You won't find sushi power players such as Nobu, Urasawa or n/naka anywhere except Los Angeles' Westside. But if you're willing to travel into the San Fernando Valley — gasp! — you'll find a wealth of exceptional sushi, much of it tucked away in unassuming strip malls.
Truth be told, the Valley has a long history dating back to the 1980s as an epicenter of world-class sushi bars: Teru Sushi put the area on the map with its famed California rolls, and the now-shuttered Sushi Nozawa, helmed by legendary sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa,
proffered its unique brand of “my way or the highway" sushi to obsequious studio executives and sushi connoisseurs alike. (The location is now the site of Sugarfish, co-owned by Nozawa.)
Many of the best sushi bars in the Valley prefer to serve dishes in a style that seems to say, "Chef's choice, trust me." So if you trust the chef — and we think you should — here are five restaurants to try on Ventura Boulevard and beyond.
Since 1989, Kazu has been a prominent, though low-key, player in the L.A. sushi scene. Don't be fooled by its tiny strip-mall location: The tiny Kumamoto oysters, served three to an order as part of chef Kazu's omakase, or multicourse chef's choice, have never tasted closer to the sea. Avid fans affectionately call the luscious lobes of ankimo, or monkfish liver, topped with green fish roe and black caviar in a ponzu jelly, the "foie gras of the sea.” Most meals consist of toro (fatty tuna belly), ultra-fresh jumbo scallops seasoned simply with yuzu juice and sea salt, and a superlative nodoguro (sea perch). Chef Kazu’s sushi is simple, fresh and classically restrained. Though Kazu is decidedly taciturn and somewhat gruff, he’s ultimately eager to please and educate sushi novices. 11440 Ventura Blvd., Suite 106, Studio City; (818) 763-4837, kazusushi818.com
4. Sushi Yotsuya
The traditional yet impeccable Sushi Yotsuya operates with a strict "chef's choice" policy, but something tells us you won't be able to refuse chef Masa Matsumoto's thick, meltingly tender cuts of fresh fish draped over warm rice. Posters of fish adorn the simple white walls; the restaurant’s interior looks deceptively modest. A typical meal — though meals here are anything but — might start with maguro (tuna) sashimi swimming in citrus-ponzu sauce, followed by briny ikura (salmon roe) wrapped in crisp nori, toothsome orange clam, fresh hamachi (yellowtail) sushi and so on. The obligatory blue crab hand roll serves as a fitting coda — and the refreshing crabmeat might just be your new favorite dessert. Matsumoto is a true whiz when it comes to classic sushi. 18760 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 708-9675.
3. Sushi Iki
Sushi Iki (yes, pronounced like the word "icky") is a tiny Valley gem that only serves omakase at the sushi bar. Chef Eddie Okamoto's infectious laughter and witty sense of humor will make you feel right at home — and if you're lucky enough to snap a photo of him grinning mischievously while holding up a live 10-pound king crab, your Instagram followers will thank you. His fiendishly delicious signature dish is a halibut appetizer lovingly dubbed the United Nations: “Halibut from Spain, foie gras from Canada, caviar from Russia, black truffles from Italy, and I’m from Japan!” Okamoto jokes. The dish is his playful wink to surf and turf. You're in for a treat if Okamoto serves you ultra-rare exotic species such as heavenly akamutsu. Prime cuts of beyond-buttery super toro, yellowtail, live scallops and an incomparable kinmedai (golden eye snapper) might follow, depending on the season. 18663 Ventura Blvd., Suite 106, Tarzana; (818) 343-3470, sushiiki.com
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When Tetsuya Nakao founded Asanebo in 1991, the sashimi– and small plates–only restaurant didn't serve any sushi. Today it is known for dishes such as toro tartare topped with osetra caviar in a pool of miso sauce. The hamachi is dotted with yuzu chili paste, adding some spice that goes so well with the yellowtail. The kanpachi sashimi, lacquered with sesame-inflected miso paste and finely minced serrano chilies, is just as good. Nakao developed his artistry with his younger brother, Shunji (who now runs his own justly esteemed restaurant) at the Peruvian-influenced Matsuhisa. His diverse culinary prowess is revealed through vegetable preparations such as the juicy momotaro tomato paired with crab. 11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 760-3348, asanebo-restaurant.com
1. Go’s Mart
Go’s Mart, a cozy, amiable bar with deep ochre walls, is slightly off the beaten track in Canoga Park, but its popularity has never suffered because of its location. Some of chef Go's sushi is served in carefully themed flights — he might serve a flight of four pieces in the key of whitefish, for example, each piece anointed with its own piquant sauce. Or perhaps, in between his witty banter with longtime patrons, he might deliver the signature “tuna break”: fresh maguro sushi, seared toro topped with osetra caviar and gold leaf, and the melt-in-your-mouth kawagishi toro, which is the fatty tuna meticulously scraped from the bone. Go serves ankimo topped with tangy mountain berries and soybean sauce. Seared Kobe beef is cutely named “Holy Cow,” which is also, coincidentally, what you might say upon taking your first bite. 22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park; (818) 704-1459