Welcome back to Dante’s Inferno
I’ve written extensively about the namedropping cesspool that maps call “Los Angeles”. In fact, I’m basically the Andrew Ross Sorkin of Southern California at this point, only if Andrew Ross Sorkin spent 1,000 words every two weeks explaining how Tomorrow Never Dies is the Nostramadus of the media industry.
But even I, the biggest hater of Los Angeles since climate change, have to admit that there are some redeeming qualities.
First, there’s the strip mall sushiya culture that has introduced generations of locals to quality sushi at affordable prices.
Second, there’s the strip mall sushiya culture that has –—- ok, fine there’s just one redeeming quality. But it’s a great one.
Two weeks ago I wrote about Arcadia’s Sushi Kisen, which might be the best sushiya in the region.
And today’s subject is Sushi Gen, which might be its most famous.
Just look at this line forming outside at 10:45am on a Thursday (15 minutes before opening).
The reason for that line is simple. Sushi Gen, which opens at 11:00am five days a week, offers an incredible lunch special: $23 for a Sashimi Lunch ($42 for the deluxe) and $25 for a Sushi Platter ($35 for premium).
Where’s my picture? Well, the catch on that lunch special is that it’s served at the tables only. And I’m a counter legend, through and through.
How the counter works
No matter what time of the day you visit, countergoers receive a piece of paper straight from all-you-can-eat sushi land listing everything on offer that day.
I rattled off my order all at once to Yama-san, one of about 15 people behind the counter (Sushi Gen is a machine).
Unlike ordering at Sushi Kisen but like the concept of grief, doing it in stages is perfectly acceptable at Sushi Gen (though lingerers will get the side eye from whomever is at the front of the line waiting).
The full rundown is below with a few high-calorie info snacks sprinkled in (s/o Kendall Roy).
Sushi Gen does Ama Ebi properly. First, it comes with a healthy dose of wasabi. And second, they’ll kindly offer to serve you the heads deep-fried or as part of a miso soup. I chose the latter.
Something else Sushi Gen does properly? Hikarimono (silver-skinned fish), and more specifically, Aozakana (blue-fish). Many people consider those to be a true representation of the skill of an Itamae because preparation involves judgement on marination in ingredients like salt and vinegar.
Both the Iwashi and Kohada at Sushi Gen pass that test as well.
One fly in the ointment or whatever the phrase du jour is
There are a few (more than a few) LA-area sushiya that like to douse their sushi in ponzu. Looking at you both Sugarfish and Sushi Park. Sushi Gen goes further and layers some with ginger sprouts as well.
I sort of get the reasoning. Neta like Shiromi (white-fleshed fish) tend to have a more muted taste; thus, the temptation to unmute the taste (turn up the taste?).
But Sushi Gen does it with Aji (horse mackerel) as well. The only part of the lunch I didn’t enjoy.
Regardless, that wasn’t enough to change my conclusion. Sushi Gen is a fantastic sushiya and flagbearer for the strip mall sushi culture that is so pervasive in LA.
At just over $100 for the 18 nigiri above, it’s also downright reasonable, even at lunch time. Bonus points for the expediency – 35 minutes start to finish in the middle of the lunch rush, though I have read that table service can be slower (no shit), and for the parking lot out front (it fills up fast).