A sushi addiction can be tough on the wallet, to say the least. It's one of those meals that you kind of want to spend a lot on, to guarantee quality, freshness and skill, but that makes the craving-to-satiation ratio fairly unbalanced for most of us. I've recently discovered one way to bridge the gap between restaurant sushi meals, and that's Yama Seafood L.A. in Alhambra.
Yama has been around forever, but when people discuss L.A.'s great fish markets, it rarely comes up. We talk about Fish King in Glendale, the L.A. Fish Co. downtown, and McCall's in Los Feliz, but Yama often goes unloved. This is perhaps because its product is so specific. Most of what's sold at Yama is really only good for one thing: sushi.
Run by Mr. Yama, who often serves at the counter, cuts fish and makes rolls and also runs the cash register, Yama Seafood is not for the impatient. But wait for him to get around to you and you'll be rewarded. Tuna, salmon and yellowtail sashimi are always available, and Mr. Yama will cut them for you as well, not charging any extra to make your purchase into a gleaming sashimi plate and often throwing in some extra fish if he's in a good mood.
On a recent Saturday, we walked away with a beautiful array of yellowtail and salmon as well as a tray of uni for less than $20. Yama threw in some tuna, which we made into rolls. It was quite a feast — nothing like the exciting fish choices and pristine knife work you'll get at many L.A. sushi restaurants, but a huge step up from the other end of the spectrum: dollar sushi and supermarket rolls.
Yama also sells packaged rolls to go, and they, too, are far better than what you'd get at Whole Foods or other bargain sushi outlets. (It's all about the rice.) They'll even make you a giant party platter for relatively little money, though you need to go in prepared to tell him exactly what you want, and I suggest you order well ahead of time. I've seen Mr. Yama get hugely impatient with wafflers, just as I've seen him beam and make jokes when customers know exactly what they're in the market for.
Yama sells other fish as well, depending on what's fresh and good at the wholesale markets. You can almost always pick up a hamachi (yellowtail) collar, as well as all the fixings for making sushi and other Japanese food at home. The store also has a strange dusty shrine to the Kentucky Derby on one shelf, as well as other oddities here and there. It's an odd store, but a godsend for those of us who suffer from a sushi addiction we can't quite financially support.
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