The South Bay is a treasure trove for bargain sushi hunters
Let’s get something straight: I’m a bit of a cheapo when it comes to sushi. Yes, I know sushi is one of the foods that everyone in LA feels is okay to splurge on, but I’m not one to spend more than $100 on sushi on any given occasion. In the City of Angels, where sushi is perhaps the most indulged-upon meal in town, I’m hesitant to shell out the dough the highest end places like Nozawa Bar, Sushi Tsujita, Mori, Sushi Park, Sushi Zo, Ginza Onodera, N/Naka, and Q. And I think most people who make normal-people income would agree, unless they like saving up, which is totally acceptable.
Not there’s anything wrong with enjoying those incredibly high end meals — they’re pure exhibition and artistry. They’re demonstrations of the highest mastery of a Japanese culinary art form, and they’re more than worth what you pay for them. However, I’m personally more interested in the bang for the buck, or quality-to-price ratio (QPR).
Because I’m looking for greatest QPR, my favorite sushi spot in Los Angeles that comes the $100 hurdle is Hamasaku, which was remodeled last year into a rather lovely dining room in a West LA strip mall. There, sushi chef Yoya Takahashi prepares a fine omakase for $55 per person.
At Hamasaku, you get around 14 to 15 pieces of fantastic nigiri, including toro (I know, avoid bluefin if possible), kohada, and yellowtail, which comprise some of my favorite cuts. I’ve also really enjoyed the excellent omakase at Redondo Beach’s Sushi Chitose, which serves a $45 omakase with 15 pieces, with very good shari (rice) and smallish cuts of fish. An average appetite would get full with that meal, but a few hand rolls at the end of Chitose caps off any semblance remaining hunger.
After recently moving to South Bay, I’ve found myself a lot closer to real LA’s sushi center: the neighborhoods of Torrance, Gardena, Lomita, and Redondo Beach. It’s in these enclaves where the continental U.S.’s largest Japanese-American population lives, thanks to the enduring legacy of automakers Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, who had their headquarters in the area. In the past few years, Toyota and Nissan have moved their corporate HQs, but Honda still remains in Torrance.
The benefits of such a cluster of Japanese companies is the myriad restaurants that have sprouted over the last few decades. And sushi in particular has found inroads in small strip malls across the vast South Bay region. A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a trek to Lomita’s Miura, a well-regarded sushi bar with dark, but compact environs toward the back of a quiet strip mall along Pacific Coast Highway. Open for nearly 13 years, the place felt lively and fun on a Friday evening. We called ahead to book seats at the bar where we could watch the action.
The service is prompt and attentive without being overbearing, with drink service coming from floor service staff. From there, the sushi chef and proprietor Ryu Miura takes over, and you could tell he was having a good time when he was taking shots of sake with the diners next to us.
We started with a thin cut of raw scallop, or hotate. The rice, or shari, was also on the smaller side, which kept the proportion proper. I was worried at this point that the pieces would be really small, which aren’t normally a problem with more premium omakase offerings. I just didn’t want to leave the place hungry. The half-dollar sized scallop itself was topped with a dab of yuzu to brighten up its tender, melt-in-your-mouth flavor. I was certainly ready for some fish at this point.
The chef placed some raw squid next, cut gently to help make it easier to chew. My wife isn’t the biggest fan of squid, but I really like it, especially completely raw like this. It resembles a kind of dense foam that’s more of a textural than flavor experience. You could see the fresh wasabi lurking under the fish, and that piquant hit was more apparent because of the squid’s relative blandness.
Next came snapper, which was already seasoned with soy and scallion. The cut this time was slightly thinner than than you’d expect, with a heftier shari. I’ve seen this ratio at places like Q and Shunji, and the bite itself was fantastic. The shari wasn’t overly vinegary like Sugarfish, nor was it warm. It was a touch warmer than room temperature, which I prefer.
Tuna, or maguro, came next and it was a really long cut. The generous tuna was clean and pure, with a richness that came out as I continued to chew.
The snow crab was gorgeous and also generously portioned, with an OCD-level of construction with the seawood laver. The flavor itself was sweet, fresh, and extremely tender. I could’ve ordered maybe three more of these if it weren’t for the rest of the meal to come.
Spanish mackerel was next, topped with a bit of grated ginger for extra kick. This piece was wonderful, not overly fishy, and extremely tender. You could tell chef Miura is sourcing some top grade stuff at this point, and that the quality here is probably just a hair or two short of the truly premium sushi joints in town. I was already convinced at this point that this meal was amazing, but the chef kept giving.
The yellowtail, or hamachi, was also fantastic, a richly textured and perfectly ‘ripened’ cut that was beautiful to behold as well. Some people denigrate salmon, but the cut here was not only very large, but nicely textured. I kind of think that chef Miura could tell how much we were enjoying ourselves and started slicing longer pieces of fish.
The cockle or surf clam (torigai), is a piece that you don’t normally get at places like Hamasaku or Chitose, so this was a welcome change of pace. The texture is firm, almost abalone-like, with a flavor that’s not quite as compelling as its larger crustacean friend, but still quite sweet. I was a fan of this but my wife didn’t care for it. I’d put this on “advanced” level sushi, so beware.
The next course was a one-two punch of salmon roe (ikura) and sea urchin roe (uni). Both were absolute pleasures, with a gentle pop coming from each of the salmon eggs. The uni, sourced from Santa Barbara, had an intense buttery sweetness that stayed on the palate for minutes. We’re lucky to have such great quality uni in California.
The next piece might’ve been our only letdown of the night, a nicely portioned slice of fatty tuna, or toro. Our pieces had some gristle in them that got stuck in our teeth, and I consider this kind of rare. The flavor itself was as excepted: rich, wagyu-like in fattiness, and fresh. Just watch out for the gristle because both of our pieces had it.
I think the real star of the evening was the next course: a live Santa Barbara spot prawn that was cut fresh and served cold. This is an amazing experience if you haven’t already tried raw spot prawn, with its intense sweetness and flavor. The texture is glorious, especially with a hit of fresh wasabi. Afterwards, we had the choice of either miso soup or deep-fried head, and we opted for the former. It was the best way to enjoy the roe that had been inside the prawn.
The end the meal, you get some tasty maki cuts of tuna and cucumber, which work nicely to ensure you’re full by the end of the omakase. Both my wife and I were absolutely stuffed at this point, aided by some hot green tea and hot sake.
It’s funny because next door to Miura, there’s a $45 an hour massage parlor, but I’d much rather shell out the extra $10 bucks (plus tax, tip, and drinks) for an hour-plus of fantastic quality sushi. After paying the bill, it came out to under $150 for two people including tax and drinks, which is just an incredible value for what you get. I simply haven’t found a better affordable omakase meal in the Los Angeles area. Miura should easily be your next omakase adventure, even if it’s a hike down to Lomita.
Miura, 2040 Pacific Coast Highway, Lomita, CA 90717. 310-325-1461. Reservations recommended for the sushi bar.
“This South Bay Sushi Bar Serves One of LA’s Best Omakase Dinners for Just $55.” Eater LA – All. http://la.eater.com/2017/3/21/14633178/miura-omakase-sushi-affordable-los-angeles.