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ISO amazing sushi and confused

gemster Mar 3, 2008 09:26 PM

I'm an SF chowhound heading down to LA next week and would like to take my parents out to sushi (omakase). I've heard that LA sushi >>> SF sushi, so I wanted to give it a try!

I've been reading through a ton of posts, and it seems to be Ursawa is the consensus #1, but that is unfortunately out of my budget. Other than that, a couple places that seem promising are Asanebo and Sushi Zo. But there seem to be SO many options and posts and I'm having some trouble figuring out the best one...

Ideally it would be $100/pp or less, take reservations, and not be too brutal of a drive from San Gabriel.


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  1. carln RE: gemster Mar 3, 2008 09:51 PM

    Both Asanebo and Zo will leave you feeling like you have had a great meal. Asanebo if you are more into sashimi. Zo if you are more into nigiri. Enjoy and report back.

    1. t
      TailbackU RE: gemster Mar 3, 2008 09:54 PM

      This is a never ending debate and people will have their favorites. IMO, for the best pure no fuss sushi, no one does it better than Nozawa. The restaurant is not fancy but he serves some of the freshest and most delicious sushi i've ever had. He is known as the Sushi Nazi, but as long as you obey his rules, he'll be nice. You can easily come out at less than $100pp with sake, tip and tax.

      9 Replies
      1. re: TailbackU
        gemster RE: TailbackU Mar 3, 2008 10:00 PM

        Hmm, they don't take reservations though, right?

        1. re: gemster
          TailbackU RE: gemster Mar 3, 2008 10:29 PM

          not sure. give them a call.

          1. re: gemster
            markn RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 07:43 AM

            For this circumstance I would definitely PASS on Nozawa. I agree his fish is among the freshest, but the place has zero atmosphere or ambience, and they rush you through like cattle. If you are looking for a nice, relaxing meal as well as good sushi then Nozawa is not the place. If you are looking to have some very good sushi and get in and out in less than an hour for lunch (which is when I always go) then it fits the bill.

            1. re: markn
              markn RE: markn Mar 4, 2008 07:52 AM

              p.s. I highly recommend Asanebo. Also across the street from there is Tama Sushi which has a nice $55 omakase.

              At Asanebo you won't get traditional nigiri sushi, more like sashimi, toro tartare with caviar, maybe some kobe beef, usually some kind of tasty soup, etc.. Tama is more traditional sushi.

              1. re: markn
                yinyangdi RE: markn Mar 4, 2008 11:04 AM

                While I prefer true omakase, I've had nigiri sushi as "omakase" at my request at Asanebo; quite a variety, too. yum. Also, I have found that the Itamae at the good sushi-ya will accommodate most requests.

                1. re: yinyangdi
                  markn RE: yinyangdi Mar 4, 2008 02:10 PM

                  If you ask me, the terms "omakase" and "at my request" are mutually exclusive. Omakase means you are letting the chef decide.....if you are asking for nigiri at Asanebo, then it's not omakase. :-)

                  1. re: markn
                    Porthos RE: markn Mar 4, 2008 02:58 PM

                    Again, not true. See link below. If you can ask for omakase flowers, you can ask for omakase nigiri. It will be chef's choice nigiri.

                    For example, at Mori, there's a regular omakase choice which includes sashimi,cooked items, and nigiri (more of the set menu concept actually) and there's also omakase nigiri which is the chef's selection of nigiri. Throughout the meal, I was asked what I liked and didn't like and he tailored my meal perfectly. I was offered sayori, kohada, snapper marinated in kelp and buri belly and never once offered salmon, albacore, or farmed hamachi.

                    1. re: markn
                      yinyangdi RE: markn Mar 4, 2008 03:55 PM

                      fwiw, I used the term "omakase" loosely as that particular night in question I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat, had a brief talk with my itamae, and only then asked if he would serve me up a smattering of nigiri sushi, his choice.

                      And, as for omakase being the chef's choice: that used to be a given (at least at the sushi-ya I went to). The last several times I have asked for omakase at different sushi-ya the itamae inquired as to how much did I want to spend and exactly what kind of dishes I wanted; the "omakase" was going to be customized to my answers. When I expressed surprise at being asked such questions each of the itamae explained that they had several price points with varying options and that I had to choose. Quite frankly, that used to be part of the fun of ordering omakase: what was I going to be served and what was the final $$-$$$ going to be?

              2. re: gemster
                Diana RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 08:01 AM

                Usually, it is hard to get reservations at the Bar. Most places will do it only if you call ahead and tell them you want OMakase. Tama does, but be careful. My reserved seat was "moved on the sly" at Tama after "regualrs" called. Feh.

                Otherwise, you can reserva a table. But I hate eating Sushi anywhere but at the bar. I like to interact with the Itame.

            2. J.L. RE: gemster Mar 3, 2008 10:27 PM

              Sit at the bar at Kiriko and be amazed by Ken-san & his adept gang.

              The drive from SG to Kiriko borders on brutal, but is soooo worth it.

              11301 Olympic Bl. #102
              (West) Los Angeles, CA 90025
              (310) 478-7769

              3 Replies
              1. re: J.L.
                westsidegal RE: J.L. Mar 4, 2008 08:08 AM

                can you really get out of kiriko at $100/pp or less including tax, tip, and beverages? don't forget that they charge extra for the wonderful homemade ice cream.

                1. re: westsidegal
                  Jwsel RE: westsidegal Mar 4, 2008 08:41 AM

                  I've never had a problem as long as I avoid a lot of sake. On occasion, I've specifically told Ken my price-range and asked if he could do an omakase specifically for that amount. He has always obliged, and we've never left less than stuffed.

                2. re: J.L.
                  Jack Flash RE: J.L. Mar 4, 2008 09:50 AM

                  For the OP, "brutal" in this case could be well over an hour.

                3. ipsedixit RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 07:59 AM

                  Both Zo and Asanebo would be a pretty "brutal" drive from San Gabriel.

                  That said, both are good, solid choices and you probably won't be disappointed with either.

                  Just one caveat, however. The thing with omakase is that to really enjoy the dining experience you have to develope a good working rapport with the chef. This is nearly impossible on a first time visit.

                  On a first time visit, if you are truly doing an omakase, chances are the experience will be a bit bumpy as the chef feels you out and you figure out what the chef does well and doesn't do well in terms of your preferences.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    Porthos RE: ipsedixit Mar 4, 2008 08:29 AM

                    No necessarily true regarding omakase. Keizo's omakase is pretty much on autopilot so your experience on the first visit won't be lacking.

                    Also, Silverjay has explained more eloquently than I ever could on the meaning of omakase in this thread


                    1. re: Porthos
                      ipsedixit RE: Porthos Mar 4, 2008 08:40 AM

                      I don't disagree with what was said in that post. But to me, omakase is about the traditional way of omakase ... it shouldn't really be about a set menu.

                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        Porthos RE: ipsedixit Mar 4, 2008 08:42 AM

                        I totally agree. Omakase shouldn't be some set menu ending in a blue crab hand roll. However, the point was made that you can indeed have an excellent omakase without familiarity and I think that is also true.

                        1. re: Porthos
                          ipsedixit RE: Porthos Mar 4, 2008 09:46 AM


                          (And FWIW, I cut/copied your orginal post in case I'm ever in NYC or SF looking for a sushi joint ...)

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            Porthos RE: ipsedixit Mar 4, 2008 10:12 AM

                            I've posted that list before so it's in the archives. If you wind up in NYC, post on the Manhattan board and I'll try to respond in a moderator friendly manner.

                        2. re: ipsedixit
                          Diana RE: ipsedixit Mar 4, 2008 09:53 AM

                          I agree with Ipse. Omakase, if it is truly waht is freshest and best, should be off the cuff and different depending upon when you go!

                          Set omakase menus are just not right, more like Nomakase.

                    2. JEN10 RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 08:11 AM

                      What does ISO stand for?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: JEN10
                        wilafur RE: JEN10 Mar 4, 2008 08:20 AM

                        in search of

                        1. re: JEN10
                          ipsedixit RE: JEN10 Mar 4, 2008 08:21 AM

                          ISO = In Search Of

                          1. re: JEN10
                            Akitist RE: JEN10 Mar 4, 2008 02:12 PM

                            Also International Standards Organization

                          2. n
                            namstermonster RE: Porthos Mar 4, 2008 08:38 AM

                            Porthos- have u been to tama, ike, and/or hiko?? i have yet to try these places and am wondering what you think of them if you have. :)

                            1. JEN10 RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 08:29 AM

                              In search of, very good! Thanks, I tried to figure it out, was stumped.

                              1. Porthos RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 08:38 AM

                                Coming from SF, I would recommend Sushi Zo. Both KK and Sushi Monster really enjoyed Keizo's omakase and thought it was superior to anything in SF...including Sebo.

                                Here's a list of LA and SF sushi restaurants that I have tried ranked on a 1-10 scale with a 10 going to the great Sushi Yasuda. NYC references have been deleted to suit the moderators.

                                9.0 - Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is wonderful. Perhaps the best I’ve tasted outside of Yasuda. The variety is somewhat limited (around 20 types) but he does have fine kohada, needlefish, barracuda, and winter buri. For all practical purposes, Mori and Zo are about equal in the quality of fish. Mori’s rice and knife-work have a slight edge while Zo has a greater variety of fish in general. The imported/seasonal stuff are about equal.

                                9.0 – Sushi Zo (LA). Excellent quality and variety. Keizo is young but already has the mischievous half-smile necessary that all great masters possess. His knife-work and rice is a little inconsitent at times (some slices are more strips and some pieces of rice were much smaller than others) but he does do a true omakase offering seasonal items such as isaki. Keizo also uses fresh wasabi.

                                8.0 to 8.25-Kiriko (LA). The quality at times can be excellent but at times it can be slightly off (especially their kohada, aji, saba). The rice is a solid 8. On occasion, they do have fresh wasabi. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The fresh matsutake soup is a must when in season. Not too much in terms of exciting variety although I did have live japanese mantis prawn and pristine baby bluefin tuna here.

                                8.0- Kaygetsu and Kappa (SF). Both have excellent fish quality, but limited selection. Kappa’s ranking is only for the quality of the sashimi since they don’t serve nigiri. Kaygetsu's fish may be upwards of a 8.5 if Toshi hides the good stuff behind the counter.

                                8.0- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.

                                7.5- Kitsho (Cupertino, SF). The fish is great and the variety is excellent, not only for the southbay but for the SF area in general. Howard brings in some really good stuff like seasonal suzuki and kawahagi. His kinmedai and shima-aji are occasional misses. However, the cuts are a little bigger and less refined. The rice while improved is still hit or miss.

                                7.0- R23 (LA). Good quality, live abalone is available but in general, a limited variety.

                                7.0- Ino (SF). Great ankimo. Best I’ve had to date. Even better than Sushi Zo’s steamed ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi.

                                6.0- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste. He does get some very interesting fish (like his pencilfish) but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did have Japanese uni on my visit.

                                5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, watch out for the precut fish and don't be surprised if the skin is left on the mirugai. The hot rice is poorly seasoned and readily falls apart. It’s even worse when doused in sauce.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Porthos
                                  namstermonster RE: Porthos Mar 4, 2008 09:46 AM

                                  Porthos- have u been to tama, ike, and/or hiko?? i have yet to try these places and am wondering what you think of them if you have. :)

                                  1. re: namstermonster
                                    Porthos RE: namstermonster Mar 4, 2008 10:09 AM

                                    Sorry. Have not been to any of those. Although I will say that I'm more into traditional nigiri than the Sasabune/Nozawa vein.

                                    I know Ike gets mixed reviews and that Iki may be the way to go.

                                  2. re: Porthos
                                    gemster RE: Porthos Mar 4, 2008 01:57 PM

                                    Porthos - thanks for the great list. I didn't notice asanebo on your list - is it safe to assume you haven't tried it yet?

                                    1. re: gemster
                                      Porthos RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 02:55 PM

                                      Correct. I cannot comment on Asanebo.

                                  3. j
                                    Jack Flash RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 09:59 AM

                                    While the following recommendation is not at the level of some of the other places mentioned, you really might want to consider Z Sushi, located in Alhambra at the confluence of Atlantic/Los Robles, Garfield, & Huntington Drive...just a stone's throw from San Gabriel. They take reservations, even at the bar. They have a full liquor license. They will do an omakase if you make advance reservations. You might want to give a call to find out what your omakase pricing options are.

                                    They have lots of seasonal specials, fish from Japan, etc. If you search this board, you'll find lots of favorable comments about Z.

                                    1132 N Garfield Ave
                                    Alhambra, CA 91801
                                    (626) 282-5636

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Jack Flash
                                      NAspy RE: Jack Flash Mar 4, 2008 05:05 PM

                                      I agree with this poster. You may find your enjoyment at any of the westside or valley places you pick significantly undermined by a really miserable drive to and from your destination.

                                      Z Sushi will not provide you with the absolute apex of what LA sushi places have to offer (in my opinion that would be Zo or Kiriko, but I've not yet been to Mori), but it will be only a half step or so behind. Sit at the bar in front of the "older" guy (his name escapes me and he's not that old) at Z, start out with his special carpaccio (usually salmon; all specials are on a board right in front of you) and then have him give you his omakase.. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

                                      They also make a wonderful lychee nut martini and you won't have so far to drive.

                                      1. re: NAspy
                                        Hailyn RE: NAspy Mar 4, 2008 08:44 PM

                                        While I do enjoy Z Sushi, places like Sushi Zo are in a completely different league altogether (not merely a half step behind, in my opinion), and Z is probably not the transcendent omakase experience the original poster is looking for, long drive or not. I live in the SGV and don't find the drive to Zo "brutal," so long as it's a weekend night (25-30 minutes door to door) or after around 7:30 or 8:00 on a weeknight.

                                        At Zo, the Keizo-san brews his own soy sauce and grates fresh wasabi. At Z Sushi, you have your choice of Kikkoman regular or lite. Sushi items are plated on plain restaurant-standard white plates (same as you'd get at a Denny's) and not on Japanese ceramic ware. Fresh yuzu juice and peel are not, unlike at higher-end places, a frequent accompaniment to nigiri. It's just not going to be anywhere near the same experience.

                                        And forget Yoshida -- nothing special about it -- certainly not worth a trip from San Francisco.

                                    2. DanaB RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 10:08 AM

                                      What about Shibucho on Beverly near downtown? It's much closer to San Gabriel than the places on the westside, and according to the thread linked below by poster Jerome, it's some of the best sushi in town:


                                      1. wilafur RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 11:47 AM

                                        i've not been yet, however, my friend who lives in the san gabriel valley swears by yoshida's in san marino.

                                        2026 Huntington Drive
                                        San Marino, CA, 91108
                                        (626) 281-9292

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: wilafur
                                          gemster RE: wilafur Mar 4, 2008 01:56 PM

                                          Thanks for the tip - I've been to Yoshida, and found it a bit disappointing.

                                          1. re: gemster
                                            rickym13 RE: gemster Mar 4, 2008 06:25 PM

                                            what about toro in alhambra? went there once and was surprise by what they had! live scallop, sayori, iwashi, khohada, sanma, o-toro and chu-toro etc.....even kobe beef sushi?
                                            also, mako sushi in little tokyo which i had many good meal...not cheap but you can do omakase for under $100

                                          2. re: wilafur
                                            J.L. RE: wilafur Mar 5, 2008 10:40 PM

                                            My 3 cents' worth:

                                            1. Yoshida? More like No-shida. It doesn't even belong in the conversation when comparing with the likes of Sushi Zo, Kiriko, or Mori.

                                            2. Shibucho is an excellent black-horse choice. But if you wanna avoid the over $100 per person limit, definitely don't order from the Chef (jawdropping) wine list, including Chateau D'Yquem, and Romanee-Conti.

                                            3. By the way, the traffic on a Saturday night in SoCal is a tempestuous mistress... sometimes warm and giving, at other time full of sound & fury (and always signifying nothing)...

                                          3. r
                                            RBCal RE: gemster Mar 5, 2008 07:32 AM

                                            I haven't seen this place mentioned before but IMHO it has the best Sushi I've had in Southern California, Miyagi's in San Bernardino. It would be a bit of a drive from San Gabriel but you could take the 210 right to it. They have all you can eat deal for $23 pp and its of amazing quality.

                                            Also, I used to live in the Bay Area and the best Sushi for a reasonble price is in Hayward at Akihana. Their Omakase is outstanding.

                                            Akihana Restaurant‎
                                            22560 Foothill Blvd, Hayward, CA
                                            (510) 537-4466‎

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: RBCal
                                              The Chowhound Team RE: RBCal Mar 5, 2008 09:20 AM

                                              Hi Folks-

                                              Please confine the reccos on this thread to L.A. area sushi so as not to dilute the local discussion.


                                            2. f
                                              fdb RE: gemster Mar 5, 2008 09:56 AM

                                              I travel between the westside and San Gabriel quite often. I don't find the drive too brutal if I time myself to avoid the traffic. Zo is very close to the exit (National?) on 10 freeway, and it's really worth the drive. I try to avoid getting on the 10 eastbound between 4 and 6 pm but from SG to Zo, it's westbound. Give yourself one hour which I consider normal LA traffic. Checking traffic.com for freeway condition might help. Asanebo is really good, too. I'm not that familiar with the freeway condition on 101 during dinner hours though. You may want to do lunch at either place to avoid the traffic problem.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: fdb
                                                gemster RE: fdb Mar 5, 2008 10:17 AM

                                                I'll be driving on a Saturday evening, so it hopefully won't be _too_ bad...

                                                1. re: gemster
                                                  cdub RE: gemster Mar 5, 2008 10:30 AM

                                                  sgv to studio city is incredibly light on the weekends. 210 to 134 is your best bet. asanebo is excellent and you can't go wrong with it or sushi zo. i think either way, you'll be incredibly happy.

                                              2. gemster RE: gemster Mar 9, 2008 09:40 PM

                                                Thanks for all your help guys! I ended up going to Asanebo and had an amazing meal.

                                                We did the $75-100 omakase and had a tour of a wide variety of cooked and raw foods. Virtually everything was amazing - the flavors they put together all worked marvelously. A couple highlights were the halibut sashimi with shaved truffle on top (flavors burst in your mouth), homemade sesame tofu (incredible, rich, creamy texture to the tofu), and the sushi platter atthe end (toro, blue fin, salmon, among others - all incredibly delicious and melt-in-your-mouth good).

                                                Service was great throughout. Would definitely recommend this place!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: gemster
                                                  K K RE: gemster Mar 9, 2008 09:59 PM

                                                  A few comments:

                                                  For those coming from SF Bay Area, you can likely get better sushi at Sushi Sam's in San Mateo than Nozawa (with variety and more to boot) with the prices more or less the same. On a good day Sam has 24 to 27 special unique items on his white board, not including run of the mill fish. Granted he's no Keizo, Mori (LA) or Ino (SF) or Toshi san of Kaygetsu (Menlo Park), but for what he does and if you can overlook the over saucing a bit, it's definitely a contender.

                                                  Zo is worth the drive from San Gabriel. What you want to do is leave SG early, kill time somewhere, make a reservation in advance, like what I did last year's labor day.

                                                  1. re: gemster
                                                    Diana RE: gemster Mar 10, 2008 06:12 AM

                                                    Love Asanebo. Love the Sushi and Sashimi. LOVE the tofu!!

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