Three places.

I get a lot of email questions about where I like to go to for Japanese food in the OC.

Uni
uni hand roll @ angotei

Okay, well, more like 3 emails, but that’s a lot for me. I get super excited when I receive a comment on a blog post, how can I contain myself when I get an actual email (that has nothing to do with work)!? But enough about me and my lonely email life, here’s three places Don and I frequent: a traditional sushi place, a sushi roll place, and a cooked fish place.

For traditional sushi, there are lots of places to venture in Costa Mesa, and everybody’s got their own favorite. Costa Mesa is the OC’s equivalent to the LA South Bay – a war zone of Japanese restaurants, especially near the Mitsuwa Japanese Market/South Coast Plaza. I can think of 4 off the top of my head as I type this sentence! But out of all the little mom n’ pop sushi joints in the area, our favorite is Ango-tei, a very small 20-seater in a strip mall by the aforementioned Japanese market.
Ango-tei is mostly known for their shrimp boats, an amaebi (raw shrimp) gunkan topped with a raw quail egg. I don’t know what it tastes like because I hate quail eggs, but this is what Twiggy swears by. Strangely enough, it’s very popular with Vietnamese people.

Mirugai Aji

But aside from the shrimp boat, Ango-tei’s sushi is pretty, well, standard. Nothing crazy, just the usual neta that you get a honkering for every once in a while – fresh mirugai (surf clam), sweet aji (horse mackerel) with ginger, octopus with coarse grain sea salt, hirame sides (engawa) with tart ponzu… They have all of my favorite here. Plus, the itamae-san is quite the conversationalist, and that’s what’s important (at least for us) – good company adds an essence of yum by the ten-fold!

Hirame, Side muscles (Engawa) Bachi Maguro (big eye)

The good thing about a friendly itamae-san is that he’s willing to give his two cents’ on the day’s fish. Like, if I tell him that I like fluke, he’ll tell me that he has some engawa set aside if I’d like some (of course!). Or when we’re being indecisive about which toro to have (Big Eye or Blue Fin? Because I’m anti-blue fin, but Don thinks this year would be its last so he HAS to eat it), Kimi, our last itamae, will tell us that the Big Eye actually tastes better today. You know, stuff like that.

Hamachi Kama Salmon Special

Being able to serve fresh, delicious sushi means that you’re able to serve fresh, delicious cooked fish dishes. Their kitchen items are all good, but their Hamachi Kama (cheek) is melt-in-your-mouth goooooood, and all it really needs is a drop of soy sauce. And this one’s off the menu, but Kimi’s Salmon Special – flash-fried salmon belly with ponzu, raw onions, and bonito flakes – are to die for.

Sometimes the Californian in me wants a foodie-forbidden roll. I know, I’m horrible. People at my work tell me that I’m not Japanese because I enjoy rolls so much (but they’re right – I’m Californian).
And to have good rolls, you just can’t go to any sushi restaurant… You have to go to the kind that has a separate menu, specifically for their rolls, and our favorite is WAFU of Japan. Coincidentally, WAFU is in Costa Mesa too, by the Newport Beach border.

Tuna Guacamole Dragon Ball

WAFU is one of the better fusion sushi options in the OC, and is a long-standing local favorite. Lunch times are impossible because it’s packed with people who work at the nearby offices – if you’re not here within the first 10 minutes of opening (11:00), well, FYL.
One thing you will learn about WAFU is that they love to use avocado. Most of the rolls have some avocado in it, as well as the appetizers. The Tuna Guacamole is a good example: spicy tuna tartare with mashed avocado, served with deep fried wonton skins. Eating here, you will ingest enough omega-3 amino acids to last you a month.
Wafu also likes to test the boundaries of sushi artistry – some rolls don’t even have rice (like the Dragon Ball, above), some use soy paper in lieu of nori seaweed.

Samurai Burrito Samurai Burrito

Normally, I detest soy paper. It turns incredibly mushy and chewy as it sits with sushi rice, and it’s terribly flavorless. But when it’s used in WAFU’s Samurai Burrito (a spicy tuna roll with lettuce, wrapped in soy paper and drenched in sweet miso), not so much.

Hawaiian Roll

Don’t favorite is the Hawaiian Roll (spicy tuna roll covered with albacore and avocado, then splashed with a ponzu-based sauce). It’s surprisingly light, despite its high fat content. He’ll eat about, oh, two of these, a platter of albacore tataki, and some hamachi kama for dinner. Talk about preparing yourself for a heart attack.
It’s a great place to take sushi-haters and noobs because the food here is catered to the eclectic crowd. Plus, they have house-made strawberry wine, and who says no to that?

Sometimes, just sometimes though, we get a honkering for Japanese food, but not sushi. Or yakitori. Or ramen. Which leaves us to the limited number of izakayas in the area. We never go to Hondaya because it’s packed (and far), and sometimes we’re even too lazy to go out to Costa Mesa for dinner. Times like these, we go to our neighborhood eatery, Uoko. It’s another tiny sushi bar, and it’s VERY very old. Well, at least the chairs are, they’re practically falling apart. If WAFU is your flashy clubbing dress, Uoko is your favorite pair of sweats – it’s old, and out-of-fashion, but very, very comforting.
And their cooked fish items are soooooo good.

Uoko Dinner

I always get the grilled mackerel dinner. I LOVE mackerel, but I can’t cook it at home because it stinks (and smokes), and I don’t want to risk having my neighbors file a smell complaint. They have other delicious noms too, like whole fried halibut, deep fried oysters, some donburis, udon, curry… Like I said, it’s a neighborhood eatery. I think we’re the only clients that never order sushi there.

don ila

Plus, they have ice cold beer on tap (Kirin!). That’s like, super important. Especially when you’re too tired to cook, and you want to spend a quiet Friday evening at your neighborhood eatery with the love of your life.

Ango-tei
675 Paularino Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92628
(714) 557-2696
Ango Tei on Urbanspoon
Ango-Tei in Los Angeles

WAFU of Japan
320 Bristol St Ste G
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 641-7321
Wafu of Japan on Urbanspoon

Uoko
23600 Rockfield Blvd
Lake Forest, CA 92630
(949) 837-7231
Uoko Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Gourmet Pigs October 30, 2009 at 12:51 am

    I’ve never tried any of these places (no surpise, I don’t come down there much haha), but at least now I know where to go. I personally love quail eggs so will have to try that shrimp boat you’re talking about.

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  • christoofat October 30, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    lolz..what’s with the eyebrows in the beer pic? Some SERIOUS beer drinking going on here.
    Uoko sounds great & is in my neck o’ the woods. Must try!

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  • Marie October 30, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I love mackerel too but will probably never make it at home. I made popcorn last night and my apt still smells like it (so let’s not even try to fathom what that delicious-but-stinky fish would do)! Lovely post – will keep your round-up in mind for the next time I may find myself down in that neighborhood.

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  • Pepsi Monster November 1, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Ango-Tei? Really?? I haven’t heard that name in a long time. Gosh, I haven’t dine in OC in a very long time. Maybe I should visit this month. Soon I guess!

    Glad Ango-Tei is in your top 3.

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  • ila November 1, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Fiona, last time I went to Ango-tei with Twiggy, she sat at the bar and only ordered Shrimp Boats. She had 4 orders!!!

    Christoofat, because drinking beer is serious business! Uoko’s a great neighborhood kinda place. Not much of a destination, but it’s nice to have a steady Japanese place in the middle of nowhere.

    Marie, the only fish I really cook at home is salmon cause everything else stinks up my small pad sooooo fast!

    Pepsi, like I said… Ango-tei is like our favorite pair of sweats. It’s not sexy or exotic, but it’s very standard and reliable. And comfy. And good. It’s no Katsu-ya for sure! :p

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  • Priscilla November 1, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Yay Uoko! Been our regular haunt for almost 20 years!!! Course we’re old, older even than their chairs. I LOVE love love their saba and other cooked things. But also sushi, both trad and rolls. And, those are excellent beer-drinking photos.

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  • Wandering Chopsticks November 7, 2009 at 2:39 am

    I haven’t been to Ango-tei in years. And it is popular with VNese people. My friend and I always saw lots of first dates there. Like if you wanted to appear “in-the-know” by taking them to a hidden spot.

    Haven’t been to the other two.

    Have you been to Sushi Wasabi in Tustin? That’s my fave but I haven’t been in years either.

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  • Exile Kiss November 9, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Hi ila,

    Thanks for the recs. Wow, Ango-Tei! I went there a few times years ago, when some of my dear OC Hounds took me to “a cool little neighborhood fav” of theirs. I heard it got sold a few years ago, but I’m guessing it’s just as good as before? Thanks.

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  • girlrobot November 15, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    i LOOOOVE grilled mackerel too. For a cheap, tasty one check out the food court at mitsuwa (on harbor?).

    Also, check out the omakase at bluefiin for lunch…it’s only $35 and it’s so good.

    two of my fave japanese eats in oc!

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  • girlrobot November 15, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    btw, your blog is so cute! i’m subscribing :)

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  • Sandy March 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Thank you for all your recommendations. I really appreciate it.
    It sounds like you know these places well, and I am anxious to try them all!
    Love your blog.

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