[SEE OUR UPDATED LIST OF THE TOP 5 SUSHI RESTAURANTS IN THE VALLEY]
One of the hard truths reached while researching our 10 Best Sushi Restaurants list a few weeks ago was that Los Angeles has far too many superb sushi restaurants to ever be condensed into a single list. One area that felt particularly overlooked (with only one entry in the top ten) was the San Fernando Valley, a region that may be considered a wasteland in some categories, but certainly not for sushi. In fact, the stretch of Ventura boulevard that hugs just below the 101 is often referred to as “sushi row,” a place seafood lovers have been haunting for decades. Here are a few more of our favorite places to enjoy fresh fish when we feel like crossing the hill. Turn the page.
If you lived your entire life with the firm edict of never eating sushi at a place that serves pastrami burgers it would probably serve you well — with one notable exception. Chef Jun Cha, a former chef at Katana and Sushi Roku, added a bafflingly extensive sushi menu to his parents' retro Northridge diner, which is better known among locals for baskets of french fries and overstuffed breakfast burritos. There's a lot of sauce-drizzled, over-the-top creations (Avocado Mexican Roll, anyone?) but the real gems are Cha's rotating specials: seared scallops topped with uni, tuna sashimi with yuzu cream and black truffle, or live surf clams spooned with a fresh mango salsa. This is cultural confusion at its finest. 9345 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 885-6456.
Further proof that everyone loves a good “sushi nazi” is this unadorned spot on the Glendale/Burbank border, known for its hard and fast insistence on omakase and its flatware resembling what your grandmother probably has in the back of her cabinet. Just like at Hiro and Sasabune, the kind of strict “no-sauce” minimalism and intense visages behind the counter becomes kind of endearing after a few taut pieces of fish — buttery toro, snow-white squid, and kelp-layered salmon — pass your lips. The fatty squares of tuna, marinated in a miso-sesame mixture that looks like thinned-out peanut butter, are worth the trip alone. 1712 Victory Blvd.; Glendale; (818) 244-2933.
How can a place that derives its name from a Wes Montgomery guitar standard not be great? (Live jazz performances are a Sunday staple.) Owner Kiminobu Saito insists on dabbing his fish with unique sauces made from things like fresh yuzu, Japanese bitter orange, and a lip-tingling Chilean pepper paste — which means you'll probably never have to reach for that beaker of soy sauce across the counter. The lengthy board of specials could feature anything from Scorpion fish to orange back sea bream to live octopus, but you might want to go with one of the house favorites: a strip of house-smoked salmon spread with a thin layer of cream cheese. All that's missing is the bagel. 16573 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 501-7191.
When former owner Shunji Nakao opened Asanebo in the early 90's, after spinning off from the legendary Matsuhisa, he was credited as the first chef to bring Nobu-style dining into the Valley. Situated in the heart of Studio City's bustling sushi district, Asanebo still draws industry crowds hungry for plates of razor-thin mackerel sashimi and miso-saturated broiled black cod. For a long time Asanebo was known as the anti-nigiri Japanese restaurant, a place where most dishes were either a sort of elevated Japanese pub food or sashimi dressed up with things like jalapeño oil and caviar. That adherence has softened a bit now — probably for the better — as plump lozenges of rice topped with salmon or wild yellowtail, or even cigar-shaped spicy tuna rolls are the things everyone is asking of their itamea. 11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 760-3348.
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It's rumored that the most feared man at downtown's fish markets is Sushi Iki's “Crazy” Eddie Okamoto, a guy who pursues the rarest and fresh seafood specimens with the relentlessness of Joe Friday. There are live scallops, ready to be popped from their shells; fresh hairy crabs a foot across; and a shucked Kumamoto oysters lashed with tangy ponzu. It's not surprising that Iki has become a cult favorite among Valley sushi hunters — while the prices are comparable to some of the fancier fish houses in Beverly Hills, the generous portions are easily double what you'll find elsewhere. 18663 Ventura Blvd.; Tarzana; (818) 343-3470.