3. Kappo Sui
While you nosh on that teriyaki bowl at Yoshinoya, your Japanese friends know better. They go to Kappo Sui--a Japanese restaurant meant for Japanese people. A list of specials is scribbled in Japanese script. Finding an English speaker in the house is a challenge. But before you begin to feel like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, the food arrives. The mucilaginous charms of mountain potato. The salty oiliness of broiled mackerel. Crisply fried kaki-age. Ebi korroke bursting with cream. Butterfish baked with miso. Enjoy all of these with plenty of icy Sapporo or Kirin, then plan to spend about $50 for you and your Scarlett Johansson.
20070 Santa Ana Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 429-0141.
2. Cafe Hiro
There are as many subgenres of Japanese restaurants as there are kinds of Japanese food: izakayas, sushi bars, teppanyakis, yakinikus, ramenyas--and that's just naming a few! Then there's Café Hiro, a 10-year-old anomaly that not only defies classification, but also rises above them. The only thing you need to know is that chef/owner Hiro Ohiwa trained in France and Italy and worked a stint at LA's Matsuhisa. Do not expect teriyaki or sushi. Do count on everything being exquisitely prepared with a light Japanese touch and a few of its ingredients. His risotto is stirred to silk. His spaghetti has sea-urchin roe worked into the sauce. For dessert, he does a green-tea blancmange that possesses an unexpected depth and complexity. Still confused as to how to classify this place? Mull it over while staring at the big painting of Jimi Hendrix that dominates one wall. Call us when you figure it out.
10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090.
1. Honda Ya
Slip off your shoes and sit cross-legged in the tatami room for that authentic Richard Chamberlain-in-Shogun experience, even if your legs lose circulation before the food arrives. And then order like you've never seen a teriyaki bowl before. The list is long and illustrious. Just about everything Honda Ya grills, steams, stir-fries, deep-fries and stews is a buffer for the ample amount of Japanese ales and sakes you'll throw back with the abandon of a salaryman after a hard day. Yakitori is the specialty of the house (as well as its equally excellent sister restaurant Kappo Honda of Fountain Valley), a subset of the kushiyaki that threads onto wooden skewers every part of the chicken, from neck to tail. Gizzards squeak like edible plastic; dark meat is paired with scallions. All are flipped ever-so-carefully just slightly above white-hot coals called bincho tan, a premium fuel that that imprints on the morsels a smoky carbon sweetness.
556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081.
20070 Santa Ana Ave., Santa Ana, CA
10509 Valley View St., Cypress, CA
1113 Baker St., Costa Mesa, CA
556 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA
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14215 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, CA
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6198 Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Coast, CA