Los Angeles is easily one of the best sushi towns outside of Japan, thanks to an abundance of fresh seafood, superstar chefs, and a large audience rabid for raw fish. Given the big difference between grocery store sashimi and top-of-the-line toro, this list will narrow the crowded field down to 12 superior restaurants.
There are a lot of rules at Sugarfish. Things like refusing to give out extra rice and salt and instructions on what items can be dipped in soy sauce might seem pretentious, but founding chef Kazunori Nozawa only wants to ensure high quality and authenticity—which is especially important now that his respected chain includes 11 locations. The code demands rice be loosely packed and warm so it melts in the mouth. Stringy, chewy, tough, and fishy fish are all verboten. It adds up to simple, balanced pieces of sea bream with shiso, albacore belly, and bay scallops. Order a la carte or choose a preset package ranging from $19 to $52. Although it’s open for dinner, Sugarfish is far more popular with the lunch crowd and as they do not take reservations, prepare for a hefty wait.
Hiroyuki Urasawa is a legend in LA’s Japanese food scene although not always for the best reasons. Setting employee lawsuits alledging chopstick assault and unpaid wages aside, when it comes to omakase, he and his Rodeo Drive institution in Beverly Hills only ever get high marks—including two Michelin stars in the most recent Los Angeles guidebook. Urasawa personally inspects and approves every piece of seafood that is flown in daily and then turns it—plus edible gold flakes, foie gras, and truffles—into beautiful plates that respect tradition and push boundaries simultaneously. Reservations are hard to come by despite the 25-course experience costing $400 before drinks.
Downtown offers choices at all price points, but one of the finest is this brick-walled Michelin-starred sushiya in the historic core. Helmed by Tokyo native Hiroyuki Naruke, Q serves lunch and dinner omakase ($75 to $200 per person) that begins with tsumami (small appetizers) and continues with several rounds of sashimi and nigiri. He spent decades perfecting the red vinegar and sea salt ratio in his rice and uses a variety of techniques to achieve peak flavor from fish including aging, curing, playing with temperatures, and torching it with a handheld flamethrower.
You know a sushi joint is a cut above when even the miso soup is next level as it is at this 16-seat West Hollywood counter where bowls of broth are concocted with a trio of aged miso pastes. Like Urasawa, Sushi Ginza Onodera also received two Michelin stars this year, which is no surprise given the restaurant's use of ingredients flown in daily and superior knife skills, all of which result in truly authentic Edomae sushi (a historic style born on the Tokyo waterfront). The folks behind the bar were all trained in Ginza at the main outpost, which contributes to the $300 price tag.
The gut reaction to the phrase “strip mall sushi” might be to run in the opposite direction. But in LA, many wasabi wizards toil in nondescript shopping center spots, often in the San Fernando Valley, including Shin’s Taketoshi Azumi, who named his Encino restaurant after the one his late father ran in Tokyo. Chef Take runs a tight ship on his side of the counter but is warm and talkative with customers. The vibe is casual and the price point, even for omakase, especially at lunchtime, is far more reasonable than his Michelin-starred peers on the other side of the hill. Only purists need apply as there are no kitchen items like chicken teriyaki. Don’t skip the torched snow trout.
Before all the hotels, cookbooks, and celebrity friends, there was chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s flagship Beverly Hills restaurant. Despite being around for decades, the restaurant is regularly packed and still churns out top-quality sushi using both the expected (albacore, freshwater eel, and sea urchin) and uncommon (bonito, sardine, and orange clam). There’s also a wide selection of oysters, cold dishes including sashimi tacos, and hot specials like black cod with miso and chicken truffle dumplings. Many of his best ideas are also served with a side of waterfront scenery at Nobu in Malibu or in Newport Beach's Lido Marina Village.
The white walls, paper lanterns, and blond wood can evoke the wrong first impression of this 39-seat, dinner-only restaurant on Pico as the food is anything but boring. The Michelin star recipient starts with house-made tofu, organic produce from the farmers market, and mostly wild-caught fish splayed gracefully over rice or wrapped in seaweed. Even finishing details like hibiscus salt, yuzu pepper, and mountain yam paste are well thought out. Complete the experience with green tea ice cream churned from scratch.
With flashy interiors and free-flowing cocktails, this mini-chain might be the most LA of them all. Luckily, the menu still has all the basics—octopus, freshwater eel, and yellowtail—but also a few bolder choices spiced up with ingredients not often seen at traditional Japanese restaurants like Sriracha, olive oil, parmesan cheese, kumquat, jalapeno, and avocado. It results in unique and tasty creations like baked lobster with miso hollandaise and blue crab caviar with garlic aioli and truffle soy sauce, making Sushi Roku a good place to go with someone who would rather have steak than smelt egg.
Surprise—it's another Michelin-starred sushiya helmed by a pedigreed chef; he was one of Matsuhisa’s original hires and ran Studio City’s still-acclaimed Asanebo. Located a bizarre round building off the I-10, Shunji serves a la carte items and two types of dinner omakase: primarily nigiri or a selection of appetizers, cooked entrees, sashimi, and sushi. There's a hefty per person cancellation fee here and no vegetarian options.
Power lunchers and celebrity fans (Charlize crispy rice tuna tacos, anyone?) have frequented Yoya Takahashi’s Westside strip mall gem on Santa Monica Boulevard for years to indulge in chef’s choice platters of sashimi, nigiri with matcha soba noodles, toro carpaccio, and rarer seasonal favorites like gizzard shad and barracuda. Given the high standards and top-notch seafood being used, the $80 omakase is a steal. They stock a phenomenal variety of sake, shochu, and Japanese craft beer.
Tucked into the Beverly Hills location of Sugarfish, mackerel master Osamu Fujita was handpicked by chef Nozawa to man the tiny bar. They make trips to the fish markets every morning to grab fresh cuts to fill the multi-course menu of mostly nigiri (served atop signature warm rice) with sashimi and handrolls thrown in for good measure. Dinner is by pre-paid reservation only and costs $175. Fees are charged for rebooking and no-shows, and they won't accommodate vegetarian, gluten-free, anti-rice, or anti-vinegar diets.
While the sushi section of the 13-course kaiseki meal is small, it’s mighty enough to merit inclusion. "Chef’s Table" subject Niki Nakayama cut her teeth at Brentwood’s acclaimed Takao before embarking on a three-year working journey around Japan. The minimalist Palms space, her third solo venture, is a culmination of all her culinary experiences. With the help of added girl power from sous chef Carole Iida-Nakayama and their own organic garden, Nakayama has modernized the traditional, often formal Japanese style that emphasizes balance and seasonality. Her plating is delicate, elegant, and often whimsical. The two Michelin-starred cuisine can be enjoyed for $225 with an optional wine and sake pairing. A vegetarian tasting menu is slightly cheaper.