Get food critic James Tipper’s top 5 sushi places in West Hollywood, from the glamour of Katana on the Sunset Strip, to the hole-in-the-wall treasure that is Wa Sushi and Bistro.
8866 West Sunset Boulevard, at San Vicente
This makes the list because it is one of the few places in town where you are likely to run into clientele who don’t always know how to use chopsticks.
Delight in the smattering of adorable, visibly uncomfortable rocker dudes who have dared each other into popping in from the adjacent The Viper Room to get liquored up on the infamous snake sake while they choke down California rolls for cover.
But locals know that through the beaded curtain on the Sunset Strip there is some surprisingly fresh and affordable fish behind the bar. Try the house’s chirashi ($24), a bowl of rice draped in a rainbow of sashimi and other classic adornments like salmon roe and tamago. It’s a generous portion and rare to find at dinner as it’s traditionally served at lunch.
For your faint of heart date there is a chicken teriyaki that comes to your high-top table sizzling ($14) and includes miso soup and salad. Great fuel for a night of rock n’ roll. When the rice wine hits you, there is a karaoke lounge upstairs. God help us all.
265 South Robertson Boulevard at Gregory, Beverly Hills
Technically not in WeHo, but so close you can taste it, and you should.
First, the Japanese women who wait the tables in the small dining room are so farcically cute and accommodating that they unwittingly confirm a flattering stereotype.
Further adding to the suspicion that you might be in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” the film with a Japanese bent, without knowing it is table No. 9. This coveted spot is a four-top that sits in the window overlooking a shishi-odoshi (a bamboo fountain used to scare deer in Japan) that you may recognize from Tarantino’s movie. Though this one may have not been used in the movie, the hollow tube that fills and then dumps its contents into the waiting trough still mesmerizes as you eat your sunomono.
But the bamboo doesn’t end there; you are surrounded by the stuff, as if you have discovered your own private Zen garden. As for the fish, the nigiri is generous with a thick piece of fish smothering a little mound of rice. What it lacks in balance it more than makes up for in the feeling that you are getting away with murder at $4 apiece.
For the big spender, try the abalone sashimi served in a massive bowl of shaved ice.
1106 North La Cienega Boulevard #201, at Holloway
Who knew? Perched above the 7-11 on Holloway Drive on the second floor of a nondescript mini-mall lies a raucous hole-in-the-wall called Wa.
Here the 80’s have exploded in a spray of glass block, red formica and blue neon. Chuck Mangione plays on the speakers overhead as you gaze through the window to watch the ribbon of headlights snaking up La Cienega below you. Stare blankly at the ambitious, but overwhelming menu. Did it say “Barbecued Eel and Apple Pie” for $14? Oh yes, it did.
Wa makes it easier to decide though with a “Top 10 Most Popular” list at the front of the menu. Among these favorites are the lobster in creamy spicy sauce, served in a goblet, Chilean sea bass with eggplant and a full range of sashimi.
When it comes to plating, Wa does it with a nouvelle flourish: geometric shapes and dots of colorful sauce. There are a variety of quality offerings and Aiko-san will whisk them to your table with efficiency and warmth.
The place is small, so reserve your spot.
8439 West Sunset Boulevard, at Queens
This is still the only place in town to take those relatives from the fly-over states who want some Hollywood after a long flight. Katana certainly delivers.
Past the chateau façade on Sunset there is a garage where the valet will whisk away your car and point you to the private elevator for a short ride upstairs. Mom will clutch her pearls when the lift’s doors open to reveal a gurgling fountain and welcoming cheers of “Irasshaimase!” (Japanese for “Please come in.”)
On cold days, choose the more intimate Tea Room. Think Blade Runner-meets-something-from-Tokyo’s-Marunouchi-district, hinting at shoji screens with polished metal dividers amidst cozy couch seating. The outside dining room is perched on an expansive balcony overlooking Sunset, and during the summer months a DJ spins music so hip that it will make your Shazam app smoke.
Three kitchens take care of the food: a sushi bar, one for entrees, and a robata grill that offers inventive meat skewers of all kinds for those in your party who are not swayed by your urgings to “C’mon, just try uni once.”
The chef’s choice is the Izakaya Feast ($52). Or you can spring for the premium feast ($80), which may feature skewers of “faux gras” and nigiri dusted with gold flake.
8711 Santa Monica Boulevard at Westbourne
Chefs Hiro-san and Taka-san maintain this small neighborhood sushi bar with warmth, and just enough quiet dignity to let you know that you are somewhere serious, somewhere in the know.
The fish is buttery, cut masterfully and as fresh as you are likely to find. The menu tends to be a few dollars more than its competitors and leans towards the traditional.
The norm in California is to heavily sauce rolls and flash fry them. But that is kept at a minimum here. The one notable exception is the spicy tuna on crispy rice. Since this now ubiquitous dish appeared on the scene in the late 90’s, it has been clumsily recreated in many sushi bars that clearly regard it as obligatory. But at Jinpachi, this dish may be the star: harmonious with a paper-thin slice of jalapeño, a drizzle of chili sauce and golden squares of caramelized rice that set off the silken fish perfectly.
There are other stars too: one night you may sit beside Bette Midler and her choreographer Toni Basil, or spot Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker breezing up the stairs to the cozy loft to nosh on the house-made agedashi tofu, the best in town.
For those who are not under contract with a major studio try the sushi moriawase ($28) featuring a chef’s choice of eight pieces of nigiri and a maki roll. It’s a good value, and gives customers a great overview of a chef who works hard to bring you a higher level of quality.
Needless to say, the omakase here is sublime.