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Nov 12, 2013 05:30 PM

Best sushi south of Santa Babara, north of Mexico?

My husband, adult daughter, and I will be staying in Carlsbad in mid-December and we'll have a car. We would like to try the best sushi in Southern California. This is something of a "quest" for us. It can be very cheap or pretty expensive, just as long as it's really amazing. We are not sushi purists, and we like rolls as much as perfect sashimi. We also like other small plates that might be served alongside sushi. We would be open to a 12 seat sushi bar where the chef is "right there", but would honestly prefer a place with an extensive, innovative menu, or one which offers an omakase of 10 or more creative courses. I've been looking at Sushi Ota and Asenebo. Ideally, I would like to make a reservation before we come out there so we can plan our visit and driving. I'll probably post this on the San Diego board, too.

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    1. re: Servorg

      Thank you, Servorg! I'll read all your links!

    2. How many days will you devote to this endeavor? How many places are you willing to hit? Do you have a budget ceiling?

      L.A. is a serious sushi town, and at most sushi-ya's, the Chef is indeed "right there" (actually, now that you've mentioned it, where else do you think they'd be?). Or are you referring to Celeb Chefs (think Nobu) who are often absent landlords?

      I am looking forward to help you tailor this adventure to your specs...

      4 Replies
      1. re: J.L.

        Just go with Shunji's as the main man states.

        1. re: J.L.

          Hi, J.L.! Thanks for your help!
          We'll be there for a week Dec 15-22. It is a classic "family vacation" but only our youngest kid (turning 26) will be with us, so I'm trying to work out a whole itinerary: whale watching, surfing, Hollywood, micro-breweries, but mostly arranging it around food (and drink) tourism. I have a few rezzes (PAON (Carlsbad), Fish Market (SD), Playground (Santa Ana) but my daughter and I especially want to find some great sushi. I'm thinking that in a week with about 14 full-on meals plus snacks, one or two should be sushi.
          I've considered Matsuhisa. I've been to the Nobu outpost here. I was planning to compare menus between them. Even though NM's restaurants are very good, I still think of them as part of a chain. But, I'm not trying to be snobby about wherever we end up (I'm sure Matsuhisa is great); it's just that, if we're going to spend a huge chunk of change on one meal, I don't want to order from the same menu its "sister" has in every other town. And, btw, if a place has a famous chef and he or she is actually cooking my dinner...? oh yeah, I can go for that if I can get a rez! (From his fingers to my lips, as it were!)
          I really appreciate your help!.

          1. re: jilkat25

            Thanks for additional info.

            IF he's in town, Nobu Matsuhisa (the man himself) is most often found at his original flagship Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. But he don't cook these days - he greets guests, poses for photos and signs cookbooks. The actual cooking is done by his trusted corps of veterans. That having been said, the food at Matsuhisa (in the private dining bar) IS still better than any of his outposts, and worth a comparison visit. Celeb sightings are still abundant at Matsuhisa. Reservations are essential for the 8-seat private dining bar at Matsuhisa, and omakase is the recommended (but not obligatory) way to go. Avoid the general dining room at Matsuhisa - it just doesn't feel as special.

            Aside from that, the general vibe I'm getting here is that you'll enjoy Shunji or Yamakase the most - Both are seemingly casual places with deceptively expert cooking and creatively delicious food. You'll encounter fish/seafood you can't get elsewhere in the U.S. at these places. Again - reservations are a must.

            Another great place for you would be Kiriko. Heck, the locale of Kiriko alone (on food destination-rich Sawtelle Blvd.) would warrant a visit. Owner/Chef Ken-san offers wonderful sushi; among the finest sushi you can have in L.A.

            Urasawa's 30+ course sushi kaiseki meals (don't worry, each course is usually only a small bite) are legendary. The pace/feel of the meal itself is a tad more austere, but extremely impressive nonetheless. Note: It is one of the priciest meals in the Western United States, at $400+ per person. Reservations are a must here as well.

            Hope this helps.

            1. re: J.L.

              JL, budy, I think your post more than helps.

              It also reminds me that I may just have to finally bite the bullet and hit up the fucking 8 seater tempura bar private room.

        2. Urasawa and Yamakase in LA.

          Ota, Hane and Shino are your best bets in SD (in that order).

          29 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Thanks, ipsedixit! I had already put Ota's # into my phone. I had planned to call and see if we could get a reservation, but then I decided I had better ask about sushi on Chowhound before I made my final decision.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Ota, Hane and Shino are your best bets in SD (in that order).


              How would the SD joints compare to a comparable place in LA?

              1. re: kevin

                Not as good. For obvious reasons.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Hold on, there.

                  Ota's San Diego-sourced uni is marvelous. When compared at their primes, I like SD uni even better than Santa Barbara uni.

                  Ota would hold its own in L.A. But Shino and Hane may be relegated to second-tier in L.A.

                  1. re: J.L.

                    I'm talking on a collective basis.

                    1. re: J.L.

                      Oh, shit, so Ota would be able to hang in there with Shunji ????

                      Please say it ain't so.

                        1. re: kevin

                          I'd say the one L.A. sushi-ya I'd most feel akin to Ota would be Kiriko. Except Ota seats more people.

                          1. re: kevin

                            Ota compares to Zo.

                            No place really compares to Shunji -- for better or worse.

                          2. re: J.L.


                            You have to try uni sourced from around San Clemente island...

                            1. re: J.L.

                              But better than Hokkaiho uni ?????????

                              1. re: kevin

                                Not necessarily better, different - SoCal uni tends to be creamier while Hokkaido is cleaner, brighter (??) if that makes any sense.

                                I like 'em both.

                                1. re: Sgee

                                  I do too. Especially when they are paired vis a vis each other at the same joint.

                                2. re: kevin

                                  Northern Japanese uni is more crisp and briny. It's also more delicate and smaller in size overall.

                                  As sgee said - They are all good, really. We're nitpicking here, at this point...

                                  Where can one try the San Clemente Island uni here in L.A.?

                                  1. re: J.L.

                                    I don't know.

                                    You're the man on that.

                                    1. re: kevin

                                      It was descriptions of the uni that made me want to try Ota. Now I am re-thinking my whole plan. Shunji sounds like the kind of destination I'm seeking.

                                      1. re: jilkat25

                                        Shunji is very very very very good. I cannot praise it highly enough.

                                        But if you want both types of uni then Mori is a sure bet.

                                          1. re: jessejames

                                            Dope. Enjoy.

                                            And please report back.

                                            Though caveat emptor: Lunch is primarily and almost solely sushi. You won't go wrong, but it's just that you won't get the cooked dishes at lunch. Having said that, lunch is still quite exceptional.

                                          2. re: kevin

                                            Since she said she was considering Asenebo then Shunji (or Yamakase) is probably a much better fit than Mori.

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              oh, i see.

                                              Yes, I think I get what you are saying.

                                              Shunji is sort of similar to Yamakase or better yet Asanebo since Shunji did open Asanebo many years ago.

                                      2. re: J.L.

                                        Maruhide - call the plant in LB

                                        1. re: Sgee

                                          Ah yes, I've been planning to make the visit... Thx for the reminder.

                                          1. re: J.L.

                                            I went to the one in Torrance, or is it Gardena, and it was OK but the uni of course from Shunji, Kirkiko, and Mori is way way way better in my opinion.

                                            1. re: kevin

                                              I've only had it once direct from the plant - it's by far the best SoCal uni I've ever encountered. Not available all the time, best to call.

                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                +1 for Yamakase. Great laid back experience with excellent food.

                                1. re: Ponder99

                                  Thanks, Ponder99. My understanding is that Yamakase is a very difficult reservation to snag, especially if one's calendar is tight. Am I wrong? I would love to go there, and I'm sure my daughter would, too, but my husband (mrbuzzkill1) may not be up for the "intrigue" that getting in there would require.

                                  1. re: jilkat25

                                    Make the reservation for Shunji, then try for the Yamakase invite as well.

                                    Worst case scenario is you don't get in to Yamakase. But then, you still have Shunji anyways.

                                    Frankly, if you get a slot at Shunji - just go to Shunji.

                                    1. re: J.L.

                                      Sounds like a plan, J.L.! I'm on it!!