10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
For this list of Japanese restaurants, we intentionally left out the sushi bars because, well, we already did that list. We also shut out the ramen joints, teppanyakis, and yakinikus because, well, we still want to do those lists. But you can certainly have ramen and sushi, even a California Roll, at some of the restaurants we feature in our list of 10--a lineup thrown together in no particular order.
10. Kappo Hana
If you think most Japanese chefs are dead serious about their craft, you haven't met the chef at Kappo Hana, who is doubly so. Why? He's the only chef in OC we know who has the balls and the mad skills to serve kaiseki, the highest form of cooking in a cuisine already steeped in tradition. The meal features a laundry list of methods and ingredients, all in a multicourse, seasonal-menu popular centuries before seasonal menus became popular. Order the kaiseki dinner three days in advance, or for more immediate gratification, get the kamameshi dinner, a meal set in six courses, culminating in an iron pot presented tableside, full of rice and meat.
Though the sign outside simply says, "Sushi," Bistro Anju should not be counted among the sushi slapdash that dots our suburban mini-malls and shopping complexes with increasing frequency, even if its sparse dining looks like it belongs. It should be compared to its rightful peers: South Coast Plaza's Hamamori and Newport Coast's Bluefin By Abe. Yes, owner/chef Hideki Saito can produce California rolls and decent nigiri, but he'd rather dazzle you with foie gras and gazpacho, things cooked on a blazing stovetop and employing more than just wasabi.
First, let's put it on the record: Habuya is an Okinawan eatery, not a Japanese one. It is true that Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan, so it's technically still Japanese food, but that's like saying a pizza from New York is the same as pizza everywhere else. Okinawa has a distinct culinary culture. Unparalleled in their love of pork and bitter melon, Okinawans have a kindred spirit in Habuya's Mayumi Vargas. She revels in satisfying homesick tastebuds unserved by OC's generic Japanese joints. She sources a specialty ice-cream maker to supply a refreshing pineapple sorbet. Other indigenous dishes include chanpuru, an egg-lashed stir-fry of bitter melon that features tiny bits of Spam thanks to an omnipresent U.S. military, and ra fu te, the Okinawan variant of Japanese kakuni, which simmers with awamori, the prefecture's own rice wine. You know better than to ask for California rolls here (which, of course, aren't Japanese either).
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