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Mar 15, 2009 08:46 AM

SoCal for 10 Days-Top Japanese Must-Hit Restaurants

In January my wife and I spent time with our friend Leslie checking out the Japanese restaurant scene in SoCal-wow-so many good memories!!! Unfortunately, we have nothing authentic even remotely close by our house here in Princeton, NJ without going to Manhattan, which is fine, but we can't do it every week. SoCal Chowhounds you don't know how good you have it!

We are coming back to Laguna Beach for ten days at the beginning of April and the anticipation is killing me! We would again like to hit as many Japanese Restaurants (all types) in that time period, including multiple spots each day, so bring it on. We have been to such places as Sushi Shibucho, Shin Sen Gumi (several times) and Kappo Honda. Atmosphere is a distant second to authentic deliciousness. Remember-these are the "Must Hit" Restaurants. Thanks!

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    1. re: DrBruin

      I have seen that referenced elsewhere. Location? We are trying to hit as many as possible so is it grouped geographically with any other noteworthy places?

        1. re: kolachman

          It's in Beverly Hills.

          Urasawa Restaurant
          218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

      1. since Laguna is about halfway between LA & SD, you should also make the trip south to Kaito in Encinitas.

        1 Reply
        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          Oh, good idea! I put South of Laguna out of our thought pattern-we will definitely check it out, although we are trying to group restaurants so we can hit multiple each day.

        2. There are 4 Michelin 1 and 2 star Japanese restaurants in So Cal. The last, Bluefin, is not Michelin rated but is close to you and has been the best zagat rating for Orange County Japanese restaurants.

          good luck

          Sushi Zo
          9824 National Blvd.
          West LA, CA
          Michelin guide 1 star

          218 N. Rodeo Dr.
          Beverly Hills, CA
          michelin 2 stars

          11941 Ventura Blvd.
          Studio City, CA
          Michelin 1 star

          Mori Sushi
          11500 W. Pico Blvd.
          West LA, CA
          michelin 1 star

          7952 E. PCH
          Newport Coast, CA

          10 Replies
          1. re: bgazindad

            Thanks bgazindad-these all look very promising indeed-geographically grouped and highly rated. Bluefin is just up the road so I am sure that will be our first go.

            1. re: kolachman


              This is the average cost for a dinner at the restaurants I listed.

              Sushi Zo=$65


              1. re: bgazindad

                Wow-Thanks. Urasawa is probably out this trip!

                1. re: kolachman

                  Just go to Urasawa, and slum it for a couple meals to balance out the cost. You will not regret it. If you need some slummin ideas, LA has a lot of great options for that.

                  1. re: andytseng

                    haha-that is a definite possibility-but my wife would rather hit as many as possible-we shall see!

                2. re: bgazindad

                  Those prices, at least for Zo and Mori, seem exceptionally conservative. I've been hard-pressed to get out of either place for less than $100/pp. Last time at Mori, my girlfriend and I got the full omakase dinner, though I brought my own sake, and the bill was more like $175/pp.

                    1. re: bgazindad

                      $390...Hmm you could actually fly to Tokyo between now and May on that amount. $30 airport to hotel and $6 in train fare more and your at Tsukiji. Plus your sleeping schedule is already out of sorts, so you will be waking up at 3am anyway. :)

                3. For Sushi...Sushi Sushi and Katsu in BH

                  Yakitori - Kokekokko in Little Tokyo

                  Shabu Shabu - Kagaya Little Tokyo

                  Tempura - Komatsu in Torrance

                  Izakaya - Musha in Torrance

                  22 Replies
                  1. re: ronnie_gaucho

                    ronnie_gaucho-thanks for categorizing the styles-will report back.

                    1. re: ronnie_gaucho

                      Bear in mind that Laguna Beach is very far south in OC and it would frankly be faster to drive to San Diego than the Westside of Los Angeles at the dinner hour.

                      Fortunately there is excellent Japanese food right in Orange County.

                      You can get better yakitori than Kokekokko at Shinsengumi in Fountain Valley or Gardena (much closer than Little Tokyo). The Shinsengumi in Fountain Valley has a ramen-ya next door; the one in Gardena has a place where you can have very good chanko-nabe in a tatami room. Be aware that peak time for these places is 7 PM when the salarymen at Toyota and Honda get off work.

                      Irvine Shabu Shabu House is very good. Bluefin by Abe in Newport Beach is excellent sushi (though I've only had it once -- it is quite expensive), or Hamamori in South Coast Plaza (also very expensive).

                      Honda-Ya (Tustin) or Kappo Honda (Fountain Valley) are also excellent, not to mention Santouka Ramen in Costa Mesa and Tsuruhashi, a yakiniku restaurant in Fountain Valley.

                      I normally would recommend Maki-Zushi in Tustin for sushi but I'm getting downhill reports from people I trust so I am withholding that until I have the budget and a chance to go down there again.

                      There is a sushi-ya in Laguna Beach called Mosun. It is not the best sushi in the world but it is perfectly OK and the standout dish there is tuna tataki. It is expensive, though, and trying to be trendy, like most of Laguna Beach, so if you're willing to drive go to Bluefin instead.

                      Also, to the OP -- I know it is not especially close to Princeton but there is a Mitsuwa store in Edgewater, Bergen County, with an excellent food court including another Santouka. It is far (you might as well be in New York) but closer than Orange County!

                      Finally, if your budget will allow it, the gold standard of sushi is Urasawa in Beverly Hills -- but it is $350 per person, exclusive of tax, tip and drinks.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I'm going to totally disagree regarding your statement about shin sen gumi yakitori being better than's simply not true. Kokekokko has been around for over 20 years and serves some of the most authentic yakitori i've had outside japan

                        1. re: ronnie_gaucho

                          Even if that were true (and since this is subjective thinking, I can say you're completely wrong without compromising my integrity), I can't imagine driving four hours round trip to go to Kokekokko.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            Subjectivity aside, Kokekokko does use better ingredients than Shinsengumi, but what matters is how you order (or perhaps, what you're allowed to order) that might affect how to feel about the food at Kokekokko. Shinsengumi provides better value, and is an old reliable spot, but it's just slightly above average as far as the food. For yakitori, I like Torimatsu or Koshiji better. Torihei sounds like a good place to try as well. But none of these places are near the OP in OC.

                            1. re: E Eto

                              Perhaps I need a better guide to Kokekokko, then -- the stuff I had was burnt. I know it's supposed to have burnt edges, but it was just plain burnt, and I was sad.

                                1. re: E Eto

                                  E Eto-I am not concerned or looking for OC places as we are willing to go North or South. I think as far as LA and SD. So, no worries.

                              1. re: ronnie_gaucho

                                I thought I read somewhere a while back (or did someone tell me?) that Kokekokko was in the process of being sold. If that is true, have the workers changed and/or has the quality of food and prep gone downhill recently?

                              2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Thanks Das Ubergeek-Also, thanks for defining expensive with Urasawa. A lot of CH on the LA board calls restaurants I deem inexpensive as "expensive". Remember, we are used to NYC and prices from Sushi Yasuda, etc. We have been to Honda-Ya (happened upon it one Sunday night when Maki Zushi was closed-it sounds like that was a good thing) and two of the Shin Sen Gumi restaurants and enjoyed all of them. We went to Shin Sen Gumi at 6pm on a Tuesday night and were first on the list so we got in ok, but there was a rush for the door nonetheless. Bluefin does not seem expensive to me from the website, although Urasawa does.

                                Thanks for the tip on Mitsuwa in Edgewater-we will check it out-however, you were right, we might as well hit NYC. Luckily we are in SoCal every so often so we can make the most of your inexpensive offerings. Thanks again.

                                1. re: kolachman

                                  Depending on your appetite, if you sit at the sushi bar and let Abe choose, you'll spend $100 or so a head. That's not cheap to me (my demesne is cheap ethnic food -- Little Saigon in north OC is my paradise), but it may be to you.

                                  It is far cheaper to eat in Los Angeles than in New York, and if you're willing to trade trendiness for taste you can eat incredibly well in OC for $20 a head. I remember being excited that my per-diem for food in New York was $85, until I realised that that was not all that wonderful.

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    Please don't misunderstand me-I am only willing to pay because I am used to it. When we went to Honda-Ya and Sushi Shibucho we got out for $22/pp and $50/pp respectively. There is no way we can do that out here. Even the sushi-ya's out here that are run by our Chinese friends charge more pp. That said, we love to find cheap eats-I want taste and pure deliciousness--trendiness and atmosphere be darned if superior taste is achieved. We are willing to drive all over OC and LA to find it.

                                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  Das, i live right down the street from the Edgewater Mitsuwa, and though i shop there, i've never bothered to check out the food court. i can't do ramen (no gluten for me), but do you recommend any of the other offerings there?

                                  and to the OP, i know you were trying to group multiple restaurants together, but Encinitas really isn't that far from Laguna, and a meal at Kaito will definitely be worth the trip.

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    I have not actually been to the Edgewater store, but the stuff inside is mostly chains.

                                    Italian Tomato -- probably not the best choice for you if you can't eat gluten.

                                    You could shock the hell out of any Japanese friends by giving a lavishly-wrapped (and very expensive) gift from Kobe Fugetsudo.

                                    If Delica is the place I know from San Francisco, it is very beautifully-arranged (but not cheap) takeaway by the pound. I remember very good curry-with-stuff.

                                    Katsuhana is exactly what you would think -- katsu, and therefore coated in panko breadcrumbs and not what you want.

                                    The others I couldn't tell you about.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      appreciate the insight - maybe i'll try Delica one of these days.

                                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      goodhealthgourmet-I will definitely put Kaito on the list. We are willing to travel and it all depends on the other things on the itinerary as to where we may end up-just looking for a trip to good taste. Thanks

                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        I used to goto the edgewater mitsuwa to eat. I'd grab some udon at kayaba. They also have a good selection of asian sweets, but bean paste is not my thing.

                                        1. re: joshekg

                                          Udon is wheat noodles. goodhealthgourmet mentioned gluten intolerance.

                                      2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                        "I normally would recommend Maki-Zushi in Tustin for sushi but I'm getting downhill reports from people I trust so I am withholding that until I have the budget and a chance to go down there again."

                                        I was there 3-4 weeks ago on a slow ass Saturday afternoon and still thought it was fantastic.

                                        1. re: ns1

                                          ns1-Thanks for the update. Just to clarify-Das is not the only one who has said that Maki-Zushi is going downhill recently. Maybe it is just inconsistent? I am not sure that it will make the list this go around as I have been overwhelmed by the number of restaurants already on my draft list--if only we could stay longer! Thanks again!

                                      3. re: ronnie_gaucho

                                        Kagaya is a gem. It'll set you back $50-60pp with tax & tip but worth it. IMO, the only great place in LA to get shabu shabu.

                                        More favorites:
                                        Nanbankan (WLA) - Izakaya $$
                                        Kiriko (WLA) - sushi, small plates $$$
                                        Sushi Nishi-ya (glendale) - unlikely location with very high quality sushi at Glendale prices (read: cheap for the quality) $$$
                                        Daikokuya (downtown) - ramen. still my favorite. still like it better than Santouka & Shin Sen Gumi $
                                        Yabu (WLA) - small plates, noodles, rice bowls, etc. $$

                                        1. re: soniabegonia

                                          I like Nishi-Ya, but I don't know that it's a must-hit. It is, however, very good and in a place without many restaurants.

                                      4. It looks like you missed a "Must Hit" in Tsuruhashi which is right down the street from Shin Sen Gumi and Kappo Honda.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: JAB

                                          Yes JAB we did miss Tsuruhashi, but we also ate at a bunch of other places not mentioned in OP. Thanks-it is now on the list!