By Brandon Hernández
Photos by Stacy Keck
Cracking apart a pair of chopsticks, dipping a piece of Dragon Roll in a saucer of wasabi-tinged soy sauce and clinking cups of hot sake make eating sushi a culinary ritual. Some San Diego sushi joints even spice it up with music, rocking the roll experience with chill DJ beats.
Whether the venue's swank or homey, part of sushi's appeal is its artistry-the more innovative the presentation and flavor pairings, the greater the anticipation. When you have a hankering for the freshest fish, get hooked on any of these Finest City sushi spots.????
Metro Sensual: Best bets for sushi in San Diego's urbanized epicenter
The Dragon's Den
This new spot is as fresh as the seafood it serves, but features a solid backbone in the form of a trio of chefs with a combined 50 years of experience. Tradition trumps new world innovation as these gifted imports strive to bring an authentic Japanese experience to Petco Parkers. Of course, there's still room for a California twist or two-can you say sushi nachos?
315 10th Ave., East Village , 619.792.8254, thedragonsdensd.com
Hive Sushi Lounge
Fish fans flock to this East Village site like bees to honey. The draw-whimsical creations like the Crazy Czech Roll with spicy tuna, scallops, salmon and sriracha aioli; and the Honey Bee Roll with yellowtail wrapped in yellow soy paper with snapper and gold tobico. Even first-timers can feel as if they have a hook-up with the 22-piece "I Know the Sushi Chef" sashimi platter.
1409 C St., East Village, 619.702.6010, hivesushilounge.com
The culinary cornerstone of downtown's Hard Rock H otel S an D iego, Nobu is famous for top-quality ingredients and masterful techniques. Its nouveau gourmet approach is beautifully exemplified by bluefin toro (fatty tuna belly) tartare with caviar and octopus carpaccio and jalapeño dressing that meshes symbiotically with its upscale contemporary interiors.
315 10th Ave., Gaslamp, 619.792.8254, noburestaurants.com/san-diego
Late-night and happy hour are the best times to settle in and feast on stunning arrays of both fish and flesh at this downtown den for mingling singles. There's no denying seafood's the name of the game at this popular chain, where the focus is on gussying up otherwise ordinary rolls with sexy metropolitan flare. 474 Broadway, Gaslamp, 619.321.0021, rasushi.com
The Hills: Gone fishing in Hillcrest and Bankers Hill
This spot packs two distinctly different and equally enjoyable dining xperiences into one small, yet lovely space. Whether you're taking in the clean, crimson-clad indoor environs or kicking back in the garden area out back, delightfully modern offerings like the R U Kidding Me roll with diver scallops, tempura-fried asparagus, seared tuna and white truffle oil go down equally as nice. 2321 Fifth Ave., Banker's Hill, 619.238.4760, azukisushi.com
Ono? Oh, yes! Get your fill of everyday items like red snapper or albacore, or go for more exotic uncooked delicacies such as sashimi of aji (horse mackerel) or hokki gai (surf clam) nigiri. Or get a taste of the 'hood Ono calls home with the D ouble H illcrest Roll stuffed with scallops, crab, tuna and flying fish roe. 1236 University Ave., Hillcrest, 619.298.0616, onosushi.com
A constant stream of patrons flock to Hane for exceptional, authentic sushi. The freshness of the fish is matched only by the skills of the chefs at this admittedly high-priced alcove for top-tier toro, uni and other prized treasures plucked straight from the sea. 2760 Fifth Ave., Banker's Hill, 619.260.1411
Sushi Deli 1, 2 and 3
There's a reason this triad of restos regularly feature lines snaking along their exteriors. It's their unifying thematic-tasty sushi at reasonable prices. There are plenty of low-cost sushi options in SD, but this is one, make that three, where quality doesn't suffer, and flavor is always at the forefront. 228 W. Washington St., Hillcrest, 619.231.9597, sushideliusa.com
135 Broadway, Downtown, 619.233.3072
7986 Armour St., Kearny Mesa, 858.292.5515
Coasting Along: A wave of oceanic overachievers
Start off with well-stuffed rolls, such as the lobster-laced Rollz Royce with garlic ponzu, eel and "money" sauces, or the tempura-fried Miso Harney with eel, cream cheese and avocado. Next, move on to creative cooked dishes from the back of the house, like "Bagels and Lox"- house-cured salmon with everything spice-coated crisps and yuzu-infused cream cheese "nitro" spaghetti, made using liquid nitrogen. 3964 Harney St., Old Town, 619.295.3272, harneysushi.com; 301 Mission Ave., Oc eanside, 760.967.1820
Kabuki Sushi Restaurant
The term "fresh off the boat" certainly applies to rolls made at Kabuki, where the sushi bar is surrounded by a moat. Circumnavigating the ever-flowing water way are mini, spear-nosed plastic rafts from which patrons snatch the sushi offerings they desire. Caterpillar, Spider and Dragon rolls are all here, along with other delicious numbers, such as the Stingray and King Cobra. 4475 Mission Blvd., Ste. C,
, 858.270.1986, pacificbeachkabukisushi.com
This brand new addition aims to provide coastal denizens with an option for after-work unwinding and indulgence via the installment of an izakaya. Traditional Japanese izakayas are more about adult drinks than the food customers use to sop up the alcohol, but the fare at these joints is flavorful and almost as much a guilty pleasure as the booze. 1555 Camino Del Mar, Ste. 201, Del Mar, 858.523.0479, shimbashi-restaurants.com
One would be hard-pressed to find a sushi restaurant more universally lauded by chefs and diners alike. The space is humble, but no remodel is necessary thanks to pristine sashimi that's as clean as the expert cuts of the chef the spot is named after. Folks who show up when he makes a cameo are in for the ultimate treat and would do well to let him guide the way.
4529 Mission Bay Dr., Mission Beach, 858.270.5670, sushi-ota.com
Zen 5 Sushi
Unagi meets irie at this unique sushi lounge where reggae and raw fish rule. Chill to the rhythms of Rastafarian ear candy as you wrap your chopsticks around mellow rolls like the rice-free Tropical with tempura shrimp, tuna and salmon wrapped in cucumber, and the shrimp and avocado-stuffed Timmy roll that comes topped with a loose crust of crunchy tempura flakes.
1130 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach, 858.490.0121, zen5sushi.com
Shangri-La: Jewels from La Jolla's family of sushi spots
Bluefin Fushion Japanese Restaurant
Fusion is key at this eatery, but when it comes to sushi, they keep it real. Playfullynamed
rolls like the Ex-Boyfriend and Ex-Girlfriend, French Kiss and Hotlip are winners, as is the Blue Fin Specialty Roll, which incorporates lush ingredients including minced toro, scallions, bluefin tuna, fresh wasabi and shaved gobo (a sweetly earthen root from Japan).
4305 La Jolla Village Dr., Ste. L-2, UT C Area, 858.677.0558, bluefinfusion.com
Get your feet wet with the Fifty-Fifty Roll, a mixture of crab, salmon and yellowtail with lemon and ponzu sauce. Or go all-out with the Tootsie Roll, featuring soft-shell crab, grilled shiitake mushrooms and avocado with a sake marinade. Either way, with an alluringly posh dining room and sushi that sings with a savory pop, this is one of the best spots in San Diego for a date night in the raw. 8960 University Center Ln., UT C Area, 858.450.3355, cafejapengo.com
This Village eatery has long been known for sushi and Asian fusion cuisine. The former recently got an upgrade with the addition of a new chef-adding fresh flare to the bill of fare with rolls that offer comfortingly familiar flavor combos like the surfandturf Kobe Roll with seared beef, lobster, crab, asparagus, hoisin honey BBQ sauce and truffle oil. Talk about a promising debut.
875 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858.551.5252, roppongiusa.com
Sushi on the Rock
Visitors to La Jolla and the residents who detest them have been patronizing this spot (in a good way) for a long time, returning time and again for one-ofa-kinders like their Golden Monkey sashimi (yellowtail and avocado with yuzu ponzu), Barrio Roll (tuna, serrano chilies, salsa and avocado) and Coco Roll (coconut-crusted shrimp with toasted coconut and eel sauce).
1025 Prospect St. #250, La Jolla, 858.459.3208, sushiontherock.com
Lots of sushi places tout the importance of using only the freshest seafood, but this enterprise puts its money where its massago is, using its own eco-friendly fishing company, Ocean Giant, to get the fish and shellfish that grace dishes like the Big Pete (spicy scallop with Cajun tuna and wasabi sauce) and Volcano Roll (crab and avocado rolled in halibut with "Dynamite" sauce).
rimelsrestaurants.com; 7660 Fay Ave., La Jolla, 858.454.4540; 2003 San Elijo Ave., Cardiff by the Sea, 760.633.2233