The Best Los Angeles Strip Mall Sushi
Los Angeles has some of the world’s best sushi (once you’ve lived in L.A., it can be hard to find an omakase that makes the cut elsewhere), and in the greatest irony of all, these sublime meals aren’t found in the fancy parts. They live in strip malls, often in the outskirts of town. Here, the 10 spots that made our list.
11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City | 818.760.3348
This might just take the cake for the least spectacular strip mall exterior: Funny, because it belies the cozy décor and Michelin-starred sushi and small plates inside. It’s all exquisite, whether you order from the menu or opt for one of the three omakase menus. “A”, “B”, and “C”, range from expensive to extravagant, but they’re all worthwhile treats. It’s possible to walk-in (and wait) on a week-night, but reservations are essential on weekends.
12217 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.820.9787
This is as low-profile as it goes for strip mall sushi, which says a lot. It’s always quiet (besides the elevator jazz in the background that lends a shred of ambiance) and there’s never a wait to get a table. Whether you’re ordering off the menu or opting for the set omakase at the bar, it’s nicely affordable, too, which doesn’t translate to lower grade fish.
11043 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. | 310.479.7636
Where East meets West. And by that we mean that its central location—right off the 405—makes it an excellent meeting point for friends from opposite sides of town. It’s also where sushi purists and California Roll enthusiasts can dine at the same table. There’s an extensive menu of cooked dishes, along with the whimsically-named rolls like Green Dragon, Asylum, and Sixteen Plus.
11275 National Blvd., West L.A. | 310.473.7688
The “No Cell Phone” sign at the door sets the tone for a meal focused on melt-in-your-mouth sushi made by one serious chef. While he presents seasonal highlights and rare cuts (among other delights, we sampled a buttery escolar with a light garlic glaze, and kinka-saba, a thinly sliced, sweet Mackerel from northern Japan) his warm and welcoming wife Miyo gives the low-down on each dish. She’s happy to add that she doesn’t actually like sushi unless it’s made by her husband—apparently his is the only technique to trust. The unusual cuts of fresh fish and the subtle twists to the traditional format, like using warm rice to contrast with the cold fish and adding sesame seeds to the typical tuna sashimi starter’s ponzu sauce for crunch, make all the difference.
11917 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood | 310.478.3596
The givens: Unadorned sushi, attentive service, a busy and buzzy atmosphere. What sets it apart from the other west side options is very simple. It’s the rice. Perfectly moist and served slightly warm, it’s the ideal vehicle for the fish, which is, for the most part, presented sans sauce (why mar perfection?). They offer a $28 lunch special that condenses the omakase menu but still packs the same punch.
11680 Ventura Blvd., Studio City | 818.985.6976
Famed, acclaimed, and oft-copied for dishes like spicy tuna on crispy rice, baked crab, and albacore and onion, Chef Katsuya is one of the most revered (and commercially successful) in California—since opening his first location in Studio City in 1999, he’s started a veritable empire. While there are now seven, very slick, Philippe Starck-designed outposts, they’re not quite of the same quality as the original in our opinion. To that end, we’ll always be faithful to Studio City’s wooden booths, bamboo plants, and altogether homey feel. With cooked food, a selection of rolls, and an expansive sushi list, it has plenty of options for the entire family.
Sushi Nishi Ya
1712 Victory Blvd., Glendale | 818.244.2933
While its location is perfect if you work at the studios (or have just landed at the Burbank airport), an idle weeknight works for a trip here, too. When you arrive, the hostess will tersely explain that this is an omakase only place. “No California Rolls.” In case that isn’t clear enough, there’s a large sign right behind the bar that reiterates: Omakase Only. Once through the gauntlet, an incredibly jovial sushi chef compensates. Sit as close to him as possible, as the restaurant doesn’t offer much in the way of ambiance, and he will walk you through your meal, explaining the provenance of the fish, and exactly how to season it.
8539 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood | 310.652.0523
Tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript Sunset Boulevard strip mall, this joint (also on The GP 13, above) will never draw an unwitting crowd. They flock for good reason, as Peter Park’s ever-changing and delectable sushi omakase is inarguably one of the city’s best. High quality fish and people watching come at a price, though it’s a worthwhile splurge.
18760 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana | 818.708.9675
It may be located in Tarzana, but the unreal omakase at Sushi Yotsuya definitely justifies the drive. Chef Masa’s word-of-mouth reputation has grown steadily over the years and his restaurant is a valley insider’s secret. It’s a no-frills situation down to the TV news blaring in the background, and the sign that states “Sushi” out front. We like to sit at the bar with the chef, who is generally happy to throw back some sake.
10422 National Blvd., West L.A.
In order to eat here, you must request an invitation via their website; once granted, you’ll head to an unmarked, paper-windowed location where the door is not only closed, it’s locked. It may sound like some sort of hipster ploy, but it’s all done in earnest. The place is tiny: 15 seats in entirety, arranged around Chef Yama’s domain. There’s zero in the way of décor, the plates are mismatched, and it’s BYOB (you share with the chef), but you really won’t care. You’re on an omakase/small dish excursion of Olympic proportions, and you get to watch it all come to be. Over about four hours you’ll sample roughly 24 courses—some recognizable, some not. They’re all inventive and incredibly rich. (We had a lot of uni, a lot of truffles, and one mini-sandwich of french butter pressed between persimmon jam chunks—we ate the butter in its entirety, and then realized that eating butter isn’t as awesome as it sounds.)
212 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills | 424.216.6158
When the legendary Nozawa closed its doors, it sent shockwaves through the LA sushi scene. (On its last day, fans lined up down the block for a final Tokyo-style meal from legendary Chef Nozawa—known as the original “Sushi Nazi.”) Luckily, it’s now reincarnated in the form of Nozawa Bar. Though no longer in a strip mall, and thus off our official list, it remains true to the same no-frills attitude. Walk through Sugarfish (the chef’s hyper-efficient chain) on North Cañon Drive and into the bar, headed up by Chef Fujita, Nozawa’s charming and friendly sushi prodigy. The set menu changes daily according to Fujita and Nozawa’s market finds, and consists of purist nigiri, sushi, and hand-rolls. Sadly, this is not a spot for the spontaneous: You must make a reservation (many weeks in advance).