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Just For Fun - Design My Ultmate Japanese Food Visit to San Diego

Kaito, of course. Fridays are best?

Yu Me Ya - no hurry, but what time of day and what day?

Izakya Sakura - which evening for omakase?

Yakitori Yudori - dinner only, so which day and time is best?

And, what am I leaving out? I will be mostly on my own, no family crowd wanting to do tourist things.

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  1. Okan is also really good and I think would be different from all of the other places mentioned.

    1. How fun!

      For Kaito, arrive early, and close the place with the regulars. They have a great vibe for solo diners as it's an extremely social and welcoming environment. Fridays are the best, followed by Saturdays, then Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Get a seat with Morita-san, who has the spot nearest the entrance. Omakase's the way to go; just let Morita-san know your Sushi boundaries...

      For Yumeya try to obtain a reservation, and if not, get there early. Once it's full it tends to stay full until the end of service. However it's a bit easier for solo diners, where you sometimes might find space at the bar even while larger groups are waiting.

      For Izakaya Sakura I'd recommend it as S.D.'s best Izakaya destination, though notably lacking any Izakaya atmosphere. For Sushi in the Kearny Mesa area I'd recommend nearby Shirahama.

      For Yakitori Yakyudori, make sure you go there when Nabe-san's there, which is Tuesday-Thursday and on Sunday, and eat at the bar. There are generally two peaks in service at YY, the earlier "gringo" peak, and then the later Nihonjin peak. For the latter, get there after 8pp; anyway they're open until 1am. This is where you should let your adventurous Foodie out for fave items such as Horumon (beef intenstine), Hatsu (heart), Kimo (liver), Aka Himo (vein), Gyutan (beef tongue), Nankotsu (cartiledge), Kawasu (vinegared skin), and lastly Teba (wings).

      You've picked well! (You must have done your CH homework...) Other excellent considerations in the Nihonshoku department:

      For their Shio Tonkotsu Ramen: Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace.

      For Oozara-ryori, there's Okan, right next to Nijiya Market.

      For Nabemono and Robata there's Oton.

      For Yakiniku there's Tsuruhashi. For Tsuruhashi hour waits were common, unless you get there before opening, and they don't take reservations. Just leave your name and mobile # at the desk and walk to Video Eye (Japanese video rentals) or to Nijiya Market or French Cake (cafe/bakery) in the plaza just south.

      Lastly if you're looking for a homestyle (and a homey) place for a Japanese lunch or dinner, there's always Umenoya in the Miramar area. Very much hole-in-the-wall and patiently run by only a husband and wife.

      16 Replies
      1. re: cgfan

        Dear cgfan,

        Thank you for chiming in with so much information, you are a very generous about sharing your ginormous knowledge about the goodness that is to be found in the area..

        I am a big believer in arriving early, sitting quietly in a corner and enjoying watching the activity behind the scenes, and I love to stay late.

        1. re: cgfan

          Yu Me Ya does not take reservations on the weekends (I tried and failed). They do on the weekdays. They're only open for dinner.

          Tsuruhashi takes reservations before 5:30 pm. (Got one about 2 wks ago)

          I would strongly add Okan and Oton to your list. Okan is on our regular rotation and right now, I'm craving their ume rice ball in broth. Absolutely sublime broth with a delectably chewy-crispy outside-of-rice-ball texture. The only downside to Okan is that they're not open for lunch.

          Definitely arrive early at Kaito. We had a 6 pm reservation once and waited an hour to be seated b/c they don't rush their customers.

          cgfan, what is the difference between yakiniku and robata? It seems like both have the "do it yourself" table grill.

          1. re: daantaat

            Well Robata cuisine developed out of the practices of the fisherman as they setup cooking their catch on the beach over a charcoal fire. Thus at its roots it emphasizes fresh-grilled seafood cooked on long skewers propped vertically over and around a charcoal fire. Vegetables and other protein items are featured now as well, but the emphasis should be on the seafood.

            Yakiniku is the Japanese version of a Korean BBQ, and like Ramen which is the Japanese version of a Chinese noodle soup, can be considered a completely separate cuisine.

          2. re: cgfan

            Does Kaito take reservations?

            1. re: OCAnn

              Yes they do. When you make the reservation also indicate who's section you'd like to be in.

              However as in any other Sushi bar that takes reservations a reservation at the bar is best thought more as a guideline by both shop and patron. They sincerely do try and accommodate reservations but at the same time will often be thwarted by customers that decides to seat themselves.

              If you are on Twitter I'd highly recommend following them at @Kaito_Sushi for the latest ingredient arrivals. Today they announced 17 ingredient arrivals! Unfortunately they only Tweet roughly once a week these days, though they get deliveries every day.

              1. re: cgfan

                Thank you for all the inside scoop!

            2. re: cgfan

              Just an update from a visit to Yakitori Yakyudori earlier last week. I like to drop in from time to time even though Nabe-san is no longer manning the grill, just to check up on how the new grillmaster's been handling things. Since I happened to be in the area just last Monday it was a perfect time to see if they've improved or not long after Nabe-san took leave to open up their new Ramen-ya in Kearny Mesa.

              As many of you know I've long ago reluctantly concluded that the quality of their Yakitori suffers when Nabe-san's not at the grill. So it came as a pleasant surprise when I dropped in last Monday to find that for the first time their new grillmaster served up almost an entire meal needing no apologies. While still not to Nabe-san's level, everything was competently executed except for the Gyu-tan which was prepared in a different fashion than before.

              Almost always Gyu-tan needs to be cut very thinly except for the highest grades, which then can be served up as a "steak". In last Mondays case, though still skewered, it was prepped almost like a Gyu-tan steak, which was in thick batons of beef tongue. This, unfortunately, did not do it any favors.

              However everything else was for the most part properly prepped and grilled, with great improvements in the consistency of their salting levels. They even had my favorite specials item, Horamon, which apparently they now feature every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Though the skin could have been a bit crispier on the Teba and more evenly grilled, and the Horamon could have benefitted from a touch more time on the grill, it was nevertheless all delicious. I even had seconds of this very difficult to prepare item, the Horamon.

              When I first walked in I was a bit taken back, having noticed that there were almost no staff, many plates not picked up, an abandoned and cooling grill, and a generally disheveled look in their open kitchen. But after several minutes staff started to appear out of nowhere and it was almost as if a new shift was starting. Still I noticed some amount of disorganization, a more extreme form of what I've observed before from time to time whenever Nabe-san would take a day of leave from his duties at the grill.

              But all in all it was a very good meal; I just hope I'm not being too premature saying that their quality sans-Nabe-san is back where it needs to be after only the first successful post-Nabe-san visit. But I've been anxious to give them the thumbs up again ever since I've noticed the drop in quality, but never having the meals to justify anything but a "make sure he's there" recommendation. But for now I think I can tentatively say that they're finally getting back on track at the grill. And no wonder... Nabe-san has at least 8 years of experience under his belt at the grill both here and in Nagoya.

              (However just as some "3rd wave cafes" do with their baristas, perhaps Nabe-san can be an occasional "visiting guest grillmaster" at their Hillcrest location in between his stints at the new Kearny Mesa shop...)

              -----
              Yakitori Yakyudori
              3739 6th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

              Kearny's
              8310 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111

              1. re: cgfan

                has the Convoy location started doing yakitori yet? Last weekend it was still no yakitori...

                1. re: daantaat

                  Not yet... Last time I asked Nabe-san about it he was waiting for the arrival of his Shichirin (charcoal grill) by boat, but that was some time ago... I wonder if it's somehow tied to the 6/7 date of their new hours?

                  1. re: cgfan

                    Wow the pains this guy takes to put food into our mouths. I look forward to shaving 15 minutes each way off my yakitori stops!

                    1. re: royaljester

                      BTW Yakyudori just started a limited service of Tonkotsu Ramen. I don't think they'll have it in huge quantities, and I believe they'll be limiting the Tonkotsu to only lunch hours.

                      1. re: cgfan

                        Yes, the price is $7.50, it comes with two slices of chashu pork, green onions, and konbu. It also contains a slightly thinner noodle, which I confirmed with Nabe-san. He specifically chose a different noodle to capture the broth flavor better.

                        Nabe-san said that they'd have it indefinitely, but that quantities are limited and it would only be available during lunch hours. The sign says they have 30 servings available, but we were the first people there when they opened today, and the waitress told us they only had a few servings left when we finished (and only 9 people had been there and could have possibly ordered it).

                  1. re: stevewag23

                    I have a habit of calling it Horamon, but I should say Horumon.

                    Horumon's a generic term for offal, especially when referring to offal apart from the organs [Naizou]. Horumon is generally available at Yakiniku shops, and there are even Horumonyaki shops that specializes in it.

                    Some shops, however, use the term Horumon to mean something more specific. In YY's case they use the term Horumon to refer specifically to the large intestine. At other shops it can appear listed as Tecchan (as is the case at Tsuruhashi) or Shimacho (as is the case at Marukai). At Tsuruhashi they offer a Horumon Moriawase, which is a selection of various Horumon items including the Tecchan.

                    All of this can be quite confusing but in the end (no pun intended) all one needs to know is that YY's version is the best that can be had in San Diego, better than Tsuruhashi's which is often marinated, and much, much better than Suzuya's.

                    -----
                    Tsuruhashi
                    3904 Convoy St Ste 106, San Diego, CA 92111

                  2. re: cgfan

                    We tried to eat there last night and the service was so horrible that we decided that no matter how good the food the poor service overshadowed the experience. If I hear compelling reports here we might return otherwise this is a place in our rear view mirror.

                2. I recommend:

                  Toshi San - La Jolla

                  Hane - Banker's Hill

                  Sushi Ota - Pacific Beach

                  These 3 places, to me, are the best in town. I would also recommend cruising around the Convoy/HWY 52 area. There are some interesting Asian markets, ect in that area but I haven't done too much detective work on places to eat out there.

                  Good luck.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mjill

                    Sushi Ota has good food, but I would stay away because the service sucks. It's not uncommon that they sit you down, tell you you have 45 minutes to eat, but don't bring the food out until you have 10 minutes left.

                    Not a good experience at all.

                  2. I vote for Shirahama on Convoy. This is a small, quiet, dining experience.

                    1. As some others mentioned, Tsuruhashi, Okan/Oton, and Yakyudori's Ramen branch are other options.

                      Yumeya probably has the most unique dishes but is often the most crowded so that's the place to show up around opening time. Tsuruhashi has that problem on some Fri/Sat, and Okan/Oton to a lesser degree. All your choices are pretty consistently great.

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                      Yumeya
                      1246 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

                      Tsuruhashi
                      3904 Convoy St Ste 106, San Diego, CA 92111