Does Los Angeles boast the best sushi in the entire country? If even Ferran Adriá 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. Turn the page.
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 ribeye, 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. His chawanmushi, a steamed egg custard filled with bits of whitefish, shrimp, and mushrooms, might be the perfect kind of thing to fortify the bones before a chilly evening's walk. Ike is a good man to develop a rapport with - aim to differentiate yourself from the Kevin Federline and Heidi Montage types that used to pop up at Sushi Ike and you'll be dutifully rewarded. 220 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 535-0880, $$$$
The spirit of the recently retired Kazunori Nozawa (of SugarFish fame) lives on at this cramped counter in Palms. All the hallmarks of Nozawa's Edo-purist style are here: the loosely packed vinegar-pungent rice served piping hot, the unaltered slabs of pure oceanic flesh, the unmistakable airing of that "sushi nazi" bravado. But the man working the fish, Shinji Murata -- who once worked under Nozawa -- surpasses the master at his own game. The parade of cheap plastic plates filled with nigiri: taut sheets of albacore, baby tuna dashed with ponzu, sea bass with pickled seaweed and the eventual blue crab handroll might seem basic to an advanced aficionado, but under the guiding hand of Murata the traditional become revelatory. Nozowa was known to have softened his strict set of rules in later years; Murata, on the other hand, is sharp as ever - and still willing to send someone arriving late for their reservation out to the curb. 11275 National Blvd., L.A., (310) 473-7688, $$$$
In the shadow of the Japanese multinational headquarters that line Torrance's Western Boulevard is Nozomi, a minimalist space that feels closer to a neighborhood haunt than any type of intimidating sushi temple. It would be wise to ask for Chef Yasu, an ebullient man who seems to always be quick with a joke and a glass of sake. It's been rumored that Yasu has the best Santa Barbara uni connections in the city - a point that seems all but confirmed when a slip of fresh sea urchin unfurls on your tongue like a briny wave of surf. There's even more, though: slivers of sea bream lined with transparent sheets of kelp, tender squares of squid dotted with umeboshi plum, red snapper dapped with salty sesame paste. He might even give a wink and introduce an oversize squirming shrimp as one of his favorite pets - poor guy, a few courses later it arrives as a bowl of miso soup with a shrimp head bobbing in the middle. 1757 W. Carson Blvd., Torrance, (310) 320-5511, $$$$
Turn the page for #7, etc...