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.
5. Sushi Zo
Even its most devoted regulars will agree: Sushi Zo is far from the most hospitable environment. Your first greeting by the hostess will include an unapologetic warning that this is omakase only. Photos are strictly verboten at the sushi bar, and heaven help you if owner Keizo Seki spots you pull out your iPhone for a midmeal tweet. But in spite of all these firm rules — or more likely because of them — Sushi Zo excels at its craft, serving a strict menu of traditionalist nigiri that might be more at home in 19th-century Tokyo than a Cheviot Hills strip mall. There are buttery coins of raw Hokkaido scallop, sweet shrimp the color of pink pearls and types of fish you didn't even know existed until they leapt from the edge of Seki's exacting blade. You will be bluntly instructed on how to best enjoy all of them — we recommend you listen. 9824 National Blvd., L.A. (310) 842-3977.
Omakase meals at Kiyokawa often involve a gorgeous, six-section plate, roughly the size of the cafeteria tray, filled with intricate appetizers: steamed lobster on a square of fried wonton; uni soaked in white miso; or maybe a foie gras torchon studded with grains of truffle salt. Chef Satoshi Kiyokawa, even though his undecorated storefront might not suggest it, is something of a one-man orchestra. He hangs over his plates with intense focus and arranges them with the kind of intricacy and creativity you'd see in the kitchen of Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz — all taking place no more than a few feet from your chair. He might serve a rudimentary matzo ball of sorts, made from bits of scallop and tofu, swimming in bottarga broth, or maybe a simple vegetable soup scented with braised daikon and taro. Both evoke the efforts of Kiyokawa perfectly: layers of flavor and texture woven together to produce a single, symphonic result. 265 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 358-1900.
3. Mori Sushi
When Morihiro Onodera sold his namesake restaurant to an assistant chef one year ago, the reaction among sushi gurus was something akin to Black Friday. Could a Michelin-starred restaurant whose excellence rested upon meticulous quality control continue its ways once its founder had retired? Breathe easy, sushinistas — the answer is an unequivocal yes. The charred, giant prawns still arrive looking like a prop from a Japanese sci-fi flick, the strips of scale-on baby barracuda are still marked with a gentle sear, and your meal still ends with a dainty bowl of green tea ice cream churned, naturally, from scratch. 11500 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. (310) 479-3939.
2. Kiriko Sushi
Few itamae balance the stylings of modern and classic sushi with the flair of Kiriko's Ken Namba. Some nights there will be plump tomato geleé or squares of bright orange king salmon that Namba smokes himself in the back kitchen. Other times it's pale lozenges of skipjack topped with yuzu rind and shaved pink sea salt. He might even surprise you with a bowl of cooked tuna mashed with bits of okra, green onion and grated yamaimo, a dish that would be well received at any PTA potluck. Kiriko is a place where it pays to be a regular — that albacore sashimi with ponzu jelly from one night might transform into a seared filet dusted with fried garlic the next. Of course, sitting at the gorgeously rough-hewn sushi bar with Namba calmly doting overhead is reason enough to inspire regular visits. 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A. (310) 478-7769.
When discussing Urasawa, it's probably best to address the elephant in the room first. This is unequivocally the most expensive restaurant in the city (too high for publication expense budgets). It's the kind of commodity, along with courtside Lakers tickets, that most people spend years squirreling away toward. The real question — is it worth it? Chef Hiro Urasawa trained under Masa Takayama, a man who is almost unanimously agreed upon to be the best sushi chef in the country (Takayama left Los Angeles a few years ago to open Masa in New York, where dinners often command even more astronomical prices). Urasawa speaks the delicate language of kaiseki with a level of fluidity most chefs can only dream of, teasing out the nuances of Japan's most prized delicacies: Kobe beef sashimi, foie gras shabu-shabu, and, if the season is right, sweet filaments of hairy crab imbued with layers of creamy shirako. The bill might become more bearable if you think of it as a first-class Japanese vacation that lasts only a few hours — imagine the money you saved on airfare. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 247-8939.