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Sushi Newbie -- Suggestions, please.

I've searched the board many times and I'm still not coming up w/ answers to my pretty basic question so I'm hoping someone can help me out. As a newbie to sushi, I'd like to find a list of good restaurants to try on the westside, nothing too expensive but I'm not necessarily looking for a bargain either. I'd like to be able to dine solo so an interesting, friendly atmosphere where I can be sure to have quality sushi is most important. I'm new to the world of sushi so I welcome suggestions on what to order as well. Any help would be much appreciated. Many thanks.

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    1. re: yoginla

      I live in the valley, so I can't help you with places to try. However, I can suggest that whatever place you try, sit at the sushi bar rather than at a table. You can then talk to the sushi chef, explain that you are new to sushi, and get recommendations.

      Two of my favorites the first few times I had sushi were the tuna and the yellowtail. I also like spicy tuna roll.

      1. re: yoginla

        I really like the neighborhood sushi hang Nagao in Brentwood... he has quite a following and many regulars that are there nightly... His Cajun Sashimi is amazing and the albacore is perfect... also moonlight rolls are a specialty( tuna and halbut wrapped with cucumber) and soy paper wrapped hand rolls. Oh, and the spicy baby octopus salad is fabulous!!!! Katsu Ya in Brentwood is also good but a bit flashy and expensive .. I always love going to the original Katsu Ya in North Hollywood....

        1. re: bellabar

          actually, the original katsu ya is the studio city location, and then the encino location. the ones in brentwood and n. hollywood are a diff branch but under the same creator, aiming towards the hip/flashy crowd... the studio city and encino ones def have better food.

      2. On a price/quality basis (with the emphasis on quality), I think Sushi Sushi (despite the name) on Beverly Drive, a half block north of Olympic, is hard to beat.

        1. I think Kiriko on Sawtelle (but with an Olympic Blvd address) in West LA is a good place for you to go. They're not cheap, nor are they floating in the stratosphere like Urasawa (but rightfully so). Although they can be kinda izakaya-ish, the focus is definitely on sushi and sashimi. As they say in real estate jargon, it's cozy and cute - a little tight in there, but it's very conducive to someone like you who wants somewhat of a friendly environment for a single eater, and where Ken-san can give you some Sushi 101. I don't know what your budget is, but I think if you plan to spend around $50 to $70, you will have a pretty good lay of the land there. Like any other sushi experience, once you start ordering alcohol, the tab will jump some. In fact, if things are still the same, you will even get charged a couple of clams for green tea (get used to it - more places are starting to do this). And I'm guessing they still have lunch specials - I think around $30 or something like that. Ken-san takes great pride in smoking his own salmon and making his own ice cream. They may be worth a try if these things suite your tastes...


          2 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            Whoa there.

            Just as you wouldn't serve a $300 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothchild to a wine newbie, I wouldn't send a sushi newbie to Kiriko either. When I ate sushi for the first time, one piece of raw fish tasted just like any other. I would have felt ripped off had I blown my paycheck on Kiriko before I had grasped the subtleties of hamachi vs kanpachi.

            I would suggest familiarizing yourself with places like Hide Sushi before you go to Kiriko. At least at first. Very fresh fish, won't break your wallet, and pretty friendly people (when they're not really busy). Make sure you're seated at the counter, figure out what you like and what you don't.

            When you think you get the hang of it, go ahead and expand your horizons even further at Kiriko.

            1. re: WBGuy

              I was thinking about Hide, but using your wine metaphor, that place to me is the sushi equivalent of a Gallo 1.5 litre bottle of red wine. It's okay, it's reasonably priced and may pass as a sushi joint, but you're definitely not going to pick up on any subtle nuances, nor are you going to be offered anything that will open your mind to venture further into this realm. I think a $300 bottle of good French might be pushing it. You pay a hefty premium for French wines that rate a 90+. I think it might be more along the lines of a great Spanish wine that can be had for around $35 - hopefully the same for Kiriko if they still have their lunch special.

          2. OP should specify interest in classic or modern sushi, which would greatly influence the recommendations. Mayo and spicy are a delight to some and anathema to others.

            1. I second the Hide suggestion. Very good sushi at a very reasonable price. I also really like Yabu on Pico and about Bundy. It is authentic Japanese with good sushi and handmade soba and udon. Also try the seared black cod. If you want to spend a little more cash, try K-Zo in Culver City.

              1. I'll suggest Place on Sawtelle. It's got a solid sushi bar that has let me down but once in approximately 50 or so visits over the years. It's not amazing but its good and I prefer the vibe there to a place like HIde. (When I say that, I'm not referring to freshness. It's very fresh. It's just that the really great places have the best AND freshest fish). Place is more of an izakaya/bar that serves sushi. It's very comfortable and feels neighborhoodie.

                Now, if that doesn't sound good to you, try Bar Hayama. It's totally different. There is more of a fusion approach to the food. It's more upscale and there is more of a scene there. You can eat at three very different areas of the restaurant. I think the fish they serve is great. A level above what place offers in quality/flavor and selection.

                The reason I'm throwing those two out there is that: 1. They're very good, and 2. They offer a large menu to explore so that you can dip your toe into the sushi pool and also offers some anchor dishes that you feel a little more comfortable with. I've turned several friends of mine onto sushi with that strategy. Looking at a meal of entirely strange and difficult food can be intimidating and unpleasant.

                I recommend starting with cut rolls, too. They are just easier to deal with. As you become more comfortable with sushi, branch out to nigiri, and then to sashimi to rally start to get into the subtle flavors that raw fish provides.

                Bar Hayama
                11300 Nebraska Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                Place Yuu
                2101 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                1. WHile my favorite sushi places aren't on the westside, here are my suggestions.

                  I like traditional sushi so i'd advise you to get a small book when you have time and avoid cute rolls in the beginning - spider rolls, dynamite, any roll with a place name. Spicy tuna is often a way for places to placate non-Japanese palates and dump their inferior tuna. If you want spicy or mayonnaise, consider another cuisine for the evening (this is an exaggeration, monkfish liver, some sashimi etc will be served with a spiced grated daikon radish- some traditional places will use a mayonnaise on scallops or on crustaceans in handrolls but in general...)

                  that said - hama restaurant used to just be sushi. they are acceptable
                  HAMA RESTAURANT
                  213 WINDWARD AVE

                  mori sushi is very expensive but excellent. If you sit at the bar and say you're new you'll do fine. I'm just writing it down for your info.

                  I'm not a big fan of echigo or sasabune. I'd say save your money and go to sushi go 55 (been back, it's great again) and shibucho on beverly. If you want to try sushi at a reasonable price in a restaurant that serves other things, then surprisingly, Taiko in brentwood is ok.
                  TAIKO RESTAURANT
                  11677 SAN VICENTE BLVD 302
                  LOS ANGELES

                  I'd still say- bite the bullet - get into your car, put on your favorite radio station, head tothe mall at 3rd and alameda and go to sushi go 55 and if you want to save money, avoid the bar, sit down and order either a sushi combination plate (the fish is remarkable here again) or the chirashi sushi, lots of delicious sushi rice with the "tane" "scattered" over the top. It's reasonably priced and a good introduction.

                  have fun
                  SUSHI GO 55
                  333 S ALAMEDA ST #317
                  LOS ANGELES
                  90013 (3rd floot)

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Jerome

                    To the OP:

                    I think Jerome's advice might be a little ambitious. I all depends on how you feel about sushi to start. If the idea of raw fish is intimidating, then you're going to want to start easy and nothing is easier than the cut rolls. Personally, I see nothing wrong with a kitchen finding ways to use a perfectly fine product that wont work for one presentation but will in another (the spicy tuna roll issue). And many of the cut rolls do taste good -- it's just that they just cover up the fish to some extent. Anything with cream cheese should be treated with holy water and cremated and anything with mayonnaise should be viewed with extreme suspicion but there are other cut rolls than those. In terms of 'safe' orders for the squeemish, try salmon, yellowtail, tuna, freshwater eel. As you get more comfortable, start branching out to sweet shrimp, sea urchin, fatty tuna scallop, etc and you'll probably find that you aren't ordering any rolls at all.

                    Now, if you're just saying that you haven't tried sushi and are ready to dive in headfirst, well . . . all bets are off. While I've never been to Sushi Go 55, I've also never had anything but a good experience from a Jerome rec. In fact, I'm off to Mei Long Village right now.

                    1. re: Jerome

                      I would recommend against going to sushi go 55 i don't think their chef's are that skilled. The one time I went the fish was cut poorly and therefore was grissly. I'd instead head up the street to Iroha on ventura blvd as well the sushi is better and the chef's are super friendly. There are plents of things a newbie can get. Try the double shrimp toast "not quite sushi but good" the cooked king crab hand roll if they have king crab is amazing. It's currently my FAVORITE roll in LA. The spicy tuna at Hama sushi in little tokyo is really really good as far as spicy tuna goes too. These are the things I started on when I started out. Now I mainly eat sashimi with the occasional hand roll. But again i say DON"T GO to sushi go :).

                      1. re: Ben7643

                        I wasoff the place fora while.
                        Tried it again last month and was crazy happy surprised. Fantastic aji sashimi (later got the bones fried), killer Japanese toro - butteriest i'd had in ages. The chefs who used the sauces are gone. The new people are fantastic.
                        Do go.
                        If you haven't been in the last two months, i'd say try it again.

                        just went today and had a great meal.

                        1. re: Jerome

                          Hmmm perhaps i'll try it again. Thanks for the update.

                    2. There are too many places to list if you want to start. The best introduction to sushi will come from your chef. Sit at the bar, try to be very polite, ask as many questions as you want, be willing to try anything you are served, trust your chef but let them know you are new and want to learn. Sushi chefs respond to the respect you give them by asking for their advice and opinion so you will be in good hands.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: cls

                        not to OP, but just in general

                        not all sushi chefs are created equal. Most will respond, but some working here (wait for it....) aren't as well trained as they might be. Also, the working conditions in some "sushi" restaurants, esp at lunch time, preclude any real omakase or one-on-one, when the chef is overworked and putting out 20 sushi specials or providing 50 "trust me" fake omakase that are just sushi specials served one at a time.

                        just a friendly warning.

                          1. re: Frommtron

                            After such a nice comment/compliment above from you, i'm puzzled. Why ouch?

                            1. re: Jerome

                              You should be puzzled. That was a complete mis-post. I am clearly not a multi-tasker.

                              Sorry about that!

                      2. Best value/quality on the west side is Sushi Masu on Westwood blvd. Chef Masu is one of the original LA sushi masters, he's very friendly, the fish is excellent and the price won't set you back.

                        Recommend sitting at the sushi bar.

                        1. There are excellent suggestions here. I would recomment Bar Hayama on Sawtelle. Toshi Sugiura is one of the pioneers of sushi in LA and very welcoming of "newbies" to sushi. There are no arrogant airs here, and each chef is good about educating people re: the subtleties of eating sushi. It's not cheap, but you can learn a lot if you ask. Also Bar Hayama might have the best selection of sake wine around.

                          As far as what to order:

                          maguro: yellowfin tuna and the most popular
                          hamachi: farmed yellowtail
                          amaebi: prawns
                          tai: Japanese red snapper

                          Always ask the chef what he would recommend. Don't ask "what's fresh?". The fish are all fresh.

                          I'm not a shellfish fan, but you can also order
                          mirugai: geoduck clam
                          awabi: abalone

                          More adventurous:
                          uni: sea urchin
                          tobiko: flying fish roe

                          There are others, but these would be good to start.

                          I'm not a fan of the various fancy rolls, but you might find those to your liking.

                          1. Surely (I know, don't call you Shirley) WAY out of the distance you'd prefer to travel, but if you should be anywhere near Tujunga (no I'm not joking, Westside person - and by the way I used to live in Culver City) check out Tori Yen. Nice staff, great sushi. OK, be well.

                            1. Thank you everyone for taking time to offer such helpful suggestions. I've read all your recommendations several times, and I plan to try each and every one. I'll have my first outing on Saturday afternoon. Since I'll be downtown Saturday I might try Sushi Go 55 for lunch, or I might just wait and head back to the westside for a later lunch. My goal is to start off slowly. Believe it or not, trying a new cuisine is a little intimidating...not sure how to order, what to order, what it all means, etc. so I appreciate the help everyone. I love chowhound!!

                              1. echigo is the best deal $$-wise, but the atmosphere isn't rilly what i'd call fun. if you're willing to spend a litto bit more (but not too much), sushi zo and sushi gen are good bets. hope you're on ur way to becoming a sushi fiend!! :)

                                1. I should also mention that I'll report back after trying each new place. Thanks again everyone!

                                  1. You know, people are going to say I'm nuts, and I sort of can't beleive I'm telling you this myself, BUUUUTTTT...

                                    As a newbie to sushi, you might want to consider the All You Can Eat route. Midori Sushi has locations in Studio City, Sherman oaks, and Encino. The sushi is not Urasawa quality, but it isn't bad. For around $25 for dinner, you can have anything on the menu, from theme rolls to hand rolls to sushi (the fish on the pillows of rice), even appetizers and such.

                                    That way, you can try a bunch of different fish, cuts, rolls and such without breaking the bank. Then, when you know what you like or what's interesting, you can go to a high end place with a little knowledge under your belt and a good idea of what you like.

                                    Just a thought!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Diana

                                      I am not going to say Diana is nuts.

                                      I'd say go to a place that isn't selling the sushi equivalent of BARGAIN MEAT first. That way, you can tell if you might like it because the quality will be high. Once you've developed a taste, I'd say go and try a Midori or even a Ralph's supermarket sushi, because you'll know that it may be passable but that it can be much much better than what you're getting cut-rate.

                                      I hope that comes off as fair.

                                      1. re: Jerome


                                        Ever BEEN to Midori? It is way above Ralph's, and there are non all you can eat sushi bars that are way worse.

                                        I'm not saying Midori is stellar cuisine, but from my several times there, there, the fish is good, the itame's proficient, and they do now and again get a few really AMAZING fish in there. It's not Asanebo, but it sure ain't Ralph's

                                        It's a good way to get a sort of "sushi Primer". There are definitely a plethora of Sushi places WORSE than Midori. Say, Sushi Dan? Or worse.

                                        Another way to go in the same spirit would be Don Sassabune in Studio City. The fish there is higher grade than Midori, however, he will NOT have the variety Modiri has, nor will the OP be able to sample a wide variety for quite the same price. But Don Sassabune is very affordable.

                                        1. re: Diana

                                          yes i've BEEN to midori but only the one in Sherman Oaks which is two blocks from my office. And I'd rather go to namako which isn't walking distance. Perhaps the studio city one is better - i haven't been. is it better than ralph's? questionable as far as i can tell - the fish is very fresh at ralph's. I didn't think midori was great shakes. Your idea certainly has its supporters and i don't think it's hurt by someone with a different point of view. You make a good argument. I hope that if the OP goes, the OP enjoys it. If not, I hope the OP will not give up on sushi

                                          i'd rather go to taste of india if i'm in that mall. nice lunch special. decent tandoor.

                                      2. re: Diana

                                        i think your suggestion makes absolutely perfect sense.
                                        when i first started eating sushi, i couldn't really tell the difference between good sushi and great sushi. truly, that type of discernment takes some time to develop.
                                        by starting at midori, the op will have the opportunity to figure out what types of sushi they prefer before spending a fortune.
                                        excellent idea

                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          I can see the logic in principle, but I see no problem in jumping into something better - some sophistication is needed but it's not rocket science. Somewhat of an allegory but I think personally applicable in my eyes, I started out SCUBA diving in Fiji once I became certified. People warned me that I should go to other places first - So Cal, Mexico, or Hawaii. These folks who had already been diving a while claimed that I wouldn't be able to appreciate Fiji's majesty as I was a beginner who would be too focused on just trying to breathe correctly and deal with all the things I'd just learned in class. Well, I did my homework on Fiji's underwater environment, reviewed what I'd learned in the SCUBA cert process, and literally dived into some of the best underwater scenery in the world. And yes, I did enjoy it, appreciate it, and did it numerous times after that. The great things about Fiji diving are not only to do with the quality of the dive sites, but also to do with the attentive nature of the dive guides, the small size of the dive groups, and warmth of the people there in general. To me, these qualities carry over well to places like Kiriko, where the quality of the food, the attentive nature of Ken-san, the size of the place, and the intimacy of smaller quality places seem to offer.

                                          And because I know how great diving is in Fiji, especially relative to most other places in the world, I have no desire to spend my money, effort, or time traveling to and diving in water closer to home (tried several times but these closer places have no zing for me) albeit it would be cheaper. I think if the OP does a little homework, gets familiar with the culture of sushi/sashimi, the itamae, etc., the first experience to be had will be fantastic. Who knows - like me with my diving, the OP may set a higher bar for what might become his or her passion...

                                      3. If west side includes west hollywood, then go to Ajisai, on Palm street right off of Santa Monica.

                                        Get a seat at the bar and ask Shoei-san for the basic sushi dinner. The sushi is excellent, the chef is extraordinarily gentle and friendly, and you can get a full sushi course for $20. Ajisai is the best neighborhood sushi place I've ever been to.

                                        1. Diana - let me say - I don't think you're nuts at all! :) Thanks again everyone for these wonderful recommendations. I'm trying to 'pay it forward' by responding to posts where I can help others.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: yoginla

                                            I like BellaBar's suggestion of Nagao. I've taken several sushi "newbies" there and they have all gone away liking sushi! these are the things I always start them out with. once you get used to raw, seared etc you can be more adventurous!

                                            half order cajun sashimi. baked lobster roll. shrimp tempura hand roll in soy paper. spicy tuna roll no smelt in soy paper. moonlight #2 w/salmon (raw or cooked). the asparagus roll is yummy too.

                                            katsuya in studio city is another good one for newbies.

                                            spicy albacore w/crispy onions, crispy rice w/spicy tuna, honey hand roll (by far my favorite roll EVER), spicy shrimp roll w/soy paper, and the baked crab roll.

                                            once you get used to then start going to places like hide, sasabune, sushi sushi where it's less rolls and more nigiri/sashmimi.


                                          2. In Alhambra, there is a sushi gem that is well worth the trip...Toros Japanese Fusion


                                            They even have Kobe Beef Sushi--Yum!!

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: culinarycandy

                                              I'm sure it's delicious but is it really sushi?
                                              I mean - unagi isn't really sushi, is it?
                                              Not that they shoudln't serve it or that we shouldn't enjoy it.

                                              1. re: Jerome

                                                Sushi refers to rice with a vinegar and sugar mixture. Anything served with this rice can be called "Sushi". Raw fish is simply "Sashimi"; When it's served with the rice mentioned above, it becomes sushi.

                                                1. re: Ogawak

                                                  Yes, that's fair, except that the rice historically developed as a mimic to the rice that was used to seal fish sent to the court as tribute. The fish would slightly ferment and flavor the rice. Osaka style pressed sushi (e.g. battera) is closer to that original rice fish mixture.

                                                  I was told years ago that traditional sushi restaurants only served ocean fish. Unagi as a freshwater eel was served in different establishments. For years, Shibucho didn't carry unagi, just anago, sea eel (for chinese enthusiasts, shanyu vs manyu). So, yes sushi rice is a seasoned rice. But the idea of serving beef atop sushi rice as a tane is certainly a modern idea, wouldn't you say?

                                                  1. re: Jerome

                                                    I agree that kobe beef sushi is strange. And I don't know if I would find that particularly appetizing. But I'm willing to give it a try. My cousin from Japan says that Tokyo sushi bars do serve California rolls, etc., so I'm all for experimenting and trying new and different things.

                                            2. The first thing that comes to mind here would be the sushi happy hour at Chaya Venice. Good quality, good prices, great atmosphere, good selection. Less intimidating and expensive than the top end places on the westside, but more customer-friendly and quality-oriented than the bargain places. I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it yet.