Los Angeles is spoiled by incredible sushi. But not all neighborhoods are created equal. In the Valley and on the Westside, it feels like fancy omakase places and casual spots with great $4 specials sprout up from cracks in the sidewalk. The Eastside and Downtown are a different story, where finding fresh fish is challenging unless you know where to look. For every mediocre Silver Lake spot that charges $18 for a California roll, there’s a quality place down the block where you should be eating. Here is our guide to the best sushi on the Eastside and Downtown.
Anytime a restaurant has a designated area in their dining room dedicated to one part of their menu, you know they must be doing something right. Sushi Gen falls into this category. Lines for this low-key spot in a Little Tokyo strip mall form well before it opens at 11:15am, and most people are there for one thing - the $19.50 sashimi lunch special. For the quality and quantity of fish you get, there isn’t a better sushi deal in town. If you’re in a rush, do what we do order off the always-excellent daily specials board at the bar.
KazuNori Hand Roll Bar
Kazunori is the younger sibling in the Sugarfish empire, and it’s where you go when you wake up craving hand rolls. Similar to Sugarfish, it’s a pick-your-own set menu situation, but at Kazunori, it’s hand rolls only. At $20, the set that comes with five hand rolls (crab, lobster, toro, yellowtail, and scallop) is our favorite. The tiny circular sushi bar gets quite crowded during lunch, so if your boss just passive-aggressively texted you to get back to the office, you can always opt for take-out.
If you’re looking for a throw-down sushi experience Downtown, Q Sushi is where to go. On a busy stretch of 7th St., the windowless room is quiet, calm, and very fancy. There are a few tables up front, but you’re going to want to sit at the 10-seat bar where you get to watch one guy make your whole meal. There are only two seatings per night, and you can choose from either a $165 option or a $200 option. If you’d like to try an even more premium menu, give 48 hours advance notice and see what they come up with.
Shojin is a modern sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo that doesn’t actually serve fish. This upscale spot on the top floor of a shopping mall is a completely vegan restaurant which means rolls hit the table stuffed with spicy tofu and mushrooms instead of yellowtail and toro. If that sounds unappealing, hear us out. The rolls at Shojin are actually quite good and filling, and even if you aren’t a meat-eater, you should come here just to see what inventive and well-executed vegan food looks like. The quiet, dimly-lit dining room also makes for a great left-of-center date situation.
SUGARFISH | Downtown LA
Sugarfish has had a location Downtown since 2010, and even though the surrounding neighborhood has filled-in substantially since then, the iconic sushi chain is still one of the best options for fresh, affordable fish in the area. At $27 during lunch, the Trust Me gets you nine different courses ranging from tuna sashimi to a blue crab hand roll. If you don’t have time to dine-in, you can reserve a parking spot on their website and have the lunch carry-out situation of your dreams. It’s also a great way to make your coworkers very jealous.
Sasabune is one of LA’s classic sushi restaurants that probably provided the inspiration for other omakase places in town. Yet the downtown Glendale location goes under-the-radar for a lot people. Though it resides in a terrifyingly corporate shopping complex (sandwiched between Olive Garden and BJ’s), the interior has the same low-key aesthetic and incredible sushi as the original in Brentwood. While they have an excellent lunch special ($20 for five pieces of fish and a hand roll) the best way to experience this place is to go all-in on the $85 signature omakase at the bar.
Tsubaki is not a traditional sushi restaurant. It’s a modern izakaya in Echo Park that serves delicious food - and we especially recommend the fresh fish. Both the kanpachi sashimi and hirame tartare off the cold menu are fantastic, but don’t miss the sake-steam king lobster either. Reservations are a good idea here, but if you time it right, you can usually find a few empty seats at the bar in the back. Strike up a conversation with the bartender and you’ll probably be drinking sake until close.
With wood paneling and smoky yakitori grills that stink up your clothes, Osen in Silver Lake hardly feels like a Sunset Blvd. strip mall spot. This is an izakaya, so you want to get involved with small plates and meat skewers, but it would be a huge mistake to ignore the sushi menu. Whether you just grab a few a la carte nigiri or go for one of the four different omakase options (they range from $40-$150), you’ll have some of the freshest fish in the neighborhood.
Besides Osen, the only Silver Lake sushi spot we recommend is Yakuza - a busy spot in a busy part of the neighborhood. If you’re with a sushi purist, they’ll scoff at some of the definitely-not-authentic rolls, but that just means you get more of the house Yakuza Roll (yellowtail, tuna, and salmon wrapped in avocado) for yourself. Get one of those, some fantastic sauteed spinach, and a crab-heavy blue crab hand roll, and you’ll have an excellent, affordable, and filling meal.
Sushi Ai is an izakaya on Hillhurst with a textbook-thick menu and shishito peppers that we’d eat by the pound. There’s plenty of room if you’re with a group and want to go all in on beer towers and baked scallop rolls, but it’s also a great place for a solo meal at the bar where you can talk to the man who’s making your sushi. Find out what’s freshest that day and order that along with your Sapporo (which is $3 during the daily Happy Hour).