11500 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 5/29/17
This was my second time to Mori; my first visit was over six years ago. The restaurant appears to still be going strong after all these years, although it’s certainly changed. Chef Mori Onodera, who earned a Michelin star for his namesake restaurant, is long gone. He sold the restaurant in 2011 to a longtime employee, but the restaurant still carries his name.
A few different menus are available. A nigiri omakase runs $110 while an omakase featuring some small plates/appetizers runs $140. Coming here primarily for sushi, we opted for the base nigiri omakase.
Shunji Japanese Cuisine
12244 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 1/21/17
Shunji Nakao’s eponymous restaurant has been a sushi staple on the west side since opening in 2012. Nakao has been at the forefront of sushi in Los Angeles for decades since being one of the opening chefs of Matsuhisa. After Matsuhisa, Nakao has also been chef at notable restaurants Asanebo and The Hump.
I’ve been to Shunji once, for lunch, and had an enjoyable meal (it was a great value too). I was excited to come in for dinner and try a little more. We went with a sushi omakase, adding a few cooked dishes to begin with.
2006 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 9/20/15
Sushi Tsujita opened about a year ago and was the third LA restaurant from the Tsujita group. The first two restaurants are popular noodle bars; I’ve been a huge fan of the tsukemen they serve (even trying it in Tokyo a few years back). However, this restaurant is something a little different – a refined sushi bar. Reviews of the restaurant have been strong thus far, so a visit was in order.
The dinner menu is omakase-only at three levels: $120, $150, and $180. We went right in the middle. While sushi made up the bulk of the menu, there were a scattering of small, plated dishes throughout.
3455 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 7/15/14
n/naka opened three years ago in a quiet corner of Palms on the westside. The restaurant and its modern take on the Japanese kaiseki meal, has focused on creating a very precise multi-course meal with seasonal ingredients. Many of those ingredients are grown by chef Niki Nakayama herself in her own garden. I still feel the restaurant is somewhat under the radar; sure, Jonathan Gold has continually mentioned the restaurant in high regard (it was #18 in his 2014 best restaurants list), but I don’t feel like it’s consistently being considered with other high-end restaurants in LA.
While common in Japan, n/naka’s kaiseki-based menu is pretty unique in LA. It’s a carefully-scripted tasting menu often featuring 10+ small plates. Seasonal ingredients (usually simply prepared) are highlighted, and service and plating/decor are as much a part of a meal as the food. The thirteen course menu weighs in at $165 ($150 vegetarian) making n/naka one of the most expensive restaurants in the city (there used to be a slimmed down chefs’ tasting for $110).
826 E 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining dates: 7/12/13, 5/2/14, 5/3/14
Guerrilla Tacos began almost two years ago and has consistently generated positive attention for its unique approach to tacos. There are so many taquerias in Los Angeles it’s difficult to stand out, but Guerrilla Tacos has done it with its upscale, modern approach to the casual taco. Chef Wes Avila went to culinary school and is classically trained; leveraging many of those principles, he’s really upped the game for the casual taco. Avila uses tortillas as a vehicle to showcase top-notch seasonal ingredients and meats in a wide variety of ways.
The menu changes constantly; I’ve seen few taquerias with such a varied menu. One day may have octopus, Proscuitto di Parma, and fresh squash tacos; the next may have lamb shank and oxtail. Diver scallops, sashimi-grade fish and live sea urchin are commonplace on the menu. Sure the tacos are more expensive than most in LA, but the quality of ingredients are clearly a differentiating factor. A meal can still be had for under $15, maybe $20 for bigger appetites.
10422 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 4/8/14
Yamakase has been on my radar since I first heard about it a couple of years ago. The restaurant is an invitation-only (request one here) “secret” Japanese spot serving high-end Japanese. The meal may be best described as kaiseki, but it’s not really; it’s moreso a progression of sushi/sashimi and small plates of whatever the chef wants to serve. The courses are definitely Japanese-centric but there are a handful with clear Western influences. As expected, the meal is omakase-only with around 20-25 courses; the price varies somewhere in the low $200s. It’s a BYOB only affair.
The chef here is Kiyoshiro Yamamoto (Yama-san) formerly of Santa Monica’s The Hump which closed amidst a ton of controversy. Yama-san is a one-man show and the ten-seat bar curves around the kitchen giving everyone a full view of the preparation of the meal from start to finish. For the food-enthused, it’s as much a show as a meal. On this evening, Yama-san began by expertly breaking down a huge bluefin tuna loin, proceeded to prepare two Japanese hairy crabs for the steamer, then grated fresh wasabi root and shaved some truffles. It promised to be an exciting meal even before the first bite.