HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >


Izakaya Sakura newbie (San Diego)

Hey there,

Tonight will be my first visit to Izakaya Sakura. After having read so much about it here, I'm anxiously awaiting my first experience.

What are some "can't miss" items? What are things best avoided?

Any tips you can offer would be most appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Josh, something I have not seen around that I think is a must at Sakura, tako wasabi. I did not care so much for the mochi rice appetizer, but they have so much to offer I don't think you can go wrong! Excellent pours on the sake too! Enjoy!

    1. I havent tried these as I have yet to dine there for dinner - but these are on my list:

      Gindara kasuzuke: Black cod in sake lees
      Seabass Misozuke: Miso mar. sea bass
      Buta Kimuchi: Pork and kimchi stirfry
      Buta Kakuni
      Unagi Kimo: grilled eel liver (interesting - traditionally served in a soup)

      I think they have a Kimuchi nabe: Might be nice on a cold night.

      The croquettes are superb as is the Buta shouga.

      Have fun.

      13 Replies
      1. re: kare_raisu

        kare raisu, I had the chance to have some grilled unagi kimo last night at Sakura, they were great! Started with some assorted sashimi - aji, kanpachi, maguro, a little chewy awabi and the most excellent live spot prawns. Followed by ankimo, baked nasu, and some sort of salt dried baby sole or flounder. The Gindara kasuzuke was very tasty, big piece! Overall an excellent dinner! Kazu-san had no issue with us sitting at the sushi bar, even with the reservation signs. Place was packed by 7PM. Sorry no pics this time.

        1. re: Pablo

          Funny. I was there at the same time with 4 other people.

          1. re: Josh

            Too bad we didn't meet! I was the sole gaijin at the counter, my partner in crime was wearing a Matsuoka shirt. Did you get a taste of those live prawns?

            1. re: Pablo

              ah those prawns were delicious. And their heads even more so =P

          2. re: Pablo

            How did you like his ankimo? I think it is the best i have had

            1. re: MVNYC

              Think I would have to agree with you there MVNYC! It was a kimo kind of evening with my first try of grilled Unagi kimo as well. I had a great time!

              1. re: Pablo

                I love liver but i have never had that unagi kimo. I will have to give that a shot next time i am there.

            2. re: Pablo

              Hey Pablo,
              Thanks for the report. How would you rate the gindara up against Yumeya's version? (Although I think YMY is miso marinated rather than sake lees)

              How big were the livers & can you describe the taste? What about garnishes?

              How did you come across the dried flounder?

              1. re: kare_raisu

                kare, the gindara was twice the size at Sakura, probably twice the price too, I 'm not sure. You are correct about sake vs miso, I failed to mention that important difference. I think I prefer the miso one, Yumeya's has this nice caramel glaze on the edges of the fish and miso seems to pronounce the sweetness of the fish. Interestingly enough, the texture of the fish doesn't seem to change based on miso vs. sake. Then again this could have been coincidental as I am sure marinating time must have some sort of effect. Sounds like an experiment is needed!

                The unagi liver, two little skewers on a plate, no garnish. The taste, grilled, earthy, slightly sweet from some sauce they must have used. It didn't have a very strong liver taste, yet it was distinctive enough as I can still recall the flavor and I would easily do it again!

                The baby dried flounder - my friend just ordered it!

                One other thing, could have been my imagination or sake, but the Japanese menu looks far more extensive than the gaijin menu. Any one know for sure? I can't read Japanese yet!

                1. re: Pablo

                  Sounds like a job for cgfan! [wherever he might be ;( ]

                  Pablo -- what were the prices on the liver and flounder? The flounder seems like a riff on the more typical dried squid or jellyfish tapas offering.

                  1. re: kare_raisu

                    [here I am...!] I never noticed any difference between the two menus, though I never made it a point to compare the two. It's now been a while since I've last been there, but there are usually some items handwritten in Japanese and posted on the wall by the front door that I never recall seeing on their menu, for instance the kamo, or duck. (It seems this list hardly ever changes, though...) The items posted on the other walls (do they still do that?) are just selections off of the regular menu.

                    1. re: cgfan

                      Thanks cgfan, nice to have you back! What's your opinion/preference on the sake vs miso gindara?

                      1. re: Pablo

                        Ahhh, gindara, one of my favorites! I love them both, they each have their qualities, but if I were given the choice my preferences would go towards the gindara prepared with the sake kasu. For me it's lighter, somewhat "volatile" taste is a better match to the delicacy of the flesh, with a much more active retronasal component... In fact it's that last part that I enjoy the most of the sake version - when it's out of the kitchen hot the aromas practically leap out from the dish and precedes the taste experience - once you get it in your mouth you can just about inhale the flavor...

          3. One think I didn't mention is I'm taking someone who is less adventurous than myself.


            But after reading all the raves, I'm sure we can find some good stuff.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Josh

              Hi Josh - If I were taking you to dinner at Sakura, this is what I'd do, order a few items that I know you enjoy, and a few that I think you'd enjoy, and at least one item that I know you'd never think of eating. I don't think everything would be a hit, but I know it would be a nice experience. When I visit with E.D. all of the sashimi is Omakase, and we get sent a few different things not on the menu, I'll usually order a few items, and they have all been good.

              Because I know you enjoy the Tuna Tataki at Tajima, I'd pick the Albacore Tataki as a nice way to start, along with probably the Buta Kakuni. For less adventurous eaters Chicken Karaage is always a good choice, or even the Tebashio.I'd also recommend the Shishito Tempura, but I don't think it's in season right now.

              Though it's not quite in season, I'd go with the Aji Sashimi - once you are done with the sashimi, the fish bones are taken and deep fried for you to consume. The Gindara kasuzake is very good as well. Though not on the menu, my Wife loves the Karei Karaage.

              If you sit at the sushi bar, start up a conversation with Kazu Maeda and ask what is good.

              I enjoy the Maguro Yamakake, but that may be stretching it a bit too far. Same for Ankimo and Shiokara. As for Tako Wasabi, Tajima, Ichiro, and Osaka Kitchen serve it, I think Sakura's is the best, but my Wife enjoys Tajima's version the most.

              The sake selection is excellent, you can get a sampler of 5 sakes as well.

              Like you said, I'm sure you'll find some good stuff.

              Have fun!

              1. re: KirkK

                Thanks for the tips Kirk. I will let you know what I think!

                1. re: KirkK

                  I agree, Sake selection is quite good. This months Wine Spectator has a nice section on sake, it beaks sake manufacturing down to the smallest detail. Read most of it last night, very informative.


              2. If you do like liver, make sure to get the ankimo. This is the best version i have had, the foie gras of the sea. Other than that i would get whatever sushi is on special today, cant go wrong with that. The miso salmon is also very tasty and would be good for someone not so adventurous.

                1. We had an awesome meal. We had barbecued beef with sesame sauce, salt-grilled sea bass, broiled eggplant gratin, mixed sushi, gyoza, beef tataki, and grilled yellowtail teriyaki.

                  While everything was good, the sea bass, eggplant, and beef tataki were definite standouts. I was impressed by the difference between Sakura's beef tataki and Tajima's. Sakura's was far superior - with better quality beef, and a more delicate flavor.

                  Another big surprise was the eggplant gratin. My SO doesn't even care for eggplant and she enjoyed it.

                  We will definitely be going back - what a great experience.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Josh

                    Glad you enjoyed. It is a real treasure.


                  2. I have about 8 hours to spend in San Diego next Tuesday and one of the places I'm thinking of eating Izakaya Sakura. The reason: uni. I've heard they do something special.
                    The other option is Sushi Ota.
                    remember - the focus is uni.

                    Also - this will most likely be for lunch, so if that is a factor, factor it in.

                    (their are only two other things I plan on doing in san diego: playing the morley field disc golf course in balboa park, which i love, and going to either o'brien's or liar's club. i don't know san diego geography so well, so if one of these is much farther away than the other, please let me know as i will be stuck in cabs)


                    Oh - and i will have to get back to the coast sometime since i am on a ridiculously stupid cruise that i dont even want to think about. (cruise food and drinks suck!)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: mr mouther

                      My guess is taking a taxi to either Sakura or Ota is going to be over $20 one way, probably close to $30 to go to Sakura. You might want to think about renting a car.

                      > cruise food and drinks suck!

                      Depends a lot on which cruise line you go with. I really enjoyed the last cruise we went on, which was with Norweigian in Alaska. Their "free-style" dining was very enjoyable. 11 different restaurants, and there were two or three I would have been happy eating at every day.

                      1. re: mr mouther

                        If you're only here for one day, and want to go to Sakura, then skip Liars' Club and go to O'Brien's. O'Brien's and Sakura are on the same street. They are actually within walking distance of each other, albeit probably about a 20-30 minute walk.

                        Ota and Liars' Club are not within walking distance, so that would be tougher to do in one shot. You'd need an intermediate cab ride to travel between the two.

                        My guess is that Ota or Liars' Club would cost as much in a cab as getting to Convoy St., when you factor in time sitting at stoplights, etc. You can get to Convoy St. straight from the freeway, though it's probably 5 miles further from downtown than Ota.

                        Make sure to check out the O'Brien's website to see the bottles and tap selection.


                        1. re: mr mouther

                          Izakaya Sakura does not serve sushi -as far as I know - at lunch. Only a few single regulars are allowed to sit at the bar during lunch. The waitress I asked told me Kazu does not like to have people sit at the bar while he is setting up, hence the 'reserved' signs.

                          You can -however- get uni at lunch at sakura in the form of a donburi or zosui with ikura.

                          I have had extraordinary sushi lunches at Ota. Although I like sakura better - for uni- sashimi and sushi head to Ota.

                        2. Izakaya and O Briens are always a tasty back to back event. I prefer both of the to Ota and Liars Club. The only problem you might encounter is if Kazu is not there you will not be able to get sushi. He is usually there serving Chirashi at lunch, i am sure he will do uni for you

                          16 Replies
                          1. re: MVNYC

                            If you are coming to town specifically for a lunch at Sakura, you might want to call in advance to be sure that Kazu is going to be there and/or what time he will show up. If uni is your only major quest, Sammy Sushi (on Engineer close to Convoy) sometimes has live uni which is unbelievably good. Again, I would call for availability or even call in advance to be sure that it is available.

                            Ooops, I meant to reply to mr mouther - sorry.


                            1. re: Ed Dibble

                              That's a good point - Sammy Sushi is an even shorter walk from O'Brien's.


                              1. re: Josh

                                This links to a meal with live uni at Sammy's:


                                Don't know why Kirk was having photo problems that evening. The food looked better in person.

                                I've had the live uni there on one other occasion and it was outstanding again.


                                1. re: Ed Dibble

                                  this live uni meal looks pretty incredible.
                                  I actually called sakura yesterday and the woman i talked to was very nice but she couldn't tell me when they would be open for lunch or whether kazu would be there or if uni would be available. (she works the night shift)

                                  So perhaps sammy's is the place i should go. I mean, i am seriously on an uni quest. Would it be unlikely that sammy would be there for lunch ona tuesday? You think I could call and request that uni meal for one person? (i'll be with others, but they'll pretty much be following me and they're too stubborn to realize that an uni-centric meal would be an incredible blessing)

                                  1. re: mr mouther

                                    I just called and spoke to Sam, he is currently closed for lunch because of staffing issues and won't re start lunch service for another 2 weeks or so. So they are only open during evening hours from Mon-Sat.

                                    He did tell me that Live Uni is now available, so you can reach him at the restaurant during evening hours at 858-560-1782.

                                    1. re: KirkK

                                      That is very sad since i'll be forced to get back on the boat before dinner is served.

                                      1. re: mr mouther

                                        You could always try your luck at Sakura.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          I called Sammy and spoke with him directly. He is considering coming in to make me a meal centered around uni on tuesday. He's going to call me on Monday.
                                          This would be a real success: I am a freak for uni and more than a year ago I have been wanting to get an uni-focussed meal.

                                          If it doesn't work out this time, so be it. Sakura I'm sure will be fine for lunch.

                                          1. re: mr mouther

                                            I ended up with the uni, ikura, seaweed risotto for lunch at Sakura - EGGSELENT!!!

                                              1. re: Josh

                                                oh goodness yes. my girl and i walked over there about 1pm and had to be back on that blasted boat around 4:30.
                                                i had 5 oz. of the ballast sea monster stout, pliny the elder, russian river ipa, alpine bad boy, alesmith ipa (had to try it on tap since, alas, no cask)
                                                the sea monster called for another 5 oz, as did the pliny. I had never ahd either of those. I tasted the bad boy and pliony next to each other, which was quite a treat. the pliny was really well balanced and the alpine had a superfresh natural quality.
                                                I hadn't been impressed with the ballast point pale ale so their sea monster relaly surprised me. one of the best stouts i've had ina awhile.
                                                I also tried the bourbon aged big foot barleywine - freaking amazing.
                                                and some garlic fries.
                                                and before i found out about the 5 oz. size i ordered a pint of pure hoppiness, which surely was, and the girl had a pint of pizza port IPA.
                                                Hers was too sharp for her and she liked the alpine so i let her switch.
                                                It was an afternoon of massive IPA tastes basically. Perfect for a little trip to SD.
                                                I bought a bottle of avery's mephistophles stout and j.w. lees lagavulin aged harvest ale to go (thankfully saved for another nite)

                                                It was all a bit much in a short time, but we napped for like three hours once we got back on the boat.

                                                and i have promised myself that i am going to go to san diego once a month from now on - the beer culture there is just too amazing to pass up when i live so close (and i'm not going to live in LA forever.)

                                                definitely will come down for a weekend sometime soon, and head back to o'brien's. i'm really eager to try alesmith's nutbrown, and just to see what beer out of a cask is like. a trip to alpine is also a necessity.

                                                What a treasure san diego beer culture is

                                                1. re: mr mouther

                                                  Glad to hear you had such a good experience. You definitely hit a number of high points!

                                                  Ale Smith's nut brown is very good. Another one you should not miss is Alpine's Great barleywine. O'Brien's sells it in bottles, and like the Bigfoot you had it's also aged in bourbon barrels. That JW Lees is a real treat, too - one of my favorites.

                                                  1. re: mr mouther

                                                    The Linkery always has something on cask, as well as some nice local bottles, some Bohemian beers, and some other interesting beer and wine choices. If you are looking for a nice meal and beer together it would be worth a visit. Jay, the owner, frequently updates their website with the latest dishes and brews: http://www.thelinkery.com/

                                                    1. re: Joseph

                                                      San Diego is quickly becoming a mecca in my mind. It's like the Napa Valley/ Bordeuax of beer culture.
                                                      YOu can bet I will definitely be hitting up the linkery next time - very nice rec. thank you

                                                      1. re: mr mouther

                                                        I think you'll be pleased. They easily have the best beer sensibility of any San Diego restaurant, bar none.

                                                    2. re: mr mouther

                                                      I looked at my notes last nite and saw that my girl also ordered a Tij Plzen from Belgium which was really wionderful (and something nice to sip inbetween tastes of the stronger beers orbiting our table)

                              2. recently went to sakura for my first dinner experience there. i intended to go to the sushi bar, but the typical "reserved" sign was posted. the waitress said it was table seating only. is this normal or was it just an anomaly?

                                still, my disappointment was short lived. i really enjoyed my meal:
                                albacore tataki
                                maguro, hamachi, aji sashimi (with bones)
                                two oyster dishes
                                chicken karaage
                                mixed tempura

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: daimyo

                                  I think the sushi bar is only for 'regulars.' This is the only thing I do not like about the place.

                                  1. re: daimyo

                                    Uusally when I am there, the reserved signs are only at the central seats at the sushi bar. While I have sat at a table (with a date), I have been sitting at the bar since my first visit.I usually sit where I want. I guess I'm a regular, but I only eat there maybe 4 times a year. I'm surprised the waitress said there was only table service.

                                    But, yeh, the food is really good.


                                  2. What do you guys think of Sakura for sushi compared to Sushi Ota?

                                    1. I've never been to Sakura, but I've really enjoyed everyone's reviews. One thing I don't get is eating the aji bones. How are these different from other fish bones, this is the first I've heard of eating bones. Thanks.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: jasont

                                        Get the aji sashimi and when you finish they will take the fish and deep fry it. Served with ponzu sauce and lemon. Deliciously crunchy! As to how they differ from other fish bones, I suppose they don't, but aji are small and a big fish bones would probably not be edible.

                                        1. re: Pablo

                                          i think they only fry the "small japanese aji". That's what i was told at sushi shibucho. They do something else with the larger ones. (bake? steam? i dunno, the person next to us was eating it)

                                          1. re: clayfu

                                            Reviving this thread as it is 3 years old and I'm making my first visit here this weekend. Any changes I should be aware of. Any not-to-be-missed items?

                                            1. re: Ewilensky

                                              Ask about specials. Ask Kazu what is especially good.

                                              1. re: Ed Dibble


                                                Can't believe I've waited so long to try this place. Went with a large group.


                                                Albacore tataki - the table's favorite

                                                Maguro in spicy sauce - wonderful. Could make a meal of this.

                                                Agadashi tofu

                                                Pickled vegetables

                                                Sea bass in miso glaze

                                                Sea bass in sesame sauce

                                                Uni pasta - by far my favorite and was the first time I could convince my wife to try uni, which she loved

                                                Yakisoba with pork and vegetables

                                                Soba with shrimp tempura

                                                Ankimo - people called it cat food, I happened to love it.

                                                Tempura japanese peppers - a sweet pepper with a very faint bite at the end.

                                                All of it was good. Need to eat my way through the menu now...

                                                1. re: Ewilensky

                                                  Glad you made it there. It's a gem.

                                                  Try Buta Kakuni sometime - braised pork belly.

                                                  1. re: Ewilensky

                                                    you had some of our faves--the maguro in spicy shoyu, agadashi tofu, pickled veggies, sea bass in miso and tempura shishito peppers.

                                                    try the agadashi mochi next time!