Does L.A. boast the best sushi in the entire country? If even Ferran Adrià is on our side, we can probably feel confident it's true.
The factors that allow our city to be blessed with such a ridiculous bounty are fairly apparent: proximity to superior fish markets, a healthy roster of master itamae, and a populace hungry for exotic and healthful cuisine. But exactly which among them are the finest of the finest?
Our wallets are significantly lighter, and our mercury levels rival Jeremy Piven's, but the extensive research was worth it — we've finally compiled our own list of the finest sushi experiences available without a passport.
10. Sushi Kimagure Ike
It felt fitting when Sushi Ike decamped from its spot on Hollywood and Vine to become Sushi Kimagure Ike, a hidden shop in Old Pasadena that's so close to the Metro tracks you might initially confuse it with a ticket office. Chef Ike is a reserved man with something approaching a cult following — he is more at ease in this humble space than at a celebrity hot spot. But here the toro still melts like slices of aged rib-eye, and the grilled octopus — a crowd favorite — still has any trace of chewiness massaged out, rendering it as smooth and tender as the firmest tofu. Ike is a good man to develop a rapport with — aim to differentiate yourself from the Kevin Federline and Heidi Montag types who used to pop up at Sushi Ike and you'll be dutifully rewarded. 220 S. Raymond Ave., L.A. (626) 535-0880.
9. Hiko Sushi
The spirit of the recently retired Kazunori Nozawa (of SugarFish fame) lives on at this cramped counter in Palms. All the hallmarks of Nozawa's Edo-purist style are here: the loosely packed vinegar-pungent rice served piping hot; the unaltered slabs of pure oceanic flesh; the unmistakable airing of that "sushi nazi" bravado. But the man working the fish, Shinji Murata — who once worked under Nozawa — surpasses the master at his own game. The parade of cheap plastic plates filled with nigiri: taut sheets of albacore, baby tuna dashed with ponzu, sea bass with pickled seaweed and the eventual blue crab hand roll might seem basic to an advanced aficionado, but under the guiding hand of Murata the traditional become revelatory. 11275 National Blvd., L.A. (310) 473-7688.
In the shadow of the Japanese multinational headquarters that line Torrance's Western Boulevard is Nozomi, a minimalist space that feels closer to a neighborhood haunt than any type of intimidating sushi temple. It would be wise to ask for Chef Yasu, who is rumored to have the best Santa Barbara uni connections in the city — a point that seems all but confirmed when a slip of fresh sea urchin unfurls on your tongue like a briny wave of surf. There's even more, though: slivers of sea bream lined with transparent sheets of kelp; tender squares of squid dotted with umeboshi plum; red snapper dapped with salty sesame paste. He might even give a wink and introduce an oversize squirming shrimp as one of his favorite pets — poor thing, a few courses later it arrives as a bowl of miso soup with a shrimp head bobbing in the middle. 1757 W. Carson Blvd., Torrance. (310) 320-5511.
The Westlake outpost of Shibucho first opened in 1976, a time when most Angelenos would have guessed wasabi and shoyu were characters in a Kurosawa film. The current owner (and original employee) is Shige Kudo, a man who is legendary for three things: an obsessively curated collection of red wine, a perpetual state of threatened retirement and an unmatched ability to coax the freshest fish into remarkable displays of sashimi. Be forewarned — Kudo is the Don Drysdale of the sushi world. If you can check your ego at the door, you'll find a man who is eager to share several decades worth of shokunin knowledge. If not, don't be surprised if he stiffs you with the itamae equivalent of a fastball whizzing past your chin. 3114 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (213) 387-8498.
6. Go's Mart
You've probably heard the "hole-in-the-wall with amazing food" refrain applied liberally in this city, but few, if any, can claim to match up with the sheer absurdity that is Go's Mart in Canoga Park. Housed in a converted Japanese grocery store (check out the VHS rental selection) is a small bar stocked with a dizzying array of Japanese seafood culled via weekly air shipments from the famed Tsukiji fish market. Reserve a seat and explain to Go your desire to enjoy the best he has to offer and you'll be introduced to a decadent world filled with gold flake–dusted chu-toro, uni-stuffed king crab and caviar-sprinkled Kumamoto oysters. If you can convince your skeptical friends that a meal of this caliber can be found in the upper reaches of the Valley, they may even brave the drive with you. 22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. (818) 704-1459.