Sushi in L.A.: Round and Round We Go

Help yourself to the conveyor belt history of the city’s sushi scene

  • 1906

    San Francisco transplant Gentaro Isoy-gaya opens the city’s first Sushi-ya, at 116 Weller Street in what is today Little Tokyo.

  • 1942

    The U.S. government orders the internment of about 110,000 Japanese American citizens on the West Coast. Most Japanese-owned businesses, including sushi restaurants, are forced to close.

  • 1948

    Calrose, a new medium-grain rice, is distributed to growers in California’s Central Valley, providing access to good sushi rice for the first time.

  • 1958

    The Holiday Bowl bowling alley opens in the Crenshaw District, then a densely Japanese-populated area. Later it will serve as a neighborhood sushi hub.

  • 1963

    With the Mikado Inn, the Valley gets something it’s never had: a Japanese restaurant. Decades later Ventura Boulevard will boast a “Sushi Row.”

  • 1965

    Kawafuku debuts the first modern American sushi bar, in Little Tokyo.

  • 1967

    Ichiro Mashita invents the California roll (see page 98) at Tokyo Kaikan on 1st Street.

  • 1968

    Tokyo Kaikan’s owners launch International Marine Products downtown, still the U.S.’s finest wholesale fish market.

  • 1970

    Osho bows next door to the 20th Century Fox lot near Century City. When Yul Brynner becomes a regular, Hollywood discovers sushi.

  • 1980

    California Beach opens in Hermosa Beach. With help from “rock and roll sushi” pioneer Toshi Sugiura, it becomes the epicenter of the drunken, cocaine-fueled celebrity sushi scene.

  • 1982

    Masaru “Katsu” Michite debuts the ultra-swank Katsu on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz, inspiring a generation of sushi chefs. Food critic Ruth Reichl gives it a rave review in the Los Angeles Times.

  • 1985

    Sushi is served as an appetizer at a reception hosted by President Ronald Reagan at the Century Plaza Hotel for the Japanese prime minister.

  • 1987

    Nobu Matsuhisa opens his fusion hot spot Matsuhisa on La Cienega. Seven years later Robert De Niro urges him to expand to New York, sparking the Nobu empire.

  • 1997

    Michael Cardenas, former Matsuhisa GM, teams with nightclub owners on 3rd Street’s Sushi Roku, starting the “sushi lounge” trend.

  • 1998

    Toshi Sugiura opens the California Sushi Academy, the nation’s first sushi school, in Venice. A year later Katsuya Uechi helps launch the Sushi Institute of America downtown.

  • 2006

    SBE joins forces with Katsuya Uechi on the luxe Katsuya by Starck in Brentwood, nearly 20 years after he opened his small Studio City sushi bar. There are now seven nationwide.

  • 2008

    Kazunori Nozawa takes the “trust me,” or omakase, style of eating made popular at the 21-year-old Sushi Nozawa to the mainstream with Sugarfish in Marina del Rey. Today the operation is a growing minichain.

  • 2012

    The new Walgreens flagship at the Sunset + Vine complex features a fully staffed sushi bar.

  • 2013

    The Nobu Hotel opens at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (see page 108), taking the Nobu brand far beyond sushi and turning it into a lifestyle aesthetic.

Photographs by Adrea Bricoo

This feature originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine