphere, but the food more than makes up for that.

                    2. usapv, You beat me to the punch. I've been mulling over whether to post the following that I'd written and saved in MS Word. Here's what I was going to post but never did:

                      "OC Trend? Bad Japanese Food.

                      I’m finally a bit perturbed by the demise of many Japanese owned Japanese restaurants in OC. Lately, it seems that most of the Japanese Restaurants around are not owned by Japanese. At first, I didn’t care who the owners of the restaurants were, until I started to try out new restaurants and consistently got poor quality food. I’ve tried many of the non-J-owned restaurants and have come away disappointed with the flavors and quality. I’m tired of pancake/waffle tasting tempura, floral tasting teriyaki, bright yellow colored yellowtail sashimi (I kid you not) and just plain weird tasting copied Japanese food. In OC, when I try a new place, I now resort to calling the restaurant up to ask if it is Japanese owned, is this just me or have others noticed this change?

                      I’m down to frequenting Honda-Ya in Tustin, any other recommendations?"

                      1. Thanks GrindzHound! I was talking to my cousin and she said the same thing about the Japanese Restaurants in the O.C..... Terrible and mostly owned by non-Japanese. That cousin of mine took me to Honda-Ya in Tustin. All I could say is... Am I in Japan? That place reminds me of many of the small hole in the walls in Japan with great food. I know that many of the Japanese community in the OC travel to Torrance and to West L.A. to get good Japanese Food.

                        1. you might want to try little tokyo in san dimas. one of the few places in SGV i'd suggest for sushi.

                          1. If your're talking east of the 605, I agree that the pickings are slim, but the sushi at Little Tokyo in San Dimas is outstanding. Be prepared for eormous portions however. The fish on the nigiri is like a two by four compared to what you're used to at Jubei.

                            Others to consider:
                            Ninja Sushi in Walnut
                            there's a sushi bar on Rowland in Covina that's ot bad, but I can't recall the name

                            Ones to avoid:
                            Hana Haru in Glendora - been there for 25 years, you thik they'd learn, but nooooooo
                            Ichikara in West Covina-Sushi/teppan place that does it all -poorly
                            Hiyakawa in Covina - I'll never go back

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                              I would add Bishimon to your avaoid list!

                            2. The sushi bar on Rowland in Covina is Yashima. It's at 236 E. Rowland Ave, just west of Citrus Ave. Freshi, high-quality fish prepared well. It's also the "Cheers" of local sushi bars--easy to feel at home. Lots of customers come in once or twice a week. I happen to be one of them.

                              Hayakawa, around the corner, is good, but it's better for Japanese clientele (from Japan, not Japanese-American) than anyone else. And it's very expensive.

                              I agree with the post above about staying away from Bishamon and Hana Haru. Tasteless fish just doesn't qualify as "sushi" in my world.