Review #1: Honda

 

Type of food: Sushi plus

3629 Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance, CA. (310) 373-8272

Halfway between “my” train station at Katsura on the outskirts of Kyoto, and my **cough, cough** “apartment” (translation: shoebox), was a Mexican restaurant named “Takami.” This Mexican restaurant was owned and operated by two Japanese people who had never been outside of Japan in their lives. The overpriced burrito and chimichanga were wholly inauthentic and completely delicious. The restaurant also served notable Japanese favorites such as; yakisoba, buta-kimchee, and agedashi-tofu. (FYI: Once you’ve had tofu in Kyoto, it’s hard to eat anywhere else.) Eating there once or twice a week was beyond my budget at the time, but I couldn’t help myself; I’d starve at the end of the month. The owner knew me, knew what I liked, kept a bottle of Jack Daniels for me (not my favorite, but hey, embrace the stereotype), and I was friendly with all the regulars. During the summertime we’d take a bus trip down the shore, and in the winter we’d do ski trips to Nagano, Niigata, and Hokkaido. Yes, it was my own “Cheers;” the mythical place that after no small amount of searching, I had previously concluded only existed on TV.

Well, Honda is about as close a place to “Takami,” that I have found (minus the burritos and chimichangas). The owner and wait staff are welcoming, friendly, and remember you (that is, presumably, if you’re not an asshole). I get it, “sushi plus” conjures an image for the sushi snob (I’m a card-carrying member), of a place that doesn’t quite devote the singular focus to sushi that it deserves. Well yes, and no. If you consider that the sushi chefs (one of whom is the owner), dedicate much of their time to interacting with the customers, then yes, they are not singularly focused on the sushi. If you think that the “plus,” which includes izakaya-type offerings like tempura, teriyaki chicken, and takoyaki, have the chefs shuffling back and forth, then no, other chefs work in the kitchen. The sushi chefs work the sushi. Do they do all kinds of crazy rolls that appeal to Americans and are not “authentic?” Yup, at Honda, they’re named after vehicles and they taste pretty damn good. Besides, who am I to say that a JAPANESE chef creating his own original food is NOT authentic Japanese? There are other restaurants you can go to for pure sushi snobbery (see future reviews). I go to this restaurant because it provides the homey, small town, authentic Japanese atmosphere that I haven’t found since Katsura Mexican food.

What food do I recommend? Most of it; order what sounds good to you. I have one friend who loves the restaurant but absolutely, positively, refuses to try the cheeseburger roll because it’s so un-Japanese. Her loss; I like the extra-spicy cheeseburger roll myself. The fish is always fresh (and when I say always…I mean I’ve been going here for about 15 years and never had a bad bite). Consistency is very important to me. Ask the chefs for the fish you like and it may come with a subtle flavoring you’ve never had before. The rolls are huge, but being an American with an outsized appetite and a poor sense of portion control, I also get the grilled chicken from the kitchen which comes out sizzling and smoky with the sauce on the side (for you healthy people).

The owner (Junzo), has daily specials (including half-off wine bottles on Tuesdays), shows LA sports games on flat screen TVs, and many of the customers are Americans (gasp). So how can I possibly call this place authentic Japanese? The Japanese have a word, “nantonaku,” which roughly means “I can’t precisely describe why, I just know it is.”

My biggest recommendation is that you sit at the sushi bar. If you’re not sitting at the sushi bar, you’re not getting the interactive experience with the chefs, and for me, that is what Honda is all about.

Inside tip: Take an Uber and Junzo likes the Orion beer.

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