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Mar 29, 2012 04:44 PM

High-end sushi in the city?

I've read some of the other sushi threads but still have some questions. I don't get out to SoCal much, and have never been to San Diego, but will be going there for a conference in a couple of months, at the Convention Center, staying nearby. I will not have a car. I am looking for a high-end traditionalist sushi experience, but every rec I've seen is kind of far. Questions:

Is there anything worthwhile that's walkable or in reach of public transit? Is it reasonable to take a cab to Ota or Shirahama? If I do, will I get a cab back? Would the cost of that be such that I should just rent a car for the evening; if I do that, should I then just drive up to Kaito in Encinitas?

What I'm looking for is more along the lines of a small old-school OC-type place, as opposed to a glossy LA type of place, but quality above all. Price is no object.

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  1. Hane is probably your best bet. It's just outside of downtown, walkable depending on what kind of shape you are in and your patience level. It's basically an offshoot of Ota.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chezwhitey

      Ota is definitely old school and very good.
      Ironically I live near Kaito but have never gone because of the cost and I don't eat sushi that much, but from what I hear it is unique and maybe the best in SoCal for what they do.
      Ota is not far from Downtown and you you could even take the trolley to Old Town and then get a cab from there.

    2. Try Shino. Same lineage as Hane /Ota. Get a reservation at the bar and request a seat with either Ken or Robert. Of course get Omakase, then sit back and enjoy.

      Shino Sushi + Kappo
      838 W Ash St
      San Diego, CA 92101
      (619) 255-2527

      13 Replies
      1. re: Eatocracy

        This place interests me.

        Can you provide some more detail? How does it compare with Ota or Hane? Food and cost wise?

        How is the crowd? Do you need reservations? When does it close at night? Is it crowded?

        "Same lineage as Hane /Ota"

        What is the relationship?

        1. re: stevewag23

          sushi is one of the few food where you (should) sit in front of the chef and if you go enough you can develop a relationship with your Itamae. He can learn your likes and dislikes and cater omakase to your preferences. I honestly believe this is why people gravitate to sushi kaito in encinitas. It's smaller and more intimate than sushi ota/ sushi hane and easier to develop this rapport. I've always had a good experience at Ota but I believe its because I make a point to sit in front of the more experienced chefs like Shige and ota and not some of their more jr. chefs. I am only making this point because if your looking for an exciting twist on a spicey tuna roll and not a omakase meal...we probably don;t have the same taste in sushi.

          Food at Shino and cost is high similar to Ota, similar to Hane, similar to Kaito, similar to any decent sushi resturaunt . I don't want to come across as a sushi snob but I believe you often have to pay to get quality in sushi. If you are comparing Sushi Deli or Niban to any a high end sushi resturaunt you seriously need to have your head examined. I've rarely found a great deal when it comes to sushi or any end food. I've found some great cheap eats when it comes to other food but not when it comes to sushi. The products is expensive, and sushi chefs (if trained properly) are paid quite well. My only beef is that price of their beers are quite high (7-8 dollars a beer). Sake is a lot more reasonable. I'm ok with paying high prices for sushi but not so much on alcohol.

          I would recommend reservations if you plan on sitting at the bar. Its been quiet the few times I went but I think its location hurts it (its a little hard to find) and its only been open for six months or so. Hane was really quiet for about a year when it openned, now its pretty busy. I believe they are open Tues-Sun, 5 to 10pm.

          "same lineage as Hane/Ota"

          Ota San has two resturaunts. Sushi Ota and Sushi Hane in Banker's Hill. His partner at Hane is Roger Nakamura who was a former chef at Ota for ten plus years. His brother, Robert is owner at Sushi Shino & Kappo. The other chefs at Shino either worked at Ota (Ken) or at Hane/Ota. Both Ken and Robert worked for Ota-san for 10 plus years. I beleive they use the same fish monger/purveyors.

          Hope this helps and hope you give Shino a try if your in the area. BTW ask to sit in front of Ken and/or Robert.

          1. re: Eatocracy

            definitely a spot I want to check out, thanks for all the info!

            1. re: Eatocracy

              "I've always had a good experience at Ota but I believe its because I make a point to sit in front of the more experienced chefs like Shige and ota and not some of their more jr. chefs"
              This is my main beef with Ota. I went there once with a group reservation and was seated at a table. The sushi was fine, but not anything special (i.e. far below Shirahama and Kaito). People keep telling me that I need to sit at the bar in front of Ota (or one of his more experienced chefs) to get better sushi, which just tends to irritate me. If you don't have the staff to prepare food up to your desired level for all the bodies your restaurant can hold, then you shouldn't have that many seats. As far as I'm concerned, letting mediocre sushi get sent to the tables by your junior chefs is as bad as preparing mediocre sushi oneself. Thus, I have no qualms about judging them based on lackluster sushi away from the bar.

              1. re: hye

                I think you'll find the same situation in just about any high end sushi joint - Kaito, Ota, Toshi San, ect. You have the masters and then the guys who have been doing a few years that are good but not at that elite level. Remember elite level or close to does not grow on trees, it took guys like Ota or Kaz for example most of their life to get to this point and they're older. When you say medicore, did you find the actual quality of the fish lacking or was it maybe not cut to the right thickness?

                1. re: mjill

                  It was a few years ago, so I don't remember exactly what was off about the fish.

                  I also disagree with your point about the same situation occurring at other high-end sushi places. The chef at Shirahama is the only person behind the bar, and other than Morita-san, Kaito only has Joe-san, who I think has also been there for many years. (cgfan probably knows more about the history though)

                  1. re: hye

                    I don't really want to stir the pot...but

                    You should really listen to "people" when they tell you to sit at the bar at Ota or any sushi restaurant. Sushi really shouldn't be eaten at a table. It has to be at the bar. I understand you argument that the quality should be equal at bar and at a table but unfortunately this cannot be the case with sushi. The taste of the sushi at Shirahama or Kaito is going to be different depending on where you sit. Sushi really has a shelf life of about 45 seconds from the time the Itamae does the hand off. It can't sit around waiting to be eaten. At Sukiyabashi Jiro, if you dont eat it fast enough you miss your chance. They take the sushi off your serving dish and move you on to the next item.

                    I know sushi can a very social event. Hell, eating is a social event. I've understand going to a sushi bar sitting at a table and ordering up a bunch of nigiri/sushi hand rolls, etc and waiting for the giant butcher block to come out with all the different ordered items and slowly working through the food with friends and/or family. I've done this. I've also done the "adventure" sushi where all you want is to eat something odd or strange. Some times its good sometimes its bad but its more about the adventure.

                    But I don't think sushi should be judged head to head with another restaurant when you eat out with friends or eat for entertainment. Most of the time if I really want good sushi, i get a res at the bar, sit in front of the Itamae and ask for Omakase. I usually go with one other person, don't have anything to do after and make the meal the highlight of the night. I would even prefer if the chef seasons everything so I dont have to decide on how much soy/wasabi mix to add on my own.

                    I think San Diego has some good sushi places. I think everyone wants and absolute winner but you always here front runners like Kaito, Ota, Hane, Kaga, Shirhama, etc. I think the good thing about the smaller places is that it’s a lot easier to get to know the chefs. (see my previous post)

                    1. re: Eatocracy

                      Ok, I admit that it's probably a bit unfair to compare the food from two types of experiences (sitting at the bar vs. sitting at a table).

                      But I think we can agree that getting seated at the bar in front of Ota is difficult to manage, especially without reservations specifically to do so. (I'm not even sure that it's possible to do so; I remember calling to make a reservation for that one visit, and the person taking it would not guarantee spots at the bar -- we either had to wait for seats to open up, or we could take the table that was free.) So I think it's fair to let visitors know that they may be unlikely to get the best that Sushi Ota has to offer without additional planning in advance.

                    2. re: hye

                      I think we can agree though that kaz is putting out the more preferable end product between the two, right? I think if you only tried ota once and it was enough years back that you are having a tough time recalling the details you might want to give them another shot.

                2. re: Eatocracy

                  Excellent post. You answered my questions perfectly. Thank you.

                  Sushi "theory-wise" I am with you 100%.

                  I always sit by Roger at Hane.

                  So basically, is there any reason to go here instead of Hane?

                  Or is just another side of the same coin? (so to speak).

                  1. re: stevewag23

                    I personally think Shino is worth a try. However, there are a lot of limiting factors that might affect your decision.
                    Hane is in Banker's Hill. Shino outside of little italy. I personally don't think distance is that big of a deal but it will affect some decisions.
                    I think Roger is a great Chef but I personally think Robert has better knife skills.
                    Also, since Sushi Shino isn't co-owned by Ota-san they don't have to adhere to the strict guidelines that Ota-san sets for both Sushi Ota and Hane resturaunts. They also have their Kappo component that I think is worth trying. I've heard some say the Kappo menu is over priced, other says its worth the money. As always, with the internet everyone has an opinion!

                    1. re: Eatocracy

                      "Hane is in Banker's Hill. Shino outside of little italy. I personally don't think distance is that big of a deal but it will affect some decisions. "

                      I am probably the exact midway point between both restaurants.

                      Thanks for your input, I will give it a try.

                  2. re: Eatocracy

                    Ota also gets in their own shipments of fish for the 3 restaurants in addition to using local purveyors, which is why in my opinion they're the best in town. The get the best locally plus they can get in the best from Japan or other areas. Not cheap but worth it.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. I feel a little sheepish here, as it appears I've started a very "inside baseball" argument by posing a couple of simple questions. But you all have certainly given me enough to read, even though it's a bit odd to be reading detailed dissections of restaurants I've never set foot in and chefs I've never seen.

                  That said, I still have to figure out what's walkable, or how your mass transit works and where it goes. I will be at the W hotel, as it turns out. And if I have an evening free, is it worth my while to rent a car for $40 plus say $20 for gas to drive up to Kaito? How long will that take in real-world (not Google Maps) conditions?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Gin n Tonic

                    Hane is probably a $10 cab ride from the W. 8 minutes.

                    Shino is about an $6-7 cab ride. 5 minutes.

                    You could also walk to Shino easily.

                    Additionally, you could take the trolley one stop or two (depending on where you got on) to little italy. Cost is like $2.50.

                    I have never been to Shino or Kaito, but I can legitimately say that Hane is a great spot (food wise).

                    People that know me on here know that I am somewhat critical of san diego at times (always justified) but I will say that san diego does sushi very well and better than most major cities in America (and the world), save maybe one or two.

                    And even that is somewhat arguable.

                    I think you will have a great time at all three.

                    Going back to your original question, I would skip Ota and opt for Hane or Shino instead.

                    Or rent the car and go to Kaito.

                    And decide if the hassle and expense of the car (and not drinking and driving) are worth it for Kaito VS a walk or cab to a closer spot.

                    The choice is yours.

                    1. re: Gin n Tonic

                      "I feel a little sheepish here, as it appears I've started a very "inside baseball" argument by posing a couple of simple questions."

                      Just about anything can start one of those arguments here; do not feel like you are to blame. And besides, you may have elicited the most reasonable, helpful post that stevewag has ever made - no small fete!

                      1. re: RB Hound

                        "And besides, you may have elicited the most reasonable, helpful post that stevewag has ever made - no small fete!"


                        (maybe he's been hacked? ; )

                          1. re: RB Hound

                            That is funny.

                            I set myself up for that one.

                            Although I just call it as I see it. Nothing more, nothing less.

                            1. re: RB Hound

                              Oh, I'm no stranger to arguments, having been in my share (and having been slapped a few times by the mods) on my home regional board - if you're ever planning a trip to Providence or Newport, come visit the Southern New England board.

                              I do appreciate all the advice. In my current environment, really good sushi requires a 3-hour drive to NYC, so any time I can walk to it or take a 10-minute cab ride, that's a plus in my book.

                              1. re: Gin n Tonic

                                if you're willing to drive 3 hrs for sushi, then a 45 min drive to Kaito w/o traffic won't kill you!

                                  1. re: Beach Chick

                                    concur with the concurrence. Beyond the food, everyone who sits in front of Kaz or Joe has a great time with their itamae (the same can't always be said for sitting at a table)