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BEST omakase sushi restaurant recs...

  • h

a real sushi lover from nyc visiting and staying in downtown LA needs recommendations to the best sushi omakase LA has to offer... i'll have a rental car so a 30 minute drive is not a prob.

i've been to all the places in the east coast such as kuruma, yasuda, gari, morimoto, nobu, etc... and i've been told LA is better and cheaper. is it true???

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  1. Sushi Nozawa in Studio City is known as the sushi nazi.

    Honestly though, I really prefer Saito in Silver Lake. It's in a crumby mini mall and the atmosphere is nill, but the sushi is amazing.

    1. I've done both east and west coast and this side of town is definitely cheaper. Here are some options to get you started.

      Matsuhisa: This is the original, even before Nobu. three levels of omakase ranging from $75-$130. You'll probably recognize most of the dishes if you've been to nobu (toro tartare with caviar, squid pasta, etc). you get a good mix of raw and signature cooked items here.

      Sasabune/Nozawa: These guys come from the same type of sushi-making school. They're both "sushi nazi" types who use warm rice and very fresh fish (though sasabune has been rumored to be going downhill lately). their omakase's never change. Generally, you'll start with some albacore sashimi, some nigiri, maybe a toro or crab handroll. The price gets up there, though, around $50-$60 per person. I personally think they're a little overrated.

      Tama Sushi: This is a gem of a spot in studio city with one of the best bargain omakase's in town. You can do either a $30 or $40 option, with the $40 receiving more premium stuff (ranging from live uni and live scallops to beautifully marbled o-toro). The omakase also includes a slew of handmade traditional japanese appetizers and a seafood bouillabaise-style soup served in a paper pot over an open flame. really good stuff.

      I haven't been to Shibucho, but I hear it's also got a good omakase.

      There are plenty of other spots, but these restaurants represent the cross-section of omakases available here in LA.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bert

        These are good recommendations, although I'd like to add that if you're the least bit interested in Matsuhisa/Nobu-style sushi you should check out Wa, which is just a few miles north of Matsuhisa on La Cienega. The three chefs at Wa are former Matsuhisa sushi chefs (and considered by many the best chefs at Matsuhisa other than Nobu himself). In addition to many of the items/preparations that Nobu invented (which now seem a little tired to me since I've obtained Nobu's cookbook and can now make at home when the proper ingredients are readily available), the chefs have their own creative preparations that I think rival Nobu at his best and most imaginative.

        The other benefit is that the prices are almost half of what you'd pay at Matsuhisa. The only downside may be that you're less likely to spot a celebrity, but at a place like this you're more likely to be focused on the food and not the clientele.

        I've posted a link to a review of my first visit there.

        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      2. If it's a low price you want, go to Hide, 2040 Sawtelle, West LA. If it's top quality you desire with a flair, go to Mori Sushi, 11500 W. Pico Bl, West LA. Either way, sit at the bar.

        1. Shibucho is the best bet near downtown LA. It's on Beverly near Vendome in a bit of a sketchy neighborhood (but only 5-10 mins west of downtown). If you're thinking of going to "sushi row" on Ventura (just over the hill in the valley), I'd skip the much overrated Nozowa and try Kazu, Tama or Asanebo.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Tomko

            can i get a detailed description of the omakase meal served at Shibucho and the price ranges of it?

            Please spare no details. thanks. we'd all greatly appreciate your descriptioon and details for future reference.


          2. Kawacho 3rd and alameda mitsuwa mall, top floor.
            Classic sushi. Tell him you like shirako and hoya (cod milt sacs and sea squirt) if you want to try new things not commonly available in New York. If your friend speaks Japanese, so much the better.

            Good omakase.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Jerome

              i thought sea squirts were more of a korean sashimi specialty... never encountered it in a japanese restaurant before. are you sure this place is japanese owned and run??? although i love korean sashimi (hwe)...

              1. re: halo

                yes. I'm sure. Called ho-ya in Japanese.

                When I've asked for it in other Japanese sushi bars they tell me that either it's too expensive or that the American clientele won't like it.

              2. re: Jerome

                This place has the best chirashi!

              3. ...on Shibucho for Thurs dinner. Echigo for Friday lunch. Tama for saturday dinner. and Nozawa for sunday dinner.

                hoping to squeeze in Asanebo while i'm there as well...

                how does that sound? am i missing a sushi niche???

                26 Replies
                1. re: halo

                  Nozawa is only open Monday thru Friday. And, it's a bit of a haul, but I'd recommend the Shibucho in Costa Mesa (where Shibutani-san, who established Shibucho, current works) over the other locations.

                  1. re: Chris G.

                    Shibutani-san worked at the Shibucho in Little Tokyo. Shige-san has been the chef at Shibucho on Beverly for more than 30 years. Shibucho on Beverly is very good, but Shige can be quite rude if you catch him on a bad day or you somehow piss him off or sometimes if you're simply not Japanese. I've been pretty lucky, but I've heard stories of him berating customers who ordered omakase, telling them that he had no idea what they would like.

                    1. re: Chris G.

                      I've been going to the Shibucho on Beverly since 1980. Shibutani was definitely the owner and head chef there before he opened up the little tokyo shibucho. Then he sold the Beverly Blvd operation and Shige is the head chef and I believe owner now (I haven't seen his books).
                      Shibutani left to go to Japan and Kawasaki(?) took over. Investors came in and it was Tsukasa for a while. Then there was another financial change and now it's Kawa-cho.
                      Shibutani is back and is in Costa Mesa.
                      Feel free to disagree.

                      1. re: Jerome

                        Thanks for the details. I wasn't aware of the transition of Shibucho (Little Tokyo) to Tsukasa and then to Kawa-cho (nor has Shibutani mentioned owning the Beverly location when I've spoken with him. As for Shige? He told me he's *always* been the head chef at Shibucho.).

                        Considering how Shibucho in Costa Mesa is one of my current favorites, it sounds like Kawa-cho is a must-try. What are the main differences and similarities between the two?

                        1. re: Chris G.

                          Technically, he may have been head chef, but he worked under Shibutani. And he may have come over to Shibucho when Shibutani opened the Little Tokyo one. Shibutani also trained two underchefs, one of whom I've seen working now at Mori (he's the co-chef with the owner/head chef), and the other at some place in West Hollywood but I'm not sure of the name.

                          Shibutani owned both the Little Tokyo and the Beverly Blvd for a while, I understand, and then sold it to Shige and possibly some investors.

                          Kawacho is very similar in philosophy to Shibutani's place. The LIttle tokyo place started serving chirashi sushi a while back, which kawacho still does. I think Kawacho offers things that Shibucho (both under Shibutani and Shige) wouldn't do for a long time and I think still will not do. For example, they didn't offer unagi for a long time, just anago. And they wouldn't make things like spicy tuna rolls or I think it's spider roll, with the deepfried crab. The chefs at Kawacho will do it, but you can see that it sort of pains them, the way ordering an aged prime steak very well-done pains some other chefs.

                          They are all careful to have stuff in season, mostly though because out of season fish is very expensive and has little shelf life, so the mark-up is low and wastage high. Kawacho has a few specialties, though - I never had shirako at Shibucho and Kawacho makes a great (gotta ask for it) lobster salad hand roll. Sounds unlikely but it's fantastic.

                          1. re: Jerome

                            Thanks for the info. I've had shirako at Shibucho in Costa Mesa, so Shibutani does get it in from time to time. Sounds like a trip to Kawacho for the lobster roll is a must.

                  2. re: halo

                    Asanebo (818.760.3348) is open on Sunday, and it's just far better than Nozawa, particularly for omakase. (Nozawa is famous for always serving the identical sequence of nigiri sushi as his "omakase.") Nozawa is also just a cold fish, no pun intended, and the place has the ambiance of a frozen yogurt shop, inside and out.

                    Asanebo is top shelf omakase, warm treatment, and a charming interior, and not bad for celeb sightings either -- last time I was there, Buffy and Freddie Prinze Jr. were at the far end of the bar.

                    1. re: David

                      Ditto on Asanebo, a MUCH better choice than Nozawa, and different too, because it is sashimi-based rather than just sushi. (For years the owner, Tetsu, would serve sushi only grudgingly, or to his regulars. Tetsu trained with Nobu Matsuhisa as one of the original sushi chefs when Matsuhisa first opened [and the place was empty for months before catching on--we used to worry whether they would make it--imagine!]) Ask for sashimi omakase and enjoy.

                      As for the celebrity issue: Buffy and Mr. Buffy apparently eat there several times a week--others on this board have mentioned seeing them there, and we sat next to them last week. Other celebs are seen from time to time, and the place is full of people you think you have seen but can't place -- attractive TV types from the studios in that end of the Valley, mostly. I know that sort of talk is not supposed to be Chowhoundish, but in LA it really is part of the whole experience.

                      1. re: PayOrPlay

                        ditto, ditto. a big fan of tetsu.

                    2. re: halo

                      I would definitely recommend Asanebo over Nozawa. Although the fish at Nozawa is very fresh you will only get traditional sushi (toro, yellowtail, crab hand rolls etc.) nothing creative, whereas Asanebo will give you a much greater variety of dishes, and all excellent.

                      1. re: halo

                        FWIW, my 2.5 cents... Never been to Echigo but have been to all the others (save Costa Mesa recs) and you can't go very wrong at any of them... Shibucho -- yes. Spectacular but very pricey. If you order omakase, chef Shige likely to ask how much you want to spend. When I ate omakase there it was $100 bucks a head... Toma's omakase is more like a prix fixe set menu. I ordered the least expensive which was very good (new-to-me and very delicious varities of tuna) but left me hungry. I wound up ordering more a la carte. Overall impression of Toma: liked it but am not rushing back. Toma's Chef Katzu's former employee is Saito of Saito's Sushi, my local sushi bar in Silver Lake, and I'm loyal to Saito... Nozawa I love to hate along with everyone else but there's no doubt his fish is top notch and since for so long it set the standard in L.A. I think it's a worthy stop on your itinerary... Asanebo great but in the end I tend to favor more traditional sushi bars... One dark horse, perhaps not on same level as some others, but I mention since it's downtown in Little Tokyo, and I think you said you were staying dowtown, is Sushi Gen, which I quite like and seems to be very popular with Japanese folk. I was introduced to herring roe there which is now one of my favorite things to order... Enjoy. Five sushi meals in a row. What could be better?

                        1. re: halo

                          With all respect to you and the good suggestions you've received, if you are interested in quality, you chould check Mori Sushi. Mori hulls his own rice. He grates the wasabi in front of you. The sushi is artfully presented as well. Not cheap but a good experience.

                          1. re: mc michael

                            Went to Mori once after reading a rave in an in-flight magazine. Thought it was quite good, but only that...not destination sushi, but priced like it.

                            At that level, U-Zen on Santa Monica in West L.A. is as good and cheaper.

                            1. re: David

                              Like they say, your actual mileage may vary. But if I were coming all the way from NYC....

                              1. re: David

                                Totally different experiences...not even comparable. U-zen is a more than decent neighborhood place; Mori is a serious perfectionist who lets no detail go unnoticed. If you think they're comparable I say bullly for you. I wish I were as happy at U-zen as I am at Mori; U-zen is certainly cheaper but it's really not the same level at all.

                                1. re: Ed Heure

                                  Mori was not a perfectionist the night I was there. As I acknowledged, it's possible that this was the only night this has ever happened.

                                  But my point was that while both Mori and U-Zen are good restaurants, neither is worth crossing the country for.

                                  Perhaps the poster should just bank the airfare, wait a few months, and eat at Ginza Sushi-Ko.

                                  1. re: David

                                    Presumably there are other reasons for the trip. Otherwise, why wait? Head for Jewel Bako now.

                                    1. re: mc michael

                                      I'll bite: What's Jewel Bako?

                                    2. re: David

                                      You know your SUSHI, nothing else mentioned is even close, I spend alot of time in Tokyo. We had a moment of silence for GSK last week (12th), off to NY. Distant Next, Nozawa. NO WAY, MORI!!!!YUK!

                                      1. re: russkar

                                        All I can say is keep your friends close and your enemies closer. With Russkar on your side then 'NUF SAID!!

                                        I don't know what restaurant is worth crossing the country for, and frankly I think it's a rather specious criteria. I have traveled to Spain to eat at El Bulli (fortunately I had reasons other than my dinner to be in that part of the world) and while it was a fascinating experience the truth is that if it were no further away than Malibu I don't know how often I would go -- it just wasn't *that* good.

                                        While I don't think Mori is a world-class, destination place I think it's a fine and careful and serious restaurant. Perhaps your expectations were too high? I have been to Ginza Sushi Ko and again -- *even* if it were not exorbitantly expensive (and to my mind silly in how overpriced it is) I would *still* prefer Mori. It's just a more whole and satisfying experience to me. It's not a *scene* and I know it's not on the *destination list* of those who care for and brag about such things but so many of the places that are touted as such and lorded over others (often BERATED with CAPITAL letters) I find, in all honesty, annoying, precious, overpriced and I too often walk away almost embarrassed that I had been seduced into it, thinking that there was some Wizard of Oz over the rainbow if I could just get there.

                                        It's all personal -- just as one person may adore a shirt that another detests, love a woman that another loathes, be moved by music that leaves another cold -- but I am inherently suspicious when someone's *faves* are ALWAYS the usual suspects.

                              2. re: halo

                                hi there,
                                just wanted to make sure u know that nozawa is only open on weekdays =) sounds like a sushi feast you will be having. enjoy!

                                my personal favorites are echigo for the lunch special, sushi gen is yummy for everything, has cooked food as well as non. hide sushi has my favorite albacore mmmmh its soo good. nozawa is excellent. sasabune is good but expensive. i wasn't impressed with the omakase at matsuhisa - overpriced and not all that great in my opinion. have fun!

                                1. re: halo

                                  Every place sounded fine though I would head to Kazu down the block from Nozawa (right?) for Sunday night. The candied crab and really everything on the omakase is fantastic though expensive.

                                  1. re: eepo

                                    My pick would also be Kazu, hands down, but I do believe that on Sunday nights he is closed.

                                  2. re: halo

                                    Every place sounded fine though I would head to Kazu down the block from Nozawa (right?) for Sunday night. The candied crab and really everything on the omakase is fantastic though expensive.

                                    1. re: halo

                                      I don't know echigo well enough.
                                      Nozawa is fine. I don't like the rice and I don't like scallops in mayonnaise which he tends to do. That's personal again.
                                      Shibucho on beverly, fine choice.
                                      Asanebo in Studio City, really not sushi bar, although they have sushi as well. More well rounded menu with all types of dishes, that can also be served omakase.

                                      Just saying...
                                      (Shibucho in Costa Mesa or Kawacho, if you want my real opinion again)

                                    2. It's about 30 minutes (maybe less depending on traffic)from downtown in the unlikely location of West Covina but I had a divine omakase experience at Hayakawa. The food was perfection and the service extremely warm.

                                      Restaurant Hayakawa 626-332-8288
                                      750 Terrado Plz # 33
                                      Covina, CA

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Slow Foodie

                                        Can you describe the dishes you had? and the prices? me and others would immensely appreciate that. thanks.

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          Alas, we haven't been in ages but the selection was different each time. Give them a ring and see what's happening. My recollection is that it was under $50.00 for omakase, but again, my info is not terribly recent.

                                          1. re: Slow Foodie

                                            My recollection is that it's anywhere from $40-$60. The chef basically chooses a few things from his sushi and cooked menu's (the cooked specials are good) and adds up the a la carte prices.

                                      2. It's a bit of a schlep - but best Omakase in my opinion (althought hardly cheap) can be found at Asanebo in the Valley. Look on Ventura about one block East of Laurel Canyon. Readily accessible off the 101.

                                        Everytime I go, it is an entirely different sensual experience. Rec highly.

                                        1. Does anyone know how much the omakase at Mori runs?

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: cynthia105

                                            Some of that is up to you. If you don't set a limit then dinner is probably going to be $125 and up and lunch more like $75 and up.

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              How do I set a limit when I'm treating someone without sound stingy?..haha