10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County

10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
JC Vera

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. 

In the following pages are a mix are izayakas, kappos and even an Okinawan restaurant at which you will encounter all-encompassing menus and passionate chefs. Even still, there were a few worthy eateries that we simply couldn't fit. And there are certainly more than just these 10 great Japanese restaurants in our county (if I could, I would've had 20), but that's what the comments are for. Share yours, folks!

10. Kappo Hana
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Jonathan Ho

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.

25260 La Paz Rd., Mission Viejo, (949) 770-7746.

9. Bistro Anju
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
JC Vera

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.

23964 Aliso Creek Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 716-8882.

8. Habuya Okinawan Dining
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
JC Vera

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).

14215 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 832-3323.

7. Fukada

Simmered pork belly cooked in a broth of shoyu and mirin. Fried chicken wings arranged artfully in a pinwheel over a thin, dark broth. All are precursors to the soba, which is made in-house and what this place is known and loved for. They have a special room. I repeat: a special room in which the buckwheat noodles are kneaded, flattened, and then turned into strands that might as well be golden threads. They are so precious every resilient chew tells you someone who cared made this.

8683 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 341-0111.

6. Nana San
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Keith May

It should be already widely known that Nana San is the reincarnation of the original Ango Tei, the much-beloved local spot at which an hour wait was as much a constant as the freshness of the fish. Ango Tei was sold to new owners a few years ago, but in the 25 years it was in business, Goro Sakurai, the owner's stepson, was being trained to master the sushi arts. Nana San is the culmination of that grooming. And here, with his wife, Judy, Sakurai seems ready to cultivate fans for his own quarter-century run. The best stuff isn't even sushi-related. A vibrant scallop-and-zucchini stir-fry fumes with a buttery aroma that you'll smell and taste days afterward. And the tempura-fried shiitake mushrooms stuffed with crab recall Disneyland's Monte Cristo sandwich. But the most inspired offering has nothing to do with fish or sushi and everything to do with pork--pork ribs and sausages, to be exact. The former is lovingly braised, then briefly charred--a dish designed to be so tender the meat can be peeled off with a gentle pinch of your chopsticks. The latter gleams in a snappy casing and bites like a smoky barbecue link. Slathered in hot mustard, both will win you over if Nana San's hospitality hasn't already.

3601 Jamboree, Ste. 15B, Newport Beach, (949) 474-7373.

5. Bluefin
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Edwin Goei

The omakase meal at Bluefin can run close to $100 per person. This is, without a doubt, one of the most expensive sushi bars in the county, and the sushi isn't even the thing to get. The omakase, a meal set in six courses, is the best way to taste the creativity at work. There'll be an amuse bouche, in which some items might be flecked with goldleaf; others, if in season, fresh caviar. Then slices of owner/chef Takashi Abe's freshest sashimi take form as a brisk salad course, followed by two immaculately cooked courses of seasonal ingredients. Expect these dishes to feature anything from a stuffed quail with foie gras to a whole deep-fried mackerel stuffed with pumpkin--maybe even some Kobe beef medallions, if you're lucky. But it's not over--a sushi course is next, which will almost be anticlimactic after the excellent food you had prior. Finally, a slice of chocolate cake and ice cream will top off a perfect dinner that you hopefully didn't have to pay for.

7952 E Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Coast, (949) 715-7373.

4. Izakaya Meijiya
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Edwin Goei

The newest tenant in a decrepit Costa Mesa strip mall at which the metal bars go up when the sun goes down, Izakaya Meijiya opened with a dining room no bigger than a teriyaki-to-go joint and a staff of three or four who would be outnumbered if the place were even half-full. Tapas-size bites are designed to be consumed with ice-cold glasses of Sapporo, Kirin or Asahi--or, depending on how the workday went, thimble shots of premium sake. As is typical of the izakaya style, preparations run the gamut of every conceivable cooking method including deep-fried, steamed, stir-fried, simmered, grilled, pickled--as well as not cooked at all.

1113 Baker St., Costa Mesa, (714) 545-5175.

3. Kappo Sui
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Jonathan Ho

While you nosh on that teriyaki bowl at Yoshinoya, your Japanese friends know better. They go to Kappo Sui--a Japanese restaurant meant for Japanese people. A list of specials is scribbled in Japanese script. Finding an English speaker in the house is a challenge. But before you begin to feel like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, the food arrives. The mucilaginous charms of mountain potato. The salty oiliness of broiled mackerel. Crisply fried kaki-age. Ebi korroke bursting with cream. Butterfish baked with miso. Enjoy all of these with plenty of icy Sapporo or Kirin, then plan to spend about $50 for you and your Scarlett Johansson.

20070 Santa Ana Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 429-0141.

2. Cafe Hiro
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Edwin Goei

There are as many subgenres of Japanese restaurants as there are kinds of Japanese food: izakayas, sushi bars, teppanyakis, yakinikus, ramenyas--and that's just naming a few! Then there's Café Hiro, a 10-year-old anomaly that not only defies classification, but also rises above them. The only thing you need to know is that chef/owner Hiro Ohiwa trained in France and Italy and worked a stint at LA's Matsuhisa. Do not expect teriyaki or sushi. Do count on everything being exquisitely prepared with a light Japanese touch and a few of its ingredients. His risotto is stirred to silk. His spaghetti has sea-urchin roe worked into the sauce. For dessert, he does a green-tea blancmange that possesses an unexpected depth and complexity. Still confused as to how to classify this place? Mull it over while staring at the big painting of Jimi Hendrix that dominates one wall. Call us when you figure it out.

10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090.

1. Honda Ya
10 Great Japanese Restaurants In Orange County
Edwin Goei

Slip off your shoes and sit cross-legged in the tatami room for that authentic Richard Chamberlain-in-Shogun experience, even if your legs lose circulation before the food arrives. And then order like you've never seen a teriyaki bowl before. The list is long and illustrious. Just about everything Honda Ya grills, steams, stir-fries, deep-fries and stews is a buffer for the ample amount of Japanese ales and sakes you'll throw back with the abandon of a salaryman after a hard day. Yakitori is the specialty of the house (as well as its equally excellent sister restaurant Kappo Honda of Fountain Valley), a subset of the kushiyaki that threads onto wooden skewers every part of the chicken, from neck to tail. Gizzards squeak like edible plastic; dark meat is paired with scallions. All are flipped ever-so-carefully just slightly above white-hot coals called bincho tan, a premium fuel that that imprints on the morsels a smoky carbon sweetness.

556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081.

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Use Current Location

Related Locations

Kappo Hana

25260 La Paz Rd.
Mission Viejo, CA 92653



Kappo Sui Restaurant

20070 Santa Ana Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92707

Cafe Hiro

10509 Valley View St.
Cypress, CA 90630



Izakaya Meijiya

1113 Baker St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626


Honda Ya Japanese Restaurant

556 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780


Fukada Restaurant

8683 Irvine Center Dr.
Irvine, CA 92618


Bistro Anju

22912 Pacific Park
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656



Habuya Okinawan Dining

14215 Red Hill Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780


Nana San

3601 Jamboree Rd.
Newport Beach, CA 92660



6198 Pacific Coast Highway
Newport Coast, CA 92657



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