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Kaito in Encinitas

After a recent post-up on my trip to Nobu in Solana Beach resulted in responses informing me about Kaito, I decided to spend this trip down to SD in preparation for an omakase dinner at Kaito. I have to say, it's a wonderful spot, and has the all the elements that I like in a regular sushi stop. Great fish, a laid back scene, and characters behind the bar (I had the company of Ryo-san and Kazu-san).

Stand outs were the toro, the sayuri, and the anago, but I also enjoyed the monkfish pate (I recently had monkfish liver at Sushi Zo that I would rank as one of the best experiences ever).

I still need to hit up Matsuoka to get the total San Diego sushi experience, but so far Kaito takes top toque.

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  1. If you're referring to Matsuoka in Encinitas, then your quest is done. Matsuoka closed in 2006.

    5 Replies
    1. re: srk

      So where else should I be going?

      1. re: SauceSupreme

        SS, I haven't gone yet, but Shirahama sounds like it should be your next stop.


        1. re: SauceSupreme

          Yes indeed to Shirahama... I personally keep Kaito and Shirahama as the only sushi bars in my "top rotation", so for me it's a natural recommendation to complement/bookend a prior visit to Kaito. Just a heads up on Shirahama, as the moniker "sushi Nazi" has been tossed around on the boards. Though I haven't experienced this myself, as they say, your mileage may vary...

          Would love to hear a report if you do go...

          1. re: cgfan

            This is a bit off topic, but your pics of the sushi at Kaito are amazing. Just wanted to thank you.



            1. re: Ed Dibble

              Thanks for the kind words, Ed.

              A point and shoot is all I use, but one that excels in discretely taking low-light pics, perfect for the shutter-happy CH'er that doesn't like to use flash, esp. in the restaurant setting...

              (It's a Fuji FinePix F10, but there are newer ones in this excellent line... - http://www.flickr.com/cameras/fujifil... It goes to 1600 ASA, has a very useable 800 ASA, and does exposures as long as 15 seconds. Incredible battery life, very fast response.)

      2. Glad you enjoyed Kaito! The only Japanese chef (Saito-san) from Sushi House (Encintas) remodeled and opened as Blue Fin Sushi in the old Matsuoka spot earlier this year.

        Memories of Matsuoka...

        3 Replies
        1. re: Pablo

          Pablo - did Kazo, to your knowledge, ever work at Nobu? years ago there was a sushi chef at Nobu by that name (we liked him quite a bit) and am now curious if they are one and the same.

          1. re: ibstatguy

            Ibstatguy, yes he did work at Nobu also Tomiko.

            See cgfan's post in this thread:


            1. re: Pablo

              He also worked at Yae in Rancho Bernardo, which has been closed for years.

        2. Samurai in Solana Beach off Lomas Santa Fe is my fav... My boyfriend's family and friends have been going there for years. By far some of the best sushi I've had.

          13 Replies
          1. re: RebJaeBoe

            pablo and cgfan are going to be all over you. we used to go to samurai but have been with nobu basically since he opened his place. have nothing to say against samurai though.

            1. re: ibstatguy

              Never been to Samurai so I can't comment. Kaito had excellent hamo fish last night as well as fresh San Diego uni from the shell!

              1. re: Pablo

                thx for the post about Ike; had wanted to know where he had gone to; guess it is another reason for me to go to Kaito

              2. re: ibstatguy

                ibstatguy: Well, yes and no... It all depends on whether or not RebJaeBoe or anyone else is after traditional sushi or not. If not, then as I've said in another post "there is no reason to believe that the experience here [at Kaito] is any different than any of the other sushi bars out there" (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39556... ). But if it's traditional sushi one is after, then Kaito is in a different class altogether.

                Granted Samurai has a very loyal following of both traditional and non-traditional customers. The Song's have established Samurai as a veritable institution in North County as probably having the longest history of serving sushi in the area in addition to having the largest bar and the most sushi chefs under their employ. Samurai almost has been a farm team for populating other sushi bars with their former chefs, many of which Charlie (Samurai's owner) continues to patronize long after they have left the nest.

                But their sushi just does not compare to what can be had at Kaito or Shirahama. To those who seek traditional sushi, and most importantly have a palate that is adjusted to taste traditional sushi, than the difference in quality is unmistakeable.

                And this is not to say that Samurai is bad. Not at all, though there are enough sushi bars out there that are just plain bad and incompetent. Samurai does competently serve decent sushi that will satisfy the vast majority of traditional sushi devotees (who have not been otherwise spoiled by a trip to Kaito or Shirahama, or for that matter other standout establishments outside of our region). Add to that Nobu and Ota, the latter of which I feel is way over-hyped. But for that transcendent experience that can be had at only the best sushi bars it is left to only a few, of which I claim in San Diego is delivered by Kaito and Shirahama.

                To me it's a night and day experience. (I literally switched to Morita-san's sushi upon the very first eye-opening bite I had in front of him when he was at Tomiko.) As I've said in another post I do continue to keep things in check by going to other sushi bars, both new and established. But without exception every visit away from my favorite two highlights a stark difference in quality that is unmistakeable to the palate. In a sense these two sushi bars have spoiled it for me and have brought the game in San Diego to a much higher level, something that I've heard from other Kaito customers as well.

                So if you're a fan of traditional sushi and have not yet tried Kaito, give it a try when you are hankering for a change of pace. It won't hurt to try another sushi bar, and if you do, please report your findings here!

                1. re: cgfan

                  hope you and Pablo understood I was kidding, if not, apologies to all.

                  have learned that Ike, formerly of Nobu, is now at Kaito, which, along with urging from you and Pablo, will probably get me up there sooner rather than later.


                  1. re: ibstatguy

                    cgfan is a better chowhound than I! I am so spoiled by Kaito I can't bear to go anywhere else for sushi right now. I gather that Ike-san has been at Kaito for a while (not on the weekends), he is also working at Masuo in Solana Beach so check before you go to Kaito if you want to see him.

                    1. re: ibstatguy

                      I believe Ike-san has been more filling-in duing the middle of the week, but although I've seen him at Kaito some time ago on a semi-regular basis, I have not seen him there lately. Perhaps he may be just "on call" when they need a hand, but that's just a guess on my part.

                      As Joe-san is there to assist on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, if Ike-san is to show up at all I would guess it would be on Tuesdays-Thursdays.

                      But then again it's been about a month or more since I last spotted him at Kaito.

                      1. re: cgfan

                        sounds like Masuo might be a safer bet to run into Ike then. Thx

                        1. re: ibstatguy

                          ibstatguy: Just looked at their website and they show Ike as being there. So that must leave Wednesday and Thursday for Ike at Kaito, as on Tuesdays Morita-san solos, and on the rest of the days (other than Sunday when they are closed) he is assisted by Joe-san.

                          1. re: cgfan

                            thx cgfan - should you or Pable see Ike, tell him "Tawny" from Nobu says hello. he should get a laugh from that

                    2. re: cgfan

                      I went back to Kaito tonight with my future mother-in-law (lol) and we had the best time. I prefer the traditional sushi - no more rolls for me. The fish was amazing and I prefer their new location. There is a chance for more socializing and where we were sitting more sushi chef action! Kaito is a new favorite for us. We loved everything.

                      1. re: RebJaeBoe

                        RebJaeBoe: It's a small Foodie world out there, and now I'm quite convinced that I must have been sitting next to your future MIL and you during your last visit to Kaito. If so I had a wonderful time talking with the two of you and really relished in your obvious enjoyment in pursuing cooking both as a form of recreation and vehicle for bonding.

                        It's not often one can match an on-line identity with an off-line one, yet this seems to have occurred several times over for me at Kaito.

                        I was at Kaito again tonight (Saturday), and Morita-san was still talking about how he remembered your MIL as one of his customers. It must be one of the great joys of a chef to see their customers return year after year.

                2. My boyfriend and I stopped at Kaito last night to test it out and we were pleasantly surprised. It's probably the closest sushi place to our house but have never stopped there because it always looks so empty. My boyfriend was elated when he saw Ike was there. He used to visit him often at Nobu. The food was great especially the kampachi (sp?) Ike only works on Thursday. He works at another place in Solana Beach on the 101 but I can't remember the name right now.

                  Cgfan - I am somewhat of a sushi novice so maybe I just can't detect the difference but I thought Samurai and Kaito shared a number of similarities. The fish at both establishments were, I thought, of high quality. But hey- I'm originally from the desert so maybe I just don't know any better!

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: RebJaeBoe

                    I just so a notice that the Kaito restaurant location has been acquried by Beach Grass Cafe, which has a location in Solana Beach. Probably bad news for sushi lovers.

                    1. re: Encinitan

                      Kaito will be moving to a smaller and better location on El Camino by the Albertson's. I can't wait to see them there!

                      1. re: Pablo

                        Pablo: Count me in too! This is a very positive move in my book. It will allow them to focus on their main strength, which is their carefully sourced and prepared sushi.

                        And as in sushi, isn't it all about taking things down to their essential elements? Now they can do just that in their new space as they jettison the bar, the karaoke, the live bands, and the underutilized table space. What a joy it would be to walk in and know that I can continue to have my favorite sushi, but now in an environment that is more conducive to the quiet contemplation of this extraordinary cuisine!

                        And to those who might otherwise have enjoyed a meal of traditional sushi but were scared away by all of their other trappings? This would be a great time to give Kaito a second try in their new location.

                        As in their existing location they'll continue to be a great place, (actually a better place!), for their seasoned omakase customers. But they'll also continue to be a great place for the "roll customer" with a curious palate, as I understand they'll keep their rolls at the new location. I have seen many a Kaito customer start their meal on rolls alone, only to finish their meal with an awakened palate and newfound appreciation for traditional sushi.

                        And what would be the triggering event for each of these roll to nigiri awakenings? As simple as a carefully considered sample of nigiri sushi from Morita-san or Joe-san, based upon the customer's own taste preferences. In this way I hope Kaito will continue to create magic every day not only for their loyal fans of traditional sushi, but also for those who are ready to "cross over" from Americanized rolls.

                        An amazing thing has been happening here. When they first opened some 3 years ago, perhaps only 5% of their customers were of the "serious" type. I believe now it approaches significantly more than a simple majority, something which I find to be quite remarkable in and of itself given their customer demographic. (And I'm betting that these percentages will continue to climb higher still given the new location and focus...)

                        Here's a Google Map and Street View link to the new location: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=l&h...

                        I don't have a precise address nor an exact opening date, but stay tuned and I'm sure I or someone else will post of any new news!

                        1. re: Pablo

                          I am so glad they are moving. The energy there did put me off a bit.

                          Also, I love The Beach Grass Cafe, so I am interested to see what goes into that space now.

                          1. re: Enorah

                            Enorah: Yeah, Beach Grass Cafe is great! Would be nice for them to have an outpost in Encinitas...

                            So this is a good development on more than one front.

                          2. re: Pablo

                            Any updates on the move?
                            Opening date?


                            1. re: Enorah

                              No, I haven't heard of any solid dates, but I suspect it'll be within a month.

                              Sorry I don't have the new address informaiton either, but if you lookup the Google Street View link of my earlier post, you can get an approximate idea where they'll be. (The Street View is actually looking down the street at a relatively shallow angle, so it's actually a bit south of where the marker is on the map...)

                              As Pablo has reported it'll be in the Albertson's center, on the same wing as the Golden Baked Hams, the new home of Santa Fe Cafe, and the Greek eatery.

                              I can't wait too!

                              1. re: cgfan

                                I saw that the Santa Fe Cafe moved there.

                                Are they open for dinner now? or still just breakfast and lunch?

                                1. re: Enorah

                                  Sorry, I can't say...

                                  Santa Fe Cafe never was on my radar, other than that I knew they had a lot of customers from the Scripps Encinitas Hospital at their current location. I dropped in once to pick up some bagels when they first opened, but I really didn't care for their "bready" bagels; just wan't my style...

                                  Anything of note at SFC?

                                  1. re: cgfan

                                    I only ate there once.

                                    It was okay.

                                    But it would be nice if there were a few more diners in the area that stayed open for dinner.

                              2. re: Enorah

                                By the way the offerings at Kaito just continue to be excellent... In the past several visits I've had incredible awabi/awabi kimo, mirugai, an insane toro, the incredible (and humongous) tako that he gets in from Hokkaido, some incredible shiromi with that incredible mouth feel that good shiromi seems to have (tai and sayori), live hotate w/its kimo, and the hon (real) ama ebi.

                                For the tako, shiromi, hotate and hon ama ebi he's lately been taking out the Himalayan pink rock salt and in his understated manner quietly grating it by hand right onto the nigiri to eat as is. Just wonderful!

                        2. I just had the most wonderful birthday dinner at Kaito. Thanks, cgfan, for nudging me to get back in there.

                          Favorites of the night were

                          Needle fish, Japanese mackerel, and the amaebi

                          But EVERYTHING was spectacular.

                          We also had the ramen which was fabulous.

                          Thanks to Joe-san and Kazou-san as well.

                          I am curious which one of you had the hairy dungeness from Hokkaido. I asked Kazou which fish was his favorite and he showed me the shell of one and said that a customer had special ordered them. Later I was blabbing about chowhound, and he said that it was someone who posts here who ordered the hairy dungeness (which I had already figured).

                          who is it?

                          how was it?


                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Enorah

                            Enorah: I was in there Friday and got to see those wonderful crabs too! Morita-san showed me a styrofoam box with the live kegani in a bed of loose wood shavings, apparently jet-lagged from their long, refrigerated transit from Hokkaido (via Tsukiji/Tokyo via L.A.) to Encinitas, CA...

                            The lucky customers? Three lucky parties who had individually made special arrangements with Morita-san one week prior, of whom I'm told at least two are CH posters and the third a regular CH reader!

                            The saba (Japanese mackerel) that day was as incredible tasting as it was beautiful to look at. I don't think I've ever seen such an iridescent and spectrally pure blue skin on saba before, as if enrobed in a fondant of iridescent art glass.

                            I tend to think of the best of the oily tane by the apparent "refinement" of their natural oils. Tane of high quality seems to coat the entire palate with an impossibly thin layer of oil, locking it in an embrace that can last for minutes. The saba of that day had that kind of impact.

                            I also had my eye on the only remaining sayori in the case (the needlefish you mention), that is until I saw it tragicaly ;-) slip away as it was prepared for another customer.

                            - C(rab)G(uts)Fan / C(e)G(ani)Fan [sic]
                            Hmmmmm... Could it possibly be that...

                            1. re: cgfan

                              Our dinner was so good last night, I want to go back today. But I will restrain myself, plus I could never convince my sweetie to eat sushi 2 days in a row. He really likes it, but is not as big of a sushi addict as I am.

                              Joe did a funny "sushi anonymous meeting" routine for me last night.

                            2. re: Enorah

                              Enorah: Here are some pics on my Flickr site of the kegani that was served that night: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                              Also here's the phenomenal saba and it's blue, iridescent skin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... and http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                1. re: Pablo

                                  I knew it!


                                  Oh, your photos are wonderful - you and cgfan both.

                                  Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

                              1. I heard through the grapevine that Kaito is back open! I have to go check them out.

                                3 Replies
                                  1. re: Pablo

                                    We finally had the chance to stop by the new location last night. We were entertained for 3 hours with other guests and fans of Kaito. And it was worth the long wait! No more sushiya ronin for us. We have found a new home away from home.

                                    The new location is much more cozy and makes all the sense!

                                1. Enorah once posted, Kaito rocks!

                                  Well here's a good example why: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3277/2...

                                  (Taken from their most recent post in their "sushi blog" at: http://sushikaito.com/SushiBlog.aspx )

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: cgfan

                                    Hey cgfan!

                                    We were there Thursday for the first time in a while. My sweetie declared that night "best sushi ever". Hirame (I am sure I did not spell her name right) said you have asked them to do a traditional Japanese breakfast sometime. Yum!

                                    1. re: Enorah

                                      If you talked to a flatfish with both eyes on one side, then it would be Hirame. :-) (Hiromi is the one you talked to...)

                                      Yeah, the sushi's been incredible. They really are on a tear, and their selections are getting broader and broader. It almost doesn't matter anymore what day you arrive. A break from my usual though still frequent pattern, I've been there four days straight since Tuesday, though Thursday was just a quick social visit. Every visit has been mind-blowing, with something new at every visit.

                                      Friday was an incredible finish, as for the second day straight they were able to find Uni that met their quality standards, a return of Mizudako, the incredible octopus from Hokkaido, and the first appearance of Anko (monkfish) that I've seen there. The Saba and Toro was incredible, as was the Hirame.

                                      On Wednesday there was a customer who had just arrived from Japan who was saying that everything was so good that it was impossible to say what was best. Lately at Kaito, I've been feeling very much the same!


                                      As to a Japanese breakfast event, if they do do it, it would be the only one in S.D. I really crave a full Japanese breakfast, and would love to see them, or for that matter anyone in S.D., do it as a special event.

                                      Though it was just a casual suggestion, apparently it was also something that they had thought of before. Now that the word is out, anyone else out there who'd also be interested in a Japanese breakfast as a special event? I think it'll be a real winner, and a good chance for those who still haven't made the drive up to get acquainted with Kaito.

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        cgfan said: "If you talked to a flatfish with both eyes on one side, then it would be Hirame. :-) (Hiromi is the one you talked to...)"


                                        Hiromi, thank you.

                                        We were there on Thursday, must have been there before you

                                  2. FYI Kaito has been sourcing the 1st in season Hon (real, authentic) Ama Ebi (sweet shrimp) for about a week now. As most sushi bars are not using the authentic sweet shrimp that they use in Japan, this would be a good chance to sample your first taste!

                                    Morita-san has been serving them several ways, as nigiri sushi (pictured below at the link), as sashimi w/the heads deep fried, or as kara-age which is a style of seasoning used for some fried foods. I've been able to sample them twice so far this season, both as sushi and as kara-age. I don't have pictures yet of this season's ama ebi, so here's one from last season.


                                    See how small they are compared to the standard "ama ebi" served elsewhere? (Yes, there are three of them resting on each nigiri...) They have a much more refined taste w/a real creamy quality to the flesh, and the shells are delicately thin.

                                    For a picture from this season's ama ebi, here's Pablo's lip smacking closeup of the fried heads:


                                    Make sure you get yours before the season runs out!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: cgfan

                                      I could eat plates of those fried shrimp heads they are so good... nothing like the spot prawns most places try to foist as amaebi all year round! If you haven't ever had the real thing, you should get over to Kaito, they are generally only in season for a couple months.

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        When did the season start and how long do you expect it to last until they run out?

                                        1. re: DougOLis

                                          I had to look it up as I was going by memory only. It seems like we only get these shrimp at Kaito for maybe three months going by the photos. But according to Atlantic States Marine Fisheries, the season for Maine will run until May 29 2009, the longest since 1991 for the Atlantic Pinks.

                                          1. re: Pablo

                                            I know I had them on Feb 2nd of last year. They were delicious. Joe prepared them for us and fried up the heads

                                            1. re: Pablo

                                              In general it seems that this year's tane have been appearing up to a month early, so I would recommend getting one's fill of this year's ama ebi by mid-January.

                                              My records from 2007 has my last (presumeably end of season) sample of the Hon Ama Ebi as late as February 27, and from 2008 as late as February 15. ( http://flickr.com/search/?q=ama%20ebi...


                                              The earliest (presumeably start of season) date I could find in the same records was on January 12 in 2008, but this season we've already been enjoying them for over a week in early December.

                                              Though taken from a very coarse sample, I wonder if this was portending a season that's been getting earlier each year over the prior 2 seasons?

                                              I'd say for those interested that it's better not to take the chance and get yours early if you haven't had them before.

                                        2. I just needed to add to this post that we've done 3 omakase dinners w/ Morita-san and LOVED all of them! We had really, really good uni and salmon tonight, all melting in the mouth. Same for the negitoro, ono and halibut!

                                          1. I just want to thank all of the posters here for continually reminding me about Kaito. I finally got a chance just before New Year's to experience a meal there. In general, it was very satisfying. I was impressed by the skill and demeanor of the itamae, Morita-san.

                                            Next time, I will probably just do an omakase, as the items that he recommended were the highlights of the meal. Are there some cooked dishes that are outstanding there, or should one focus on the sashimi and sushi?

                                            Anyway, if anyone is interested in my experience, I wrote up my visit in a two-part post at Kirk's blog, mmm-yoso!!!

                                            Here's the link:


                                            And thanks again to all the posters here!


                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Ed Dibble

                                              Ed, glad to hear you enjoyed it so much

                                              My birthday is coming up so it will be a Kaito feast once again for me