Sakura Japanese Restaurant – Del Rey, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

One of the best parts of living in LA is that there are just so many dining options it would be nearly impossible to eat at them all. In an effort to explore our immediate surrounding neighborhood (yes, we have lived here for over two years and still haven’t tried everything), we decided to have an impromptu date night at a local favorite – Sakura Japanese Restaurant.

A bit stunned by AP (analysis paralysis), we asked our sushi chef if he could arrange an omakase for us with a modest budget of $60. He said sure and put on his number-crunching thinking cap. Martin pointed out that he seemed relieved to see a change of pace from the many veggie rolls we had seen him assemble in just the short time we had been sitting at the counter. This is the progression he created:

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Yellowtail (hamachi) – A sushi staple, this piece of hamachi spoke volumes of the quality of the meal ahead. The neta (the slice of fish atop nigiri) was a generous portion in all its dimensions.

Blue fin tuna (maguro) – Far from the generic dull-red fish we find at cheap sushi places, the blue fin tuna here was gorgeous, tender, and just wonderful.

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Monkfish Liver (ankimo) – I love ankimo but every other time we have had it, it was served gunkanmaki-style (mashed into a paste and scooped atop a mound of rice that had been wrapped in seaweed to form an oval-shaped vessel, like uni or ikura nigiri). This was the first time we’ve ever tried it in its most pure form — large fatty morsels simply garnished with scallions and ponzu and served with a sunomono-style salad of cucumbers, seaweed, and strings of daikon. Decadent and a steal at $8!

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Albacore (shiro maguro) – Definitely not to be missed, this albacore was served in its typical style with ponzu, scallions, and a hint of garlic. The fish melted in our mouths!

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Halibut (hirame) – A mild white fish that has a firmer, slightly chewy texture, it is always interesting to have sashimi-grade versions of fish that are more frequently served cooked.

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Spanish Mackerel (aji) – The most mild mackerel I’ve ever had, not a single hint of oily fishiness that usually comes with aji or saba. Beautiful!

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Sea Urchin (uni) – Super creamy and smooth, this Santa Barbara delicacy was among the best we’ve had at any sushi restaurant.

As many others have mentioned before us, Sakura Japanese Restaurant is a hidden gem on the mini restaurant row of Centinela Avenue of our humble piece of the Westside and we’re happy to have finally tried it for ourselves.

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Check out Sakura Japanese Restaurant:

4545 South Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Mariscos Chente – Del Rey, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

I know what you’re probably thinking. Where the heck is Del Rey? That’s okay. We didn’t know either until we moved here. And it took over a year of living in this teeny tiny region bordered by Culver City, Mar Vista, Marina Del Rey, and Venice to finally discover the wonder that is Mariscos Chente. At this hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant specializing in mariscos (seafood), the small menu boasts two pages of shrimp dishes, a third of fish dishes, and a final page dedicated to ceviche.

Camarones Borrachos - shrimp in a tequila garlic sauce

Camarones Borrachos – shrimp in a tequila garlic sauce

We’ve returned on multiple occasions since our first fateful visit less than a month ago. It’s that good. The camarones borrachos (above) were like a “drunken shrimp” dish packed with a strong tequila punch. A bit too strong for me, but Martin enjoyed it.

But first, the chips and salsa... and our drinks

But first, the chips and salsa… and our drinks

Shortly after we place our order, the friendly waitress brings out a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips and a small bowl of salsa verde. Tangy from plenty of limes and tomatillos, with just the right amount of kick, this snack is the perfect way to whet our appetite for the delicious meal to come, especially when paired with Mexican Coke and tamarindo Jarritos.

Camarones a la Diabla - shrimp in a spicy red sauce

Camarones a la Diabla – shrimp in a spicy red sauce

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I LOVE spicy food. Absolutely love it. If I’m not sucking in air and making that hissing sound by the end of my meal, it was not done right. Of course, I had to try the camarones a la diabla, so spicy that it even bears the devil’s name. Full of garlicky, salty, spicy flavor, this dish definitely wowed me.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo - shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Swimming in a sauce that’s bright red from all the tomalley hidden in the succulent shrimp heads, these camarones al mojo de ajo are excellent in their simplicity. I think this dish is the best way to really taste the shrimp… and butter. Martin and I both love it, so when we’re struggling to venture out and try something different on the menu, we’ll usually order one of these and one of something else to share.

Suck the goodness out of those shrimp heads!

Suck the goodness out of those shrimp heads!

The best part is that the shrimp are served head-on. Each order comes with 12-15 shrimp (about a pound I’d wager), which means 12-15 delicious shrimp heads from which to harvest tasty, tasty brains. The good stuff that tinges the sauce a brilliant crimson. My favorite part is the “thigh” of the legs. Sweet shrimp meat covered in a thin crispy layer of (edible) shell, it’s totally worth the crunch.

The Graveyard

The Graveyard

Let the heads pile up as you devour the entire platter. For $15, the portion is generous, especially for lunch. Sometimes I even push a shrimp or two onto Martin’s plate to help me finish.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo - shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – shrimp in butter and garlic salt

As you can see in the background, each plate comes with a mound of rice. The garlicky rice is deceptively, impressively flavorful and the texture is fluffy but chewy. So good! From the shrimp to the shrimp to the shrimp to the rice, Mariscos Chente is definitely worth a visit. If you remember to call ahead, you could even order an awesome fried fish by the kilo (the pescado sarandeado) which takes at least 30 minutes to prepare. We honestly lack the foresight, but someday we’ll definitely try it and update this post. And if you go here for dinner, there are plenty of cerveza offerings on the menu to pair with the camarones¡Salud!

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Check out Mariscos Chente:

4532 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here!