Hunt for Nori: Finding Orange County’s Most Affordable Sushi Dishes

Let’s be clear: sushi has never been and never will be a cheap food. Its quality is inextricably linked to the price – the more you pay, the better the experience. There is, however, a threshold at which your money stops paying for sushi and starts paying for ambiance, location, and whether the chef has been on TV.

This list cuts out all the unnecessary fat to reveal three of Orange County’s most affordable sushi restaurants where you can order omakase, choose your meal from a menu, or grab it on a sushi conveyor belt. Not included are all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants, which exist and thrive, but whose value proposition only works if you have a bottomless stomach and a guilt-free soul.

Read on to find the best sushi meals without going deep in debt.

Inside Kaigen, where chefs prepare sushi for customers at Orange Restaurant on Tustin Street.

(Edwin Goei)

Most Affordable Omakase

Kaigen, 1736 N. Tustin St., Orange

When you say “omakase” at a sushi bar, it gives your itamae (sushi chef) a blank check to treat you to a multi-course sushi meal with the best they have to offer. The average price at Sushi Noguchi in Yorba Linda – one of the best places for “omakase” – is $70 to $150 per person, a reasonable price considering the skill of the chef, the quality of the fish and the quantity of food. Nobu in Newport Beach charges between $150 and $200 per person. At Ootoro in Irvine, omakase will run you between $300 and $500 per person.

The omakase plate at Kaigen, a sushi restaurant on Tustin Street in Orange.

The omakase plate at Kaigen, a sushi restaurant on Tustin Street in Orange.

(Edwin Goei)

By comparison, Kaigen’s $39 omakase sushi — for a nine-piece nigiri, hand roll, bowl of miso soup, and salad — is an anomaly. Not only is it at the low end of omakase prices in today’s inflationary era, it would have been considered cheap 10 years ago.

Kaigen chefs slice good quality fish. But just as important is the rice, which is perfectly prepared – not mushy, not dry – just the right consistency. It doesn’t crumble on your chopsticks but melts in your mouth.

A bowl of miso soup at Kaigen in Orange.

A bowl of miso soup at Kaigen in Orange.

(Edwin Goei)

As with all omakase, what you’ll be served will vary from visit to visit, but there’s likely to be thick cuts of scallops dusted with black pepper and the coveted piece of fatty tuna belly called toro. All parts will be covered with a filling or dosed with an amount of wasabi to eliminate sinuses.

To get the most out of Kaigen’s omakase, it’s best to sit at the sushi bar in front of a chef, not at the tables. Not only will the nigiri come out at a prescribed rate, prolonging the fun, but there’s a higher chance that your itamae will slip into an extra room at no extra cost.

Even though it opened in 2016, Kaigen is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity on Instagram, where its $39 omakase price has caught the attention of local influencers who descend on this mall restaurant to document it on their own. social media feed. However, it still exists in relative obscurity; waits longer than 15 minutes are rare.

An empty bar is the norm at Eat's Sushi in Costa Mesa.

An empty bar is the norm at Eat’s Sushi in Costa Mesa. The restaurant offers some of the best deals on sushi in Orange County, writes food critic Edwin Goei.

(Edwin Goei)

Eat’s Sushi, 1175 Baker Street E25, Costa Mesa

Although Eat’s Sushi has a bar counter, no one sits there. It’s not the kind of sushi bar where you can toast a cup of hot sake or build a relationship with your sushi chefs. Instead, you’ll be seated at a table or booth, reviewing the picture menu, then marking your order on a piece of paper.

What you see in the photographs is what you get on your plate. There are no surprises here – except for the prices, which are bargain-basement.

Salmon skin rolls at Eat's Sushi in Costa Mesa.

Salmon skin rolls at Eat’s Sushi in Costa Mesa.

(Edwin Goei)

Since opening late last year, Eat’s Sushi has sought to build customer loyalty. The service is obsequious, but the prices are probably the most affordable in OC for a sushi restaurant without a conveyor belt. A four-piece California roll currently costs less than $5. Other four-piece rolls range from $5.75 to $7. An incredible four-piece sea scallop sashimi plate with truffle oil and yuzu is offered for $8. But the real bargains are their nigiri, which start at $1.75 apiece for cuts that cost more at comparable restaurants.

The madai is topped with a sprinkle of yuzukosho (a paste made from yuzu and chili peppers); the unagi is seared with a caramelized edge; and the bay scallops are creamy. A Yelp listing even gets you a free can of soda.

Salmon skin salad at Eat's Sushi in Costa Mesa.

Salmon skin salad at Eat’s Sushi in Costa Mesa.

(Edwin Goei)

Don’t ignore cooked foods, however. Deep-fried tempura and soft-shell crab are rushed to your table crispy, hot, and fat-free. If you order a salmon skin salad, you get a big bowl of greens with crunchy pickled carrots, cucumbers and slivers of salmon skin that claim this is the best crouton ever invented.

The salmon neck – the boomerang-shaped piece near the gills with meat as soft as whipped cream – is delicately grilled and served with a spicy ponzu sauce.

Twenty-five dollars per person is all you need to provide for a hearty meal here. But beware: with the prices and the dizzying selection of Japanese dishes (Eat’s Sushi even offers ramen and udon), it is far too easy to order too much.

The conveyor belt offers affordable sushi options at Kaisen in Santa Ana.

The conveyor belt offers affordable sushi options at Kaisen in Santa Ana.

(Edwin Goei)

The most affordable revolving sushi

Kaisen, 3855 S. Bristol Street, Santa Ana

Many conveyor belt sushi restaurants have come and gone in Orange County over the past decade. But after more than 15 years, Kaisen still brings in his devotees who may remember that once his cheapest plate was 99 cents. Although those days are over, the cheapest nigiri plate is still $1.25 while its higher tiers cost $4.50. This may explain Kaisen’s longevity and enduring appeal: value.

If you’re still unfamiliar with the concept of conveyor belt sushi: Imagine sitting in front of a miniature baggage carousel as plates of sushi roll by in plastic domes. You see something you like, you take it. And at the end, a waiter comes to tally your stacks of color-coded empty plates to get your total.

Oysters are among the offerings that can be ordered at Kaisen in Santa Ana.

Oysters are among the offerings that can be ordered at Kaisen in Santa Ana.

(Edwin Goei)

In total, since each plate of nigiri comes with two pieces, you can feast on potentially 24 pieces of sushi after spending just $15. For comparison, at Kura in Irvine — arguably OC’s most popular conveyor-belt sushi right now — all plates are $3.35, more than double Kaisen’s price for its lowest tier. lower.

And while Kaisen isn’t as popular as Kura, where the wait can exceed three hours, there’s always a steady stream of diners to keep the stock turning.

However, you should not limit yourself to what is pre-prepared for the treadmill. Grab an order sheet, scribble your table number on it, and order the live oysters, salmon skin roll, and scallop nigiri.

A plate of nigiri at Kaisen, a sushi restaurant in Santa Ana.

A plate of nigiri at Kaisen, a sushi restaurant in Santa Ana.

(Edwin Goei)

If there’s anything that’s changed over the years (other than the plastic sheets that now separate booths and sushi chefs), it’s that conveyor belt offerings tend to rely on salmon-based pieces and California rolls. You may never see the delicate anago nigiri or fish roe sushi unless you explicitly ask for it on the order form. Although this transforms the experience into that of a beltless sushi restaurant, you are still paying the lowest prices.

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