Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.

Istanbul & Beyond Champions Uncharted Turkish Delights

Stunning, slice-of-Turkish-life photos by David Hagerman and recipes from remote regions of Turkey, are the focus of Robyn Eckhardt’s latest cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond. The two spent 18 months digging deep into “one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere”, as Robyn so eloquently states it. The diverse terrains combined with interactions with neighboring countries has produced a richness that can only evolve through centuries of experimentation with local ingredients.

The breath of the book is expansive and no single recipe defines the cuisine. We found it best to follow our whims through the dense contents. The purple basil cooler is a great place to start with its anise back-notes and cool, sweet refreshment. Robyn tips us off to the fact that alcohol enhancement produces a wonderful cocktail.

Turkish red pepper paste and flakes can be found piled high at almost every market in Turkey.  The liberal use of this important element of Turkish cooking requires chefs to decide on a preferred flavor profile from deep and smokey to fruity spicy and every combination in between. Red pepper flakes elevate the Spicy Egg Salad on page 260 to a dish that complements every meal or snack served throughout the day.

Do not miss Robyn’s green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, a pomegranate reduction, which can be found in middle eastern stores. The recipe is from Hatay in southeastern Turkey, which was just honored by UNESCO for its exceptional cuisine, and after tasting this salad we know why.

Frangrant Orange Cookies from page 75 are just that, and so addicting we are actually afraid to make a batch for fear of not being able to stop at just a few.

Istanbul and Beyond delightfully champions hidden treasure dishes that have made Gaziantep and Antakya cities of noteworthy gastronomy according to the United Nations Creative Cities Network. You are unlikely to find these gems in your local Turkish restaurants. So thank you Robyn for sharing these recipes that we hope to have the good fortune of tasting in Turkey, but until then we’re covered.

Deborah Madison Shares From Her Own Cozy Kitchen


When searching for answers to life’s questions we like to defer to the masters, and Deborah Madison certainly falls into that category. She was cooking from an enlightened perspective long before it was fashionable or even acceptable in many circles. From the San Francisco Zen Center to Chez Panisse, Madison has taken every opportunity to engage in the deepest examination of vegetarian cuisine.  And now a lifetime of expertise has been condensed into her latest book, In My Kitchen, a collection of favorite vegetarian recipes she serves at home.

We must start by highlighting the mouthwatering Romanesco sauce inspired by a trip to Spain. This deep, complex, sunny blend is oh so satisfying. We added a big dollop to soup, but honestly we want to slather this winner on everything in the kitchen including the roasted cauliflower recipe she pairs it with in the book.

A crisp, sweet, spicy citrus and avocado salad with lime-cumin vinaigrette atop shredded greens is the definition of invigoration and the ideal accompaniment to heavier dishes of beans or animal protein. Deborah is not interested in pushing lifestyle choices down anyones throat and is thrilled that in this day and age one can choose to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivore on any night of the week it calls to them.

That is not to say that vegetarian and vegan dishes can’t be supremely satisfying.  Their hardiness is clearly demonstrated in her potato and chickpea stew with sautéed spinach. It’s a memorable bowl sure to warm the hearts of all who dive in.

Deborah’s rubarb-rasberry compote couldn’t be easier and the tangy, tart, mildly sweet flavor is a winner served with cookies, over ice cream or as a side dish, transforming any weeknight dinner into a special occasion. It is beyond scrumptious and all we had to do was throw a few easy ingredients together, 3 to be exact. We made a triple batch and enjoyed it for a full week before finally scraping the bowl clean.

Worried Deborah’s healthy style will deny you sweet treats? No need, her walnut nugget cookies pair surprisingly well with the rhubarb and raspberry compote.

While encouraging readers to nourish themselves in the fashion that best suits their mood, Deborah makes the process surprisingly easy and we greatly appreciate that. Those ready to dive into a healthy dose of mother natures best would be wise to pick up Deborah Madison’s, In My Kitchen and transform their cooking with instruction straight from the cozy kitchen of one of the shining stars of the culinary world. Bon Appetit.

 

Mango Season Is Upon Us

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Mango season is here and Keitt Mangos are sweet, juicy, silky and ready to be used in a myriad of ways.

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The challenges of peeling mangos are minimized when cut into slices or in half and then run over the edge of a glass.  We put our glass inside a bowl to catch any  juice that may run down the sides during the process.  The skin can be scraped over the lip numerous times to make sure we get every last morsel.

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We eat the slices straight, add them to salads and blend them into smoothies.

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We love Karoun Yogurt from Jon’s Market for its thick richness which makes super creamy smoothies and mango lassi.

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Our recipe calls for one large mango, 1 cup yogurt and 8 ice cubes blended until smooth.  The result is approximately 3 ice cold, large glasses of mildly sweet, tart refreshment. Many recipes call for sugar but we don’t find it necessary.  A little fresh squeezed lime and some cardamom are exciting additions although we usually drink it straight.

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For fiber free mangos and the best smoothies and lassi, we strongly recommend Keitt mangos which are ripe and ready to go when they are soft, with a little give and very fragrant.

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To order Melissa’s Green Keitt Mangoes, go to http://www.melissas.com/Keitt-Mango-p/713.htm and use the coupon code KEITT15 to take 15% off Melissa’s Green Keitt Mangoes only. Coupon Expires Sept 18th 2016.

New Afghani in Beverly Hills

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A sweet little patio at the back of a small parking lot in Beverly Hills, is home to the brand new Afghani Kebab House. The menu features fragrant rice dishes, grilled kebabs, meat filled dumplings and a variety of fruit and vegetables entrees suitable for vegetarians.  The food of Afghanistan is reminiscent of neighboring Iran’s Persian dishes, and a mild interpretation of the cuisines of Pakistan and India. The restaurant’s small kitchen cranks out homestyle flavors while catering to customers with warm and welcoming hospitality the region is known for.

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Carved wooden bowls filled with potato and garbanzo salad in a cilantro chutney, are an amuse-bouche that start guests off with a hint of the flavors to come.  Warm, airy Afghani flat bread is the traditional eating utensil, although the table is also set with fork and knife. The chewy, straight from the oven bread is addictive and we went through three baskets over the course of dinner.

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Always looking to incorporate healthy options into our diet, we started with the uber sweet Borani Kadoo, butternut squash, covered in ribbons of in-house made yogurt and a sprinkling of dried mint. This melt in your mouth appetizer is both soothing and gratifying.

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The eggplant appetizer, called Borani Badenjan, is sautéed with fresh tomatoes, garlic and peppers before being drizzled with homemade yogurt.

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The easy to devour mantu are dumplings stuffed with seasoned ground beef and sautéed onions, topped with yogurt, tomatoes, peas and herbs. These little beauties pair exceptionally well with the vibrant green herb sauce served alongside.

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Chicken Kabob skewers showcase tender boneless chicken breast marinated in Afghani Kebab House’s secret mix of oil, yogurt, herbs and spices before being charbroiled into plump, juicy chunks.

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For lamb lovers, the Quabili Pallow encompasses a hefty mound of richly seasoned basmati rice, raisins and julienned carrots atop tender lamb shank, a specialty of the house not to be missed. Dishes are large enough to share, which to us means more delicious Afghani food to sample.

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Be sure to save room for the warm walnut and pistachio baklava, whose  sweet and savory balance, coupled with the slight crunch through many layers of filo, makes this one of our favorite hidden LA desserts.

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Only three weeks old and already Afghani Kabob House has everything running smoothly, from congenial  service to the well prepared cuisine. We are looking forward to many balmy summer nights of affordable meals on their airy patio.

Afghani Kabob House
8560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Phone – 310-854-1020

Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived

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New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.

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Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.

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Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.

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Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.

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For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.

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We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.

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The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

The Power Of The Pomegranate

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Street vendors all over Istanbul soothe parched pedestrians with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice. The orange is delightful, but it’s the red, juicy, ancient (dating back to 4000 BC) nar (Turkish for pomegranate) nectar that has us dropping Turkish lire all over the city.

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We are told that autum is prime season for the power packed fruit, but we have found the most vibrant, ruby red seeds are still exploding with the sweetest juice in early March.  Even the sweet, slightly tart cups we encounter have us singing the praises of this enchantress.

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It takes just moments for our juice barista to halve and squeeze two or three globes, place them in the sturdy manual juicer and extract the liquid ambrosia.

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Small servings set us back about .50 cents with larger cups ranging from a dollar to two depending on size and vendor location. At this price we indulge daily, taking advantage of the benefits of this Turkish delight.

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Celebrated for its high antioxidant content and inflammation reducing properties, we find it one of the most restorative beverages we’ve encountered. Ordering large glasses after long days exploring the vast treasures of Istanbul we feel instantly revitalized and up for more adventures.

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Fresh pomegranite kiosks and stands are located throughout Istanbul.  Every pedestrian and tourist area we have explored offers abundant opportunities to experience these glasses of pure refreshment. Don’t miss this charming tradition.

 

Healthy Fast Food Wins Us Over Everytime

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We have become completely aligned with the new fast food model, embracing the ease, abundant variety, freshness and speed through which our meal is assembled. PokiNometry falls squarely into this genre, with a thin sliver of a space at Hollywood and Highland that we saunter through before receiving our self-designed poke bowl.

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The third floor of the entertainment center houses the outdoor food court called The Deck, and those tables or booths provide customers of PokiNometry a space to chow down. Bad weather means we have to pack food to go, fortunately LA has mostly sunny, mild days.

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The protocol is simple. First chose your bowl size and your base. We opted for a large bowl with half and half, brown rice and deep greens.

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Then come the add ons which are unlimited and included in the price, except for the faux crab meat and avocado which after the first scoop are $1.50 for each additional helping.

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We found the scoops included to be just the right amount, but we can’t slight anyone for wanting more avocado.

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Next we chose our fish. The large bowl incorporates 5 scoops of any combination of seafood desired.

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After asking about the freshest available that day, we opted for tuna, albacore, yellow tail and two scoops of mashed tuna. The cooked shrimp adds a different consistency so we kept the bowl strictly raw to retain a uniformity of texture.

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At Station 4 we got to choose our sauces and since we like it hot we let them know.

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Sauces can be added directly to the bowl or served in to go cups for those wanting to add as they consume. We requested the spicy, original Nometry sauce and a couple of cups of spicy mayo and miso just in case.

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The last decisions to be made are about the toppings, again unlimited. We went heavy on the green onion and ginger plus requested extra cups of pickled ginger because we adore the flavor.

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Our alluring bowl was delivered to us exactly how we like it, quickly, efficiently and by a staff that couldn’t have been nicer.

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Drinks and miso soup are also on the menu for an additional charge.

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We found the bowls to be vibrant and enjoyable, with the large containing too much for one lunch, and they happily packed up the left overs to go. Validation at the visitor center kept parking at $2.00 for two hours, giving us a chance to browse a bit after lunch. When in Hollywood looking for a quick, easy and healthy meal, PokiNometry fits the bill swimmingly.

PokiNometry,
6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 316, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-645-7730           web site –PokiNometry.com

Vietnamese Market Opens In The San Gabriel Valley

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Hoa Binh Vietnamese Supermarket, located in Garden Grove, opened a new branch in Rosemead late 2014, bringing a new voice to the Asian markets in the San Gabriel Valley.

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Hard to find items such as sugarcane, fresh rambutan and mangosteen are conveniently available in season.

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Soy bean products, from fresh soy milk to tofu, are on display near the back of the vegetable aisles.

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We were extremely impressed with the fresh and live seafood department which currently carries live tilapia at $4.99 a pound and live catfish at $4.70 a pound.

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Free deep fry service is available and includes cleaning, removal of head and tail, cutting into steaks, if desired, and frying, either regular or extra crispy.

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Fresh seafood on ice shines with bright eyes and shimmery scales.

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The seafood staff spends most of their time preparing fish for customers.

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A pristine meat department is well organized and offers cuts at exceptionally reasonable prices.

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Everything needed for Vietnamese cooking is on hand, from rice paper wrappers to utensils especially designed to make Asian cooking a snap.

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We found lobster and crab crackers and picks, an item that is surprisingly missing from most markets.

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A sale area at the far end of the store offers Vietnamese and other Asian imports at a significant discount, making Hoa Binh one of our new favorite markets.

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Hoa Binh Super Market, 2750 North San Gabriel Boulevard, Rosemead, CA 91770

Inexpensive Sushi Stop

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As sushi fans we are always looking for good sushi at affordable prices. We have been long time customers of Sushi Stop from back in the day when they had only one tiny outlet on Sawtelle.

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They now have six, four of them on Sawtelle, one in Hollywood and another in Pasadena. We attribute their success to quality seafood and a $2.95 price point for most rolls.

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A rich miso soup, at $1.60 a bowl, does not skimp on the miso. It’s a soothing, warm, velvety, healthy broth dotted with scallions, seaweed and a few tofu squares.

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While the crunchy seaweed salad pops with the delightful essence of the ocean.

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Besides the menu, there are specials listed on the wall with slightly higher prices.

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A pen and order form list the offerings and we simply place check marks or the number of orders we want next to chosen dishes.

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The seared peppered tuna is super fresh and meaty, seared at the very edge only.  We roll them up, capturing the onion and sesame seeds, then consume the little ponzu marinated packages.

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Specialty rolls also come in at $2.95 per plate and we definitely have our favorites.

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The dynamite roll conceals a California roll under baby scallops in a rich sauce  quickly broiled and presented still bubbling. The hot, creamy topping is a memorable contrast to the cool inside out crab and avocado roll underneath.

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A shrimp tempura roll pairs crisp, batter encased shrimp with cucumber and avocado, then drizzles everything in sweet eel sauce.

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Under the appetizer section are spicy albacore tartare, fried wonton skins with spicy tuna, avocado, onion slivers, sesame seeds and a serious splattering of spicy Sriracha mayo for one crunchy, smooth, spicy bite.

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The Las Vegas roll is artistically playful, with eel and cucumber beneath spicy tuna and architecturally stunning fried lotus root wheels, smeared with eel sauce.  Another attractive and flavor packed combination.

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Desserts also fall under the $2.95 price point making them a no brainer.

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Being near UCLA, there is usually a wait at peak meal times, but we were seated immediately at 5 PM on Saturday night. Be aware that it is a cash only establishment, but with these prices the bill is usually manageable, plus there is an ATM on the premises. For affordable sushi in a lively environment, Sushi Stop is a great choice that we frequent when the mood strikes.

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SushiStop, 2222 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-479-1222           web site – sushistopusa.com

or

SushiStop, 2053 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-473-3999

or

SushiStop Izakaya, 2218 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-479-1001

or

New Japan by SushiStop, 11283 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-477-0557

or

SushiStop, 5917 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-468-2496

or

SushiStop, 58 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101
Phone – 626-405-1518