Everything you ever wanted to know about sushi in L.A.

Nigiri sushi with dry-aged fish at Sushi Kimura in Tokyo
(Shiho Fukada / For The Times)

It was nearly a year ago that the Food team began knocking around an idea in our weekly meetings: What if we tackled an all-in project on L.A.’s sushi culture?

Sushi’s presence here began taking root with the Japanese American communities established in the late 1800s. In the last half-century, with its popular ascent, this mutable marriage of seafood and rice has become entwined in the city’s identity. And like any notion of identity, no single aspect of the dish’s countless expressions completely defines it.

Our brainstorming sessions on California rolls, chefs’ evolving approaches to omakase, vegan sushi and so much more dovetailed with a story that enterprise reporter Daniel Miller had been researching for years, a sprawling account of a friendship and a meal that kindled L.A.’s enduring love for sushi.


It all went live this week.

The best sushi in L.A.

A sweeping project like this naturally needs a guide to the best sushi restaurants in Los Angeles: Months of eating across the region informed my top 10 list, plus 11 additional standouts, including blowout omakase worth the expense, some excellent mid-priced options and two favorite institutions.

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The newest and greatest in our ever-growing number of omakase restaurants tend to be run by seasoned talents with years of experience working for others; these small bars are their chance to shine in their own limelight. I noticed that many of them were moving away from signifiers of luxury — truffle oil, gold leaf, caviar, imaginative and often sweet slicks of sauce — that had become fashionable as garnishes for nigiri over the last 20 years. At I-naba in Torrance, for example, Yasuhiro Hirano adds only a pinch of minced chives to offset a sharper-flavored fish, and he classically serves mild, wintertime kawahagi with an enriching shard of its own liver. Mostly, though, when the quality of the neta (topping) is superb, it doesn’t need much else.

Chef Norihito Endo at his sushi bar Ebisu Endo in Tokyo.
Chef Norihito Endo straddles the traditional and the modern at his sushi bar Ebisu Endo in Tokyo.
(Irwin Wong / For The Times)

Thinking more about the facets of this evolution — the reconsideration of traditional approaches by local chefs — led me back to the origins of Edomae sushi. I went to Tokyo to better understand time-honored and modern styles of sushi in Japan, and how it informs excellence in L.A. sushi right now. There was plenty to say.

I didn’t undertake hand roll bars, a genre that has proliferated across Los Angeles since the 2014 opening of KazuNori and its blue crab temaki made famous by legendary chef Kazunori Nozawa. Stephanie Breijo, Cindy Carcamo, Betty Hallock, Jenn Harris and Lucas Kwan Peterson name the city’s finest.

The uni and toro and uni at Rol Hand Roll Bar by Kei Concepts in Fountain Valley
The uni and toro and the uni are two of five decadent options listed as premium hand rolls at Rol Hand Roll Bar by Kei Concepts in Fountain Valley.
(Cindy Carcamo / Los Angeles Times)

More sushi around L.A. ... and at home

If you’ve seen references to dry-aged fish on menus at L.A. restaurants of all kinds, including sushi bars, the influence (and likely the product itself) can be traced back to the Joint fish market in Sherman Oaks. Stephanie illuminates how Joint owner Liwei Liao has even bigger plans for seafood and the city.

Trays of the ultimate California roll at Yama Seafood
Betty Hallock highlights the ultimate California roll at Yama Seafood in San Gabriel.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Betty visited another fish market, Yama Seafood in San Gabriel, to detail the store’s two-decade pursuit of creating the ultimate California roll. She also pinpoints her choice for the best vegan sushi in Los Angeles: the creations made by Yoko Hasebe, a dancer who also makes beautiful creations for her online delivery and pickup business, Plant Sushi Yoko.

Jenn did heroic work for a story with a headline that says everything: “Supermarket sushi you’ll actually want to eat.” Lucas pays tribute to a 1960s-era takeout shop in Gardena that has been serving the same six items for decades. May it never change.

Want to make sushi at home? Betty breaks down the elements — the nori, the rice and the fillings, suggesting some especially satisfying combinations — and has a step-by-step recipe for assembling it all in your kitchen. (This is a good place to say that Betty has a wealth of sushi knowledge that uplifted the staff and this whole project. She even provided me with on-the-ground tips in Tokyo. Thank you, Betty!)

The big question

Finally, Jean Trinh takes a fresh look at the question that’s been looming over our bottomless appetites for sushi for years: Should we be eating bluefin tuna? Inform your decision-making by understanding the three species of bluefin tuna and how each is sourced.

Yes, this is an enormous amount to read on one of L.A.’s culinary cornerstones. Our efforts will be gathered in one place in our sushi takeover of this Sunday’s Weekend print section. Anytime you want to dive back in, there is the easy-to-remember vanity URL under which every story lives:

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May 18, 2020