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Best sushi in San Diego

My wife and I haven't had a babysitter in months, and we're going out for sushi tomorrow night. The meal has to be perfect. What's the best sushi in San Diego?

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    1. re: kare_raisu

      second sushi ota!
      Fish Market downtown has excellent sushi along with Taka in the Gaslamp..
      Kaito Sushi in Encinitas gets lots of love on this board but have not been.

    2. sushi ota, not romantic, but definitely the BEST

      1. Kaito Sushi

        Excerpted from an earlier post of mine: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5615...

        I have not found any potential contender to Kaito's top spot in my personal sushi rankings. For quality Kaito sets the standard for all of San Diego.

        At Kaito there are no gimmicks. What they do is simple and honest. No need to understand why it matters that head chef Morita-san has been traditionally trained since youth in Tokyo under the watchful eyes of two masters. All one needs to enjoy themselves at Kaito is to bring an honest palate and an eagerness to try something new.

        To further improve the experience leave your sushi choices to Morita-san and go for an omakase course, as most of their loyal customers do. In return you'll be rewarded many times over - this will be the very best sushi experience that you can have in all of S.D.


        6 Replies
          1. re: Pablo

            Kaito, Kaito, Katio. Awesome sushi for much cheaper prices and non-obnoxious service than Ota.

              1. re: Enorah

                We went to Kaito for the first time and I thought it was the best sushi I had ever had.

                Definitely was much friendlier than Ota and we got very helpful service with explanations about fish we had never tried before. Check out their sushi blog before you go and see what they have in that day.

                1. re: JRSD

                  Speaking of which, here's a slideshow of Kaito's tane (ingredient) word clouds.

                  Kaito's tane slideshow: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaitosus...
                  Kaito's sushi blog: http://sushikaito.com/SushiBlog.aspx

                  1. re: cgfan

                    Just returned from Kaito. It was exactly as described. Great place had fun chatting with another couple across the bar, and read Morita-san his Chowhound reviews. Nice evening, well worth the drive to "LA" (which, to me, is anything north if I8).


        1. Well, we hit Sushi Ota, because we didn't want to go all the way out to Encinitas. Next time.

          Sushi Ota was very good. The raw scallops were incredible. Although the first sake we tried was rather bland, the second was quite nice. This was definitely a nice night out. Thanks all.

          1 Reply
          1. re: greglor

            greglor: Thanks for your report! I was wondering where you ended up in your quest for the best sushi in S.D.

            Please post again if you ever get the chance to visit Kaito...

            BTW here's a compendium of ingredients that they have posted so far on their sushi blog in slideshow form: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaitosus...

          2. I will be returning to SD for work sometime next month and staying downtown. I was thinking of hitting up Izakaya Sakura for sushi. I won't have a car so the cab up to encinitas might be a bit much.

            10 Replies
            1. re: MVNYC

              MVNYC, you owe it to yourself to come up to Kaito in Encinitas. Izakaya Sakura sushi is good, but nothing out of the ordinary, you may not even be able to sit at the bar. And they certainly do not have the selection of fish that Morita-san will have. You can take the Coaster from downtown up to the station in Encinitas for $5.50 Then grab a cab for the 2.6 miles to Kaito up Encinitas BLVD. Go on Friday early, they open at 4PM, you can have a leisurely omakase for four hours there, (that's about as much as I can stuff down my gullet). You can then catch the last train out of Encinitas at 9:37PM back to SD.


              1. re: Pablo

                Toshi-san in LJ. Toshi once worked for Ota and although the ambience there is not gorgeous, the sushi is. Plus, they do other Japanese food like shabu shabu. A lot of Japanese businessmen go there and get some pretty exotic looking stuff.

                1. re: Pablo

                  Kaito is the new standard bearer for the best in sushi. Their sushi program is the most uncompromising that I've seen anywhere.

                  When a tane does not meet their quality requirements, they'll keep it out of their case, sometimes for entire seasons. I think they stand apart in San Diego as the only one's brave enough not to stock, say, Maguro or Uni in their case, when it doesn't meet their standards. (The regular is not at all perturbed by these occurances, as their eye is on receiving the best tane that's available, especially as part of an omakase course...)

                  They make seasonal adjustments to their shari to track seasonal changes in one's ability to taste.

                  They use a grade of Nori that is 3 times more expensive as that used by other sushi bars.

                  They are the rare sushi bar that brings in fresh Anago (saltwater eel) and fillet's it in-house. (Kaito and Nobu downtown may be the only ones to do this, and word is that the latter fillet's their's only once a month. [You can guess how they keep it around the rest of the month, whereas Kaito fillet's their's daily...])

                  The Ama Ebi served at Kaito is the real Ama Ebi they use in Japan. What you see at all the other sushi bar is a different and inferior species. (The real Ama Ebi is very small, where three can fit on one nigiri. If one has never tasted these before it is a culinary must, and so far I've only seen them at Kaito.)

                  Fresh Katsuo is only sold whole, but yet can be kept only 2 days. Not many (are there any others in S.D.?) can take the gamble that their customers can consume the whole fish in just 2 days, but Kaito can. (Frozen is a popular alternative for most sushi bars...)

                  Kaito gets their fish from a boutique supplier out of Los Angeles with daily deliveries, not the San Diego sources that are popular with most of the other local sushi bars.

                  My suspicion: there are two broad groups of ***traditional sushi*** devotees on these boards - those of us who knows Kaito is serving the best sushi in the county, and those that have not yet made their own "sushi pilgramage" to Kaito.

                  I also suspect that Kaito has the most loyal and passionate group of devotees that I've ever seen in any traditional sushi bar. On any given day usually around 1/2-2/3 of the customers are regulars who know each other by name. And a good number of these regulars go to Kaito anywhere from 1, 2, and sometimes 3 or 4 times a week.

                  And despite a mostly Anglo demographic, most of their customers orders omakase. Few rolls are ever served, not because they ban them, (which they don't - feel free to order all of your favorite rolls if you'd like; a Nazi sushi bar this is not...), but it's usually only the new customers who do.

                  And aside from the many exotics, even overlooked tane at other sushi bars tastes nothing like what you would experience at Kaito. For instance take the normal Ebi (shrimp) or Tako (octopus). I swear that I've never tasted either of these like I've tasted them at Kaito. As commonplace as one might assume these items to be, at Kaito they are both eye-openers in taste.

                  So if you are a devotee of traditional sushi, please make at least one visit to Kaito, then post on these boards.

                  I, too, had my favorite sushi bars before I had the pleasure of tasting Morita-san's exquisite sushi. I still vividly remember literally my very first bite of Kaz's sushi (while at Tomiko). I knew from that very first bite that I was tasting something that not was just simply better, but was the product of an entirely stepped-up game that put it in a league all its own.

                  It has forever spoiled me for, yes, all of the other traditional sushi bars that gets mentioned on these boards. Yes, I've tried them all.

                  1. re: cgfan

                    Damn, I wish we had a mexican cuisine equivilant restaurant of Kaito in San Diego - that would go through all these processes to honor tradition. That I admire.

                    -Organic heirloom corn, nixtamalized in house
                    - heritage breed pigs, beef, chickens, iguanas, armadillos, boar, wild quail, venision
                    - pre-hispanic herb and vegetable garden with pepicha, quelites, papalo, epazote, hierba de conejo, hoja santa, avocado leaf etc
                    - homemade aguas featuring rare fruits like tunas, mamey, sapote negro, horchata with rose petals
                    - In house made chicharron and prensado
                    - unpasturized cheeses from MEX
                    - craft mexican beer and pulque
                    - boutique tequilas and Mezcals
                    - my friend rancho gordos beans
                    -daily regional menus
                    - weekend barbacoa pits and copper cazo fried carnitas
                    etc , etc,etc

                    How cool is it that you have found THE restaurant of your dreams cgfan!

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      Envision your Mexican Kaito, then. How would the free-range armadillo be prepared? Does it taste like chicken? And can you marinate iguanas in pulque?

                      I like your vision a lot. Shouldn't there be grillos somewhere in there?

                      1. re: SaltyRaisins

                        A mole? I never had it -but trying to save the $$$ to get to Oax. I got the pulque, do you have a iguana?!!? ;^)

                      2. re: kare_raisu

                        Indeed, if only all traditional and exotic cuisines had their own "Kaito".

                        In an ideal world all S.D. seekers of traditional sushi will have a chance to dine at Kaito at least once and see that it indeed is different - very different - from all extant traditional sushi bars.

                        It's almost unfair to call it a restaurant, as a meal there is very much like attending a private dinner amongst friends. I like to think of Kaito as the combination of the 4 who run Kaito (yes, only 4!) and the customers (both new and regulars) who inhabit the bar. The 'L' shaped bar works like half of a communal table cut corner to corner, as conversations seems to flow in all directions, both chef to customer as well as customer to customer.

                        KR, may you and all CH'ers seeking authentic but exotic cuisines find your own "Kaito". To be sure if you find one you'll no doubt post it here on these boards!

                        Kaito Sushi
                        130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

                      3. re: cgfan

                        Thanks for always spilling the details about Kaito. I'm a big fan but can only go twice a year due to the baby. Need a refresher course!

                        Agreed about the ama ebi and other specialties, totally different from "standard US sushi". When they get a live octopus, it's amazing.

                        Kaito is definitely where you to go to something special, a different meal every time. The only reason I still visit Ota is for takeout when we "want what we got last time" for an easy dinner. Baby = take out most of the time. =(

                        1. re: royaljester

                          FYI - they were very welcoming when we brought our baby.

                    2. re: MVNYC

                      If you aren't able to make it up to Kaito, I'd go with Sushi Ota over Izakaya Sakura. Sakura is definitely good but I prefer Ota for sushi at least.

                    3. Finally made it to Kaito with my g/f last week. I would agree that the fish seemed to be of slightly better quality than Ota. We did omakase, and were treated to some incredibly delicious stuff, including melt-in-you-mouth chutoro and fresh salmon roe, which was easily one of the best things I've ever eaten.

                      The biggest difference for me was how Ota's omakase is multi-course. For $50/person, we each had a sushi, sashimi, and cooked course. Some of the cooked items were particularly inventive.

                      Omakase at Kaito, OTOH, was more free-form, with most everything being served raw, with a couple of notable exceptions.

                      Some of the more interesting items we had there were the aforementioned chutoro and salmon roe, but they also had live octopus, house-made inari (apparently a rarity) topped with shredded tamago and shiitake (YUM). Mantis shrimp from Japan were an interesting treat - firm fishy texture with what appeared to be intact roe.

                      Pricing was a little cheaper than Ota. Normal omakase at Ota is something like $80/person, here it was $50. Sake is also a pretty decent deal here - Otokayama, at Sakura $14, is $9 here. We brought a bottle of craft brew, and they were totally cool with it.

                      We'll definitely be back when we're in the mood to splurge again.

                      Some photos:

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Josh

                        Are most places in San Diego cool with you bringing in your own beer? I mean I wouldn't bring in anything crappy and I wouldn't bring it somewhere that already has good beer but I've wondered if that's considered kosher.

                        1. re: Josh

                          Glad you enjoyed it Josh, I think we just missed you! We left just after 7:30 Maybe next time!

                        2. gotta throw my 2 cents in for Nobu (Solana Beach). I may stand alone on this but I am quite comfortable in so doing.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: ibstatguy

                            about 3 years ago my mother and I would go without fail twice a month and drop 100 without a a flinch at nobu. we had become friends with the chef - ike and he always made us amazing stuff

                            1. re: kare_raisu

                              Nobu in Solana definitely goes unnoticed. It's refreshing to see a recommendation for something other than Kaito or Ota. Make no mistakes, I favor the latter. I found Nobu to be unassuming and pretty good quality.

                              Its kind of interesting, though, how a beach town such as ours only has about 2-3 highly desirable sushi joints. Think of the several sushi establishments in PB that are mediocre and go without fanfare.

                              Kare, you are such a knowledgeable and down-to-earth foodie. Have you tried Kazumi in Hilcrest? If not, I bet you'd like it!

                              1. re: ginael

                                Just curious, ibstatguy, kr, ginael, but have any of you ever tried Kaito?

                                I personally find it in a league all by itself. Any San Diego devotee of traditional sushi should count at least one meal in front of Morita-san to put things into proper perspective.

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  need to get there! I was talking with Josh at Hamilton's the other day and he told me he made it over there and even got to meet you!

                                  ginaek - I will check out kazumi - its close to me - any reccs?

                                  1. re: kare_raisu

                                    Kazumi is in Hilcrest, off 6th Ave. If you sit at the sushi bar, the chefs will treat you right! I've always loved their specialty rolls. Hope you enjoy it.

                                  2. re: cgfan

                                    have not been and some time back Pablo, I think, took me to task for that. I will get there someday

                                    1. re: ibstatguy

                                      yes, get there soon! It's top notch traditional sushi for lower prices!

                                      1. re: ibstatguy

                                        Ibstatguy, just admit you are afraid you may like it too much and then you will never go back to Nobu! Ike has worked under Morita-san as well, you may run into him there one day, especially if Joe-san has gone to Japan on vacation. I have been really enjoying the sanma shioyaki at Kaito lately, do yourself a favor and go get one!

                                        1. re: Pablo

                                          The sanma should be rotating out of season soon, so it may already be too late...

                                          However the local Katsuo has been incredible, and Kaito customers have been enjoying that over the past week.

                                          In about a month as the waters get colder we can all look forward to Kaito bringing in the Hon Ama Ebi from Japan. ("Hon" means authentic in Japanese...)

                                          All those new to Kaito should make sure they get a chance to get theirs this season... It'll give one a clear idea what other sushi bars get away with all the time by serving an altogether different shrimp under the same name. The real ones are incredible!


                                  3. re: kare_raisu

                                    we really enjoyed Ike and do miss him. we've been on about the same schedule, every two weeks, for a LONG time. Yagi san and Nobu san take very good care of us and, consequently, we just don't have much desire to go elsewhere. I've been to Ota a few times and was not blown away; the Banker's hill Ota will be about 2 blocks from my office though so I imagine I will be visiting it

                                2. My favorite so far has been Zen 5 Sushi in PB. Anyone else tried it?