Our 99 Essential L.A. Restaurants issue came out recently, and we're highlighting a few categories drawing from the list. Today: Japanese restaurants.
This is not a definitive list of the best Japanese restaurants in L.A., but it is a sampling of five that we think are each essential in their own way.
When Tsujita, a respected tsukemen joint in Japan, opened its first foreign outpost on Sawtelle, ramen lovers swooned -- even now, the lengthy wait list for a table often rivals something out of the UCLA admissions department. (Making matters worse, ramen is served only during lunch, out of concern that the dish's popularity would overshadow the dinnertime kaiseki menu.) Still, the chefs at Tsujita L.A. take their craft as seriously as brain surgeons.
The menu at Kiyokawa doesn't explain why you might seek out this small, unassuming sushi bar tucked among the nail salons and boutiques of Robertson in Beverly Hills: There are the requisite sushi rolls, standard nigiri options, and some lunch specials. It's the chalkboard beside the sushi bar that should provide a hint as to why we're so enamored of this place. There, the special fish of the day is displayed: striped jack, ocean trout, Japanese mackerel. The live shrimp will arrive at your table still alive, the meat removed, the head still moving as it pokes out of the ice.
3. Go's Mart
Do you want to drive miles across the far northwestern reaches of the San Fernando Valley only to find yourself parked in a decrepit Canoga Park strip mall searching for a "sushi" sign near a tiny door, sandwiched between a Papa John's franchise and a foot massage parlor? Yeah, you actually do. Go's Mart -- not that you'd know the name until you get inside the place, whose decor resembles a nail salon more than that of one of the best sushi restaurants in town -- has been occupying this improbable spot for the last 16 years.
Ken Namba's 14-year-old sushi restaurant may look nondescript from the outside, wedged as it is into the ground floor of a mall at the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle, but once inside you'll soon see what makes the smallish Kiriko one of the best sushi restaurants in town. You might get a necklace of amberjack and thinly sliced jalapeños laid across your plate; or a tangle of baby octopus tentacles decorated with a drop of sauce; maybe you'll get kohada or abalone or a simple sliver of Aoyagi clam.
If you want to experience the rarefied pleasures of Nobu Matsuhisa's Los Angeles restaurants, you can dine at the palatial new Nobu Malibu, a pebble's throw from the Pacific surf, or at the David Rockwell-designed Nobu Los Angeles, in the company of, maybe, Robert de Niro and the ghosts of L'Orangerie, the swank French restaurant that once occupied the space. Or you can wander a few doors down La Cienega from Nobu Los Angeles to the relative proletarian comfort of the original Matsuhisa, which the chef opened in 1987. Sit at the bar and order one of the pretty plates of black cod with miso that made Nobu, well, Nobu.
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