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Supermarket Sushi Sweep

An epic (and terrifying) grocery store sushi taste-off

Let’s face it: Most of us aren’t getting our sushi fix at the lacquered juniper counter of a $200-a-head omakase shrine. No, we’re trolling the aisles of our neighborhood grocery store seeking out the ones that look like they might have been made recently. Or at least the ones in which the avocado is still green and you can almost make out the grains of rice in that amorphous blob. Yes, supermarket sushi isn’t pretty, but it does the trick.

So which store stocks the freshest stuff? To find which rolls rock hardest, we, your trusty Los Angeles magazine staffers, risked life and intestinal tract by testing the offerings from six of the region’s largest grocers. But first a caveat: Depending on their location, different stores contract out to different sushi manufacturers, so the Whole Foods Market in Hollywood stocks completely different sushi from the Whole Foods in, say, Torrance. The same applies to other supermarkets. We selected our sushi from stores located in central Los Angeles, from Silver Lake to Mid City.

What we bought:

GELSON’S
Crunch roll: $9.49
Assorted nigiri: $9.89 (2 tuna, 2 salmon, 2 eel)       
California roll: $6.29

VONS
California roll: $5.49
Spicy tuna roll (w/brown rice): $6.99
Crunchy shrimp tempura: $9.49
“Sushi Marina” plate: $9.99 (2 tuna nigiri, 2 salmon nigiri, 2 shrimp nigiri)

TRADER JOE’S
Vegetable tempura roll (w/brown rice): $3
“Sushi Sensations” variety pack (16 pieces): $5.99

WALGREENS (Sunset + Vine)
Rainbow roll (nigiri): $11.99
Crunchy roll: $8.49
Hawaiian roll (spicy tuna): $8.99

RALPHS
Spicy furikake albacore roll (misc. category): $7.49
Spicy tuna avocado roll: $7.19
Cucumber roll (w/brown rice, misc. category): $3.19
California roll: $5.29

WHOLE FOODS
Crabmeat California roll: $7.99
“Spicy Tsunami” combo: $10.99 (4 pieces spicy tuna roll; 4 pieces nigiri, including 2 tuna, 2 salmon)


THE TASTE-OFF!

Round 1: California Roll
Winner:
Gelson’s!
The avocado here was fresh and firm, and the faux crab was in one big chunk, which we liked. Also, the little strips of cucumber were supercrunchy. The rest suffered either from mushy brown avocado, terrible rice, or dry, feathery artificial crab.

Round 2: Nigiri Sampler
Winner: Whole Foods!
This was a landslide victory. The fish from the other stores didn’t come close to the fresh offerings we found at Whole Foods. The rice, too, was decent—not too sweet, and it didn’t have that “refrigerator” taste you so often find.

Round 3: Crunch Roll
Winner: Tie: Walgreens and Vons!
We split the victory here because the rolls were so different. The Walgreens roll, which was topped with crispy fried onion bits, had the best flavors and freshest rice, but it was essentially just a California roll with topping. We think bonus points should be awarded to Vons for managing to pull off tempura-fried shrimp. Was it perfect? No—anything that’s breaded, fried, drenched in sauce, and then packed in the fridge is doomed. But it was better than the rest, and we found ourselves going back for more.

Round 4: Spicy Tuna Roll
Winner: Walgreens!
On looks alone, we would have awarded this one the prize. Colorful sauces and a sprinkling of bright orange tobiko made the Walgreens version look as good as the one at your corner roll shop. It was also the spiciest—in that weird, fake-spice kind of way. Whole Foods was the runner-up for swapping the standard tuna mush for a solid red hunk.

Round 5: Miscellaneous
Winner: None
The lesson here? Stick to the basics. The weird one-off rolls all failed miserably. Ralphs’ furikake albacore roll was unbelievably dry. We’re not even sure how that happened. But the real dud was the Trader Joe’s selection—all of them. The rice had somehow solidified into a white, gummy lump. The vegetables weren’t crisp, and the cooked fish offerings were so bad that one of our tasters had to use the spit bucket. Keep on making your frozen spanakopita TJ—sushi ain’t your game.

Hidden LA