HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >


If not Kaito or Sushi Ota, then...

Visiting SD this weekend and would love some great sushi. All the boards I've seen seem to focus on these two restaurants, but Kaito is farther than I want to drive, and Ota has a reputation for being super crowded.
Come on people, there has to be more quality sushi in town than just these places?!

Sushi Ota
4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hane sushi or Fish Market downtown sushi bar.
    Never been to Kaito but trust the people on this board when they say there is no other and Ota is pretty good but its been awhile.

    1. Kaito Sushi > Sushi Dokoro Shirahama >>> Sushi Ota...

      ...so your constraints still leaves you with an excellent choice in Shirahama...

      But why compromise for distance? Not only is Kaito the best we have, but they also have the most comfortable and easy-going environment of any Sushi bar in its class where they really respect the customer.

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

      Sushi Ota
      4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

      1. It's not really that far. 30-40 minutes from downtown, and well worth the drive.

        Other places people like are Hane in Banker's Hill and Kazumi in Hillcrest. As cgfan mentioned, Shirahama in Kearny Mesa is a good choice.

        8310 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111

        1. If you want a no-frills, no decor, just-gimme-some-fish sushi run by an actual Japanese chef you might check out Kazumi sushi in Hillcrest on 5th ave by the theater. No American style rolls, just really fresh high quality fish. We use to go there a lot when we lived over there, don't get over there as often. I think they got lax on the fish quality for a while but we went back late last year and it was fantastic again.

          1. Where in town are you staying? How far are you willing to go? I've heard good things about Taka downtown but haven't been.

              1. CAFE JAPANGO is very good and it is a great place to people watch as well.

                Sushi Ota is great, very stark and serious minded sushi.

                Sushi Ota
                4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                5 Replies
                1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                  I'm also a big fan of Japengo. It's more California-style sushi than Japanese-style. The people watching is especially good on Thursday nite, or "little black dress" nite as it's more affectionately known. ;)

                  1. re: steveprez

                    I used to live close by Japengo and went there quite a bit. One Huge suggestion, Do Not order sushi bar items if you are sitting at the dining room tables. I had some of the most ridiculously long waits you could imagine. Service at the sushi bar is fine.

                    1. re: steveprez

                      "The people watching is especially good on Thursday nite, or "little black dress" nite as it's more affectionately known"

                      I thought it was known as "cubical workers out on the town" night?

                    2. re: normalheightsfoodie

                      Cafe Japengo is a "trendy" sushi bar. What I call the "see and be seen" style of sushi bar. Very different than Kaito, the "I'm here to have a relaxing, low-key time and eat the best sushi in SD."

                      Cafe Japengo
                      8960 University Center Lane, San Diego, CA 92122

                      1. re: daantaat

                        I think that's also a good description. Though, I personally don't go there to "be seen". ;)

                    3. Taka and Hane are both great and not a substitute for Ota or Kaito.

                      23 Replies
                      1. re: AVFOOL

                        Toshi-San in La Jolla. Great sushi, no hype. I believe Toshi was a former sushi chef at Ota.


                        1. re: Esqo

                          I'll second Toshi-San's nomination. I have eaten there maybe five times within the past six months. Four of the five times the fresh fish was exquisite. One of the five merely very good. In addition to the great sushi, they have a nice variety of interesting Japanese appetizers, plus a very good nabeyaki udon. This is my current go-to restaurant in La Jolla.

                          1. re: bizzwriter

                            Toshi-san has a broad menu, and he is generally very good, but some of the dishes are rough around the edges. For instance, the miso eggplant was way too sweet, and the fried appetizers are only so-so. He does tend to have consistently good scallop and yellowtail.

                            Still, I prefer the atmosphere and pairings at Kaito. Morita-san is able to improvise and put together ingredients in a dish at a higher level than I have observed in any other place.

                            That is not to say that Toshi-san (the chef, not the restaurant) lacks skill, but he is working from a tried and true menu, whereas Kaito is constantly getting fresh and new ingredients.

                            1. re: hye

                              I was not aware of Kaito before wandering onto this board a couple weeks ago. It is absolutely at the TOP of my list of restaurants to check out SOON. Can't wait!

                              1. re: bizzwriter

                                Would love to hear your report!

                                My standard advice for those going to Kaito are to target the following days for best selection: Friday > Tuesday > Saturday > Wednesday. If you go on a Friday or Saturday and want to avoid possible crowds, I'd advise going earlier than later - they open at 4:30. Otherwise for the crowd weary I'd advise going on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

                                (Most people have a hard time finding Kaito for the first time. Here's how to find them: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7090...


                                Omakase diners will have the best experience at Kaito. Simply tell them what you like or don't like and let them do the rest. Ask for Morita-san; he's their head Itamae and holds court at the front of the Sushi bar closest to the windows.

                                You might also want to check their Twitter stream @Kaito_Sushi or their blog at http://sushikaito.com/SushiBlog.aspx to see what items have come in in the past or the day's deliveries, except that they'll typically post only once a week while they get deliveries every day.

                                Some of the exciting seasonal items at this time of year that you might want to look for are Kasugo (spring baby red snapper), Sayori (halfbeak), and Katsuo (skipjack).

                                Expect items that you commonly see all the time at other Sushi bars missing from Kaito's case, except for very narrow windows when they are truly in season. For instance Kaito carries Ikura only during the week or so that it can be obtained fresh. Similarly they'll carry Hon Ama Ebi (authentic sweet shrimp) only during a 6 week or so span. What's typically served as Ama Ebi elsewhere is not the same species used in Japan and is nowhere near as delicious as the version Kaito regulars patiently wait for each year to come into season.

                                Similarly Hamachi, while popular at other Sushi bars, is generally not carried at Kaito in favor of the more expensive and refined Kanpachi. The former is not generally used as Sushi in Japan, (it's generally used for cooking), while the latter is considered a proper Sushi Neta.

                                If one thinks they've tasted the last word on Uni, make sure you get some Uni if they happen to bring in some Matsushita Uni. Available to limited shops in L.A., it's a rarity in S.D. except at Kaito where I've seen it this year almost half the time. And if you think you've had the regular Tako (octopus) and think it's rubbery or chewy, it's an eye-opener to have this easily overlooked item at Kaito. It'll be as sweet as you can imagine without any toughness. The same can be said for the regular Ebi (shrimp); it tastes entirely different at Kaito. Of course it's even more exciting when they bring in special varities of octopus and shrimp such as the Mizudako from Hokkaido or the Hon Ama Ebi from the East Coast.

                                For an absolute must have list, one should always look for the Anago at Kaito. They are one of the rare, make that very rare, shops that fillets their own daily during prep.

                                Make sure you also pay attention to their Anago's (when had as a Nigiri) traditionally prepared Tsume sauce... But make sure you eat the Anago Nigiri with your fingers to fully appreciate it, as Morita-san will use a particularly light touch forming the Nigiri to match the tenderness of the Anago!

                                But just as wonderful or even more so is their Anago as Tempura, for which I recommend saving the Tsuyu for the other items and using only the grated to order Himalayan Pink Rock Salt for the Anago morsels. The tastes are far too delicate to do otherwise!

                                Well I'll leave it at that for now! Looking forward to a trip report!

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  How much does a basic omakase generally run at Kaito?

                                  1. re: kare_raisu

                                    We've spent between $50 and $70 ea. $70 was when we bought sake.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      That sounds about right, though of course much depends on one's appetite.

                                      However I seasonally go through a phase during the warmer months where I almost always start with a plate or two of Shiromi Sashimi, which of course will have an inflationary affect on the bill. So if you add the possibility of a Sashimi plate or two an Omakase will probably range anywhere from $50 to $80.

                                      But almost everything's possible. BION there's this regular couple who comes in and asks for a $20 each Omakase. That's really (really) stretching it (by at least 2-fold if not 3, but I have to hand it to Kaito for taking the request seriously and trying to do something on such a severe restriction... This really speaks volumes on how much they respect their customer. (...and please don't repeat this request... ...and you didn't hear it from me...)

                                      I once did an analysis over 33 recent Kaito meals (all Omakase) and this is what I came up with per person including tip: average: $60, range: $21-$99, 21% below $50, 24% from $50-60, 33% from $60-70, and 21% above $70.

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        $20??? what are they smoking???

                                        1. re: daantaat

                                          Well they sure won't be smoking this beauty from Morita-san: http://bighugelabs.com/onblack.php?id...

                                          (Kasugodai [Spring Baby Japanese Red Snapper] Sashimi)

                                              1. re: cgfan

                                                Beautiful but isn't Red Snapper horribly over fished?

                                                1. re: DougOLis

                                                  There are perhaps a dozen (or more) species of fish referred to or sold as "red snapper". What you are thinking of (as being overfished) is likely a reef fish in the family Lutjanidae found in the Gulf of Mexico.

                                                  The various "tai/dai" that are served in sushi places are not the same fish, and are actually from distinct families (and orders, as well). Plain "tai" is a sea bream (family Sparidae), I believe. "kinme (golden eye) dai" is in the family Berycidae. And "kasugodai" is a red rockfish in the family Sebastidae, I think.

                                                  Translations between sushi names and actual species is fairly confusing it seems. The same sushi name can be given to different species of fish depending on location.

                                                  1. re: hye

                                                    ah, good to know. Thanks for the clarification.

                                                  1. re: daantaat

                                                    Oh if you only knew just how mindblowingly incredible this Sashimi was that day... It was just stunning!

                                                    Kaz was saying how good the Kasugo was that day, and how he opted to use a particularly light touch on the preparation (vinegar marinade). The guy does absolute magic and can read fish like a book. He knows exactly what to do and what not to do; he shows great restraint.

                                                    Except for a tiny dab of Wasabi on each morsel, this was eaten as is.

                                                    What was particularly surprising were the little Kasugo rolls you see in the front of the picture linked above. Basically Yamagobo, Shiso, and Kasugo. You'd think that the Gobo and Shiso will be the dominant flavor, but in fact the Kasugo's delicate flavor was amplified and was perfectly married to the veg.

                                                    I was left speechless...

                                                  1. re: stevewag23

                                                    wouldn't weed necessitate a higher priced omakase dinner?? :-)

                                                2. re: cgfan

                                                  i have never attempted this before, but if a couple goes to Kaito, can one person get the Omaksae and the other person order off the menu? Is that considered bad form?

                                                  My GF isn't a fan of eating fish head parts haha

                                                  1. re: MrKrispy

                                                    No problem at all. One thing to keep in mind about Kaito is that even though they practice a Sushi program of the highest caliber, they do not expect their customer to come in as an expert.

                                                    It's no problem for a customer to walk in to Kaito and order nothing but non-traditional rolls, or for that matter request Sushi items that would never end up in their Omakase meals (such as salmon, Unagi [fresh water eel], Ono, or Hamachi [yellowtail], though they rarely carry the latter anyway in favor of Kanpachi)....

                                            1. re: cgfan

                                              WOW. Thank you cgfan for your excellent guide to Kaito. I will report back soon.

                                  2. Nobu in Solana Beach

                                    207 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

                                    1. Kazumi in Hillcrest is my favorite alternative.