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The most satisfing lunch in San Diego can be found at...

...Izakaya Sakura.

Entering the proverbial place with no name -first revealed to me through Kirk's blog and subsequent Chowhound postings- you are hit by the accolades of "Irasshimase."

[My 1st Sakura Posting: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...


I was quickly seated and two menus were place before me. The familiar and a new hand written one.

The ladder was headlined: "Lunch Special Plate $12" and beneath this was written in both Japanese and English:
'Teriyaki Salmon
Boiled Saury
Egg Omelette
Ginger Pork
Creamy Seafood Croquette

Unable to read the fuller Japanese description, I assumed you picked one of the above. I told the waitress that I would like the saury. She nodded and ran to the back.

Soon arrived my tea - which included Maccha powder that sunk to the bottom of the mug. I cherishly drank this (freezing out) while watching the Itamae setting up the fish case which was framed by 'reserved' signs.

Then! Here I see the very petite waitress coming with this HUGE tray. Nearing, my eyes literally lit up like the kid from A Christmas Story finally unwrapping his lusted bebe gun.

EVERYTHING listed on this bonus menu leaflet IS the 'lunch special plate.'

A bento box encapsulating:

This has been my latest favorite Japanese dish (considering the weather) since my Dinner at Yu Me Ya. In this version, I especially enjoyed the halved quail egg which delighted me with its unctuous, creamy yolk. The baby daikon slice was perfectly tender and the mini-fishcakes and sullen-looking tofu soaked up all the broth.

- Pork Shogayaki:
Oddly, I have never tried this dish before, despite being enticed by the Dotch Cooking Show. It was a treat in that I feel that the ginger is the perfect paring for a rich meat like pork. This has spurred me to try to make a version at home.I relished the Shogayaki and its liquid with the-

-Rice (the 'star' of the bento):
Working at a Japanese restaurant, I have learned to value and appreciate the nuances of perfectly cooked rice. The accompaniments could be prepared by Morimoto himself, but if the rice falls flat, the entire dish was made in vain.
This gohan was amazing - each grain stood up in its own character, perfect 'bite', and a light stickyness -just about to give.
I am not lying when I say that I would be happy to eat this rice alone with the packet of teriyaki nori strips they lovingly accompanied alongside this bento.

I had to ask the waitress as to the type of rice this was - as I did the Itamae looked up and said: "Koshikari."

= Yep, no messing around at the Izakaya.

Takuan & Kuri no Kyuchan:
I love takuan and Sakura actually uses one of my favorites: The Akita prefectures smoked 'iburi gakko' daikon (http://www.media-akita.or.jp/akita-sh... ). Took bites of this in between dishes a la sushi gari.

Creamy Corroke:
A crisp exterior brushed with earthy tonkatsu sauce of this little guy revealed the sinfully rich interior. I wanted to save this for my 'last bite' -didn't last long.

Teriyaki Salmon:
Not bad, strong salt flavor, good with the rice. Perhaps a little overcooked (but it was a thin piece).

Simmered Saury:
I liked this portion the best. I think its the consistency in biting into this oily fish - which I think benefited well from a soy simmering. This is the owner of my restaurants wife favorite thing to eat.

I have been perfecting this dish at home. I liked the minced ham, onion and parsley flavoring. Good layering,hint of sweetness - only reccomendation - a little exterior browning for caramelization.

Simple Asazuke.

I am really intrigued by the salad dressing - they wouldn't let me buy a salad to go - as I hoped for further inspection of its contents. I think it is a heavily fortified with egg yolk mayo dressing - hence the vibrant color. I'll have to try to recreate it.

As you can see I got my christmas present early this year and could not be happier. Good food makes the soul sing.

Pictures: http://flickr.com/photos/98128783@N00...

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  1. Never seen that plate before, but I love Sakura. In fact, when I was first investigating the place, I had lunches there more than dinners. Unagi donburi there is also great for lunch, and if Kazu is there, the chirashi ($18 if memory serves) is excellent.

    Looking back at your first post, I need to thank you for mentioning the Hayashi Chuka. I never would have tried it without your recommendation, but it was unique & different & tasty.


    7 Replies
    1. re: Ed Dibble

      I am glad you liked it...I cant wait for summer to have it again.

      Regarding the owner...I assumed he was the stoic looking younger guy, but the Itamae during my visit was an older fellow.

      1. re: kare_raisu

        Kazu is probably in his 40's. One night a week, he has (used to have?) an older gentleman so he could get a day off. I believe it is (used to be?) Sundays. But he also visits Japan about once a year, and then he has a younger itamae behind the counter. Kazu often doesn't arrive at lunch time until after noon. Most evenings he's there after about 6. I've never seen two guys preparing sushi there, but I usually try to avoid peak hours.


        1. re: Ed Dibble

          Does he oversee the hot food from the kitchen as well or only the sushi?

          I have always noticed the strong-built hispanic cook in the back.

          I would love to spend a week(or half a year for that matter) learning in the kitchen.

          1. re: kare_raisu

            I'm sure he is in charge of everything. Unless he's busy, I usually let him select dishes for me. Last night he served Kirk and me some kind of cold fish head with onion slices in a slightly sweet dashi broth along with some things that we ordered off the menu.

            While not pudgy, Kazu is a bit stocky and broad shouldered. Not a lean skinny type sushi chef. Also he usually has a fashionable stubble.

            Don't know if he would let you into his kitchen, but he really is personable and proud of his dishes.


            1. re: Ed Dibble

              I think the young lady told me it was Pompano(ebisu-shiira), called Mahi Mahi where I'm from. It was excellent. And don't forget the Sazae(Sea Snail), I've only had that once before...and though there were a few little "gritties", the meat was tender and mildly sweet. And of course probably the best tako I've ever tasted.

              1. re: KirkK

                These dishes both sound enticing. I am interested in how the sea snail was presented to you both. I wonder how common it is for simmered dishes (especially fish) to be served cold?

                1. re: KirkK

                  Yeh, the best tako ever. It was amazing, and before I tasted it, I wondered why Kazu had included it with the sashimi as he never had done that before.

                  I had no gritties in my snails. Don't know how I forgot them.


      2. Well i have found where i am eating lunch today. Great report. Sakura is my top place here in SD

        1. Just got back from lunch and had the lunch special. Todays version came with spicy lobster, miso salmon and a chicken meatball wrapped in cabbage.

          The spicy lobster was breaded and doused in a spicy catsup based sauce. Kind of like a cross between sweet and sour and general tso's in Amricanized chinese terms. I liked this as the lobster was cooked perfectly but the suace was a little too sweet for my liking

          The chicken meatball wrapped in cabbage 3was studded with onions. This reminded me of Eastern European stuffed cabbage and was unlike anything Japanese i have had before. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

          the miso salmon is always a fantastic dish here. Very nice

          The rest of my meal was fairly identical to yours. I realy enjoyed the oden especially with the hot mustard. The seafood croquette with tonkatsu was a winner, very creamy and balnaced by the sharp sauce. The array of pickles was very nice, the waitress even comented that most americans dont like the ume, but i love it. The spaghetti was interesting too, the tobiko was a nice addition. The omelette was alright, nothing too exciting, reminiscent of a western omlette. The rice was fantastic, just the right texture, and i loved the teriyaki nori with it. The miso soup was above average.

          As for the salad, i wasnt too impressed as i abhor iceburg lettuce. The dressing was alright, sort of a carrot ginger thing, very thick. I did enjoy the melon though.

          All in all $12 well spent. I had never been for lunch before.

          2 Replies
          1. re: MVNYC

            Thanks for the report Mvnyc....you make me envious & I just ate there yesterday!

            You didnt happen to take any pictures by chance?!

            I am very interested in the spicy Lobster dish...was it panko breaded - heavy or light? Tail portion?

            The chicken meatballs sound like the Yoshoku dish of Rolled cabbage that is pretty popular in Japan...any idea if these were steamed or pan fried? Napa cabbage?

            I'm surprised you like the ume- its not my cup of tea that much.

            Was your waitress the eldest of the three? The one with the glasses or the young one?

            Did you catch anything else being cranked out of the kitchen?

            1. re: kare_raisu

              No pictures, i don't even own a digital camera.

              It was lightly breaded with panko, i think it was panko, the sauce obscured the breading. It was tasty, spiny lobster tail meat. Maybe a third of a tail.

              The meatballs appeared to have been braised, much like european stuffed cabbage. Yes it was napa.

              My waitress was the young one. I enjoy ume, i actually enjoy everything Japanese i have had the pleasure of consuming. With one exception, Natto. It makes me gag.

              As far as anything else, i saw some people eating ramen, but thats about it.

              If you make it there when Kazu is there, make sure to try the ankimo. It is the best i have had.

          2. I drove through the mall this morning (I was in the area) and could not determine which no-name place it was. Is it adjacent to the Army recruiter, or over by Chilies?



            2 Replies
            1. re: Fake Name

              It's between the two military recruiting offices.

              There's a photo of the front of the restaurant...


            2. I stopped by the Izakaya for lunch again today. I ordered the special bento that included the dishes MVNYC enjoyed.

              No digital camera hook up at the moment -- so pictures will come later.

              The Chicken meatball was excellent: napa cabbage wrapped along with simmered daikon round. Its greatest feature was its texture- tender and juicy. Interesting though - was that the sauce was curry based - delicious. Almost like a Japanese interpretation of the Shanghaiese Lion's head Meatball.

              I liked the spicy lobster but it was hardly spicy and tasted a bit like a spaghettei 'napolitan' - as MVnyc reorts a bit sweet. I ate it with the once again -great rice to cut the sweetness.

              It seems that Sakura may be the only restaurant to offer Yoshoku dishes in San Diego (other than corporate Curry House)- at least on the lunch Menu. I will continue to explore these as it is my favorite niche of Japanese cooking.

              One man ordered the "Fried Beef" sandwich which looked fantastic - I wish I got a better look. Almost all other diners ordered the bento except for one Japanese woman who may have got the zosui - not sure though.

              I inquired if Kazu oversaw the cooked food at all - I guess sushi only. There is a separate chef from Japan whose Job is this in the back.

              Short post for now.

              Btw: Itoko is the name of the eldest waitress who has the most pleasant and warming disposition. Not only the food is great but the service matches it in equal -if not more- fold.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kare_raisu

                Ok here are the pictures:

                I forgot to mention the Unagi Tamagoyaki - which was a new experience for me. I feared this would be ultra rich but I could not help but be enamored with the textural similarity of the eel and egg. They melded together.

                The Korroke was out of this world.

                My only complaint is that due to the amount of food and time needed to fully enjoy this bento - some portions are quick to cool. (oh well...)

              2. I have sort of been on a Sakura kick for lunch recently. I used to frequent Izakayas back in NYC so this has been nice, too bad i cant tae the subway and have to drive.

                I had the Tempura Zaru Soba, one of my favourite light lunches. The tempura was indeed a thing of beauty, thin goldne tendrils of flakiness enveloped two shrimp and some vegetables. they really do tempura well there. The soba noodles were perfect, a little softer than al dente. The combination of the cold noodles and hot tempura is great. their dipping sauce is also first rate.

                1. Went to Sakura today for this lunch special. I don't know all the names, but from reading what you guys have written, I know that it included the croquette (good, though the sauce was a little ketchup-like for my tastes), the oden (great), pickled daikon and ume (also great), spaghetti (surprisingly good), omelette (nice touch with the ham and peppers in it), a pice of teriyaki marinated grilled mackerel (great), the boiled saury (surprisingly good), and a pork meatball wrapped in cabbage (tasted like stuffed cabbage - loved it). Additionally there was a small dish of marinated cabbage and carrots along with the salad, and a bowl of miso.

                  I really enjoyed this meal, and the wide range of flavors present. Definitely one of the better lunch values in town. A delicious genmaicha tea was included with the meal too, fyi.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Josh

                    That stuffed cabbage really reminds me of the Eastern European Jewish style version.

                    1. re: MVNYC

                      That and the spaghetti were the two biggest surprises. Both that they were on the plate, and that they were good. Their genmaicha tea is great, too. Wonder where they get it?

                      1. re: Josh

                        I think the secret is loose leaf tea. The restaurant I work at uses a brand without english on it. It is incredible --punches you in the face with its assertiveness when placed next to a dusty tea bag.

                      2. re: MVNYC

                        the stuffed cabbage is one of the classic dishes of yoshoku (japanized western food) along with curry and hayashi rice.

                        1. re: kare_raisu

                          I had it on my last evening visit and it was amazing - flavorful but subtle. To my occidental mind, a real Japanese take on an Central European classic.


                    2. Rainwaters for their Chicken Pot Pie special on Wednesday's. Call first, they are to die for.

                      1. Hit up Sakura today for my second lunch visit. kare_raisu continues to be correct with his thread title.

                        For $10 (including tip) I had a nice-sized lunch of grilled mackerel, salad, rice salad, rice, miso soup, and tea.

                        The mackerel was excellent, though not noticeably better than Tajima. The daikon was sweeter than Tajima's though, and the rice salad was really good.

                        On the rice salad, I've never seen this before - it was white rice, tomatoes, parsley, onion, jalapeno (or serrano?) pepper, and some kind of thin strips of pickled fish - the flavor reminded me of herring, but it looked somewhat like octopus.

                        Whatever it was, this rice salad was amazing, and was probably the highlight of the plate, if only because I'd never had anything like it before.

                        Also of note, it looks like their lunch menu has been revamped. They now have sushi at lunch, and I spied someone's chirashi which looked really amazing. Probably will have to try that on my next visit.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Josh

                          This rice salad sounds great and intriguing...pickled fish. Seems like an excellent textural dish as well. Was it a simmered daikon you describe Josh? Thank you so much for giving me an Izakaya Sakura craving yet again!! ;)

                          1. re: kare_raisu

                            It was the standard finely-grated daikon I usually see accompanying Japanese meals. I have a Japanese cookbook that talks about how the better-quality daikon tastes sweeter. This definitely was sweeter than daikon I've had at both Tajima and Mitsuwa's cafe.

                            The rice salad was really great. I would love to find a recipe.

                            1. re: Josh

                              I'll try to check my yoshoku cookbooks. Sounds like a 'Pirafu.' (corruption of 'pilaf') Was it served warm or cold? Slightly sweet, by chance?

                              I really like the older waitress there...she really makes the dining experience there so wonderful. Incredibly warm and friendly individual.

                              1. re: kare_raisu

                                hmm. It was just slightly warmer than room temp. It had a sweetness to it, yes, but also some onion, spice, fishiness, sour. Really complex.

                                I had that same waitress. She was very nice.

                          2. re: Josh

                            The chirashi has always been excellent. It was the first thing I ever ate there, and I try to have it at least once a year. I think it's up to $22 now, but worth it.

                            As for the rice salad, I've never had it (or seen it), but Sakura has a track record of creating or at least serving varied and interesting dishes. I still remember going there once with a lady friend, and Kazu served us two baby squid bedded down together in olive oil, chopped tomatoes, and spices. It was a truly amazing thing that I have never seen him make or serve at any other time in all of my visits.


                          3. Kazu is the bizomb.
                            i need to go here for lunch. I MUST

                            1. Lunch today was top knotch, got the special with suplemental Aji. Probably the best (Aji)I've ever had. My lunch date, who does not like fish, ate half of it and finished off the bones. Not compling here, but the lunch special had so much food I felt like I was at some wierd Japenese Claim Jumper with over blown US supersized entrees, except for the fact that all the food was wonderful.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: stevuchan

                                Kazu-san was there during lunch time? what time did you go eat?

                                  1. re: stevuchan

                                    ah sigh, Kazu did not arrive till almost the end of our meal. I saw alot of people eating something with a large bowl of rice but it looked like there was "melted cheese" (i doubt it) on top?
                                    it seemed to stretch like melted cheese does.

                                    1. re: clayfu

                                      May have been the yoshoku style gratin 'doria'

                                      see bottom left:

                                      I think that Sakura -considering the menu- s basically a Yoshokuya during lunch and Izakaya at night.

                              2. First lunch back on a short San Diego return - the good old stand by --

                                Pictures: http://flickr.com/photos/98128783@N00/

                                My favorite Hiyashi Chuka was delicious on this steaming day. This time it was served with cold steamed chicken rather than the cold chashu which I have had times previous. I cannot think of a more satisfying dish in Summer especially with that lovely sesame base.

                                Companion ordered the karaage which I believe Jim Strain first wrote up. Man-oh-man so juicy inside and crisp on the outside! This fried chicken must stand amongst the upper eschelons of best in the county. Great grated daikon sauce accompniment and wonderful to eat with rice.

                                I am still loving that herb, tuna, clam studded rice salad as well.

                                1. Yeserday I invited a friend to have lunch here with me. I tried out the teriyaki fish - which was a nice piece of tuna - that was pan fried and had this great crisp skin. The sauce was spot on - not terribly sweet. I think I like the grilled salmon here though slightly better with the daikon and girnger oroshi garnish and ponzu esque sauce. My favorite part of lunch here is their rice salad - its simple and wonderful. Though this time it was lacking the little clam pieces.

                                  Friend ordered mix tempura which was well executed - even a piece of small white fish. Their Miso here is wonderful - I love biting into those huge cubes of tofu.

                                  1. I brought a good friend and coworker here for lunch - after giving him a hard time for taking me to Chopstix. I wanted to share with him what restaurant I liked for Japanese. He was super impressed with his bento and yebisu beer.

                                    I had the special sweet-sour pork meatball and veggie stir fry which was very very good. You can see pictures of it here on this great blog radiusedcorner: http://radiusedcorner.blogspot.com/

                                    I think Izakaya Sakura can always be trusted for putting out a delicious, diverse, healthy lunch - and for this reason I love the place. Need to break up my gorditas de tripas haha!

                                    1. thanks for the update, I was trying to remember the name of this place so I could check it out, couldn't find the thread

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: MrKrispy

                                        we went on X-mas eve (figured we would be able to find something open on Convoy lol) and the place was great. We had a ton of dishes and I forgot to write them down. IThe only name I remember was the pork shogayaki, very tender and well complemented with the ginger sauce. The only bummer was the seared albacore, it was over cooked.

                                        Looking forward to going there for lunch...