Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kura Sushi - Costa Mesa

More than a decade ago, I sat at a sushi bar for the first time. It was an intimidating experience. The creeping feeling of dread started with that order sheet. On it was a long list of species only a Japanese marine biologist could decipher. But more discouraging than not knowing what words like hamachi and kanpachi meant, was the fact that the English translations printed next to it were just as beguiling. The only difference I could fathom between "yellowtail" and "amberjack" -- the English words for hamachi and kanpachi -- was the price.

As a young, ignorant newbie, ordering sushi from a roster of unknowns, sight unseen, is only slightly less risky than buying stuff on eBay: sometimes, depending on the vendor, the price paid is not equal to the perceived value or quality.

Kura Sushi, by contrast, is the WalMart of sushi bars -- the type of place I wish I knew about during those formative years of sushi exploration. At places like this, you can give everything the once-over, and eliminate the element of surprise because everything is just as it is. What you see is what you get: sushi mass-produced as a food, rather than as an artform. And it's all affordable enough to be anti-competitive.

This two-year-old, revolving sushi bar in Costa Mesa is one of many sushi joints in a town overpopulated by sushi joints, but it is unique because it is accessible where others are austere. Kura is popular with teens and families alike, most of whom, I gather, has never attempted to get a reservation at Sushi Shibucho just a few blocks down. But what Kura lacks in tradition and reverence, it makes up with a fun, casual, and very visual environment.

The room is in constant motion as a well-stocked conveyor belt snakes around a brightly lit space, transporting sushi on covered saucers. To find out how much a plate of sushi costs, you need only to look at the placemat, which outlines the price assigned to each color;

Pink = $1.25
Blue = $1.75
Wood Pattern = $2.25
Fish Pattern = $2.75
Green = $3.25

Despite the bargain-basement prices, the sushi is dependable, predictable, and decent. Most of the rolls are variations of the California Roll, with a chopped imitation crab center. Topped with whitefish, salmon, avocado, and tuna, it becomes the Rainbow Roll. Another variation has it smothered with bay scallops and spicy mayo.

There's also nigiri, presented most colorfully in a threesome of maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail) and sake (salmon), which share the same plate. It's a calculated eye-catcher of dazzling red, demure pink, and sultry orange. Everything about it screams "Pick me!"

Same goes for another favorite of mine: the Cajun Salmon. It's two gorgeously torched pieces of fish on rice, crowned with ribbons of red onion and diced scallions.

Kura does particularly well with appetizers such as edamame. A serving is packed in so densely that lifting the lid always triggers an avalanche of the boiled and salted soybeans. Their seaweed salad is also worthy of mention. Spiked with sesame oil, it is as crisp as it is refreshing.

Also not to be missed when it's piping hot, are the takoyaki balls. These soft spheres of cooked batter hide a chewy morsel of octopus at its nucleus. Drizzled with a syrupy, tangy sauce and a liberal squirt of Japanese mayo, they are just about the most irresistible objects to whiz by on the train.

Another non-sushi item I crave is the gyoza, dumplings filled with minced pork. When it's freshly fried, there's nothing that crunches quite like the way its crimped edges crackle.

Since those early years, I have graduated to omakase and developed an addiction to uni, but it's nice to know that Kura Sushi is there when I need sushi and have only a few bucks in my pocket.

Kura Sushi
(949) 631-3200
212 E 17th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627


At 9:05 AM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

The first time I had conveyor belt sushi was at Yo! Sushi! in London many years ago. It wasn't great sushi. But they had this electronic drink cart that moved around the room, and if it bumped into my chair, this disembodied, electronic voice would say, "Excuse me." Yeah, I was all about the novelty factor.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Lol. I remember the first time I ate at Kura Sushi. It wasn't bad and I rather liked it. Kura Sushi is very reminiscent of the first sushi restaurant I ever tried, Miyake up in Cuptertine. The meal evoked a lot of fond memories.

Elonweis and I ate at Frenzy Sushi a few days later and she outed me to Chef John. Oh the teasing! Oh the mortification!

I still go, though. Nothing seduces me like a guilty pleasure.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Christine D. said...

This USB stick would be perfect for storing your sushi pics! Haha

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

ooooh, takoyaki! I've only had that once at Genki Living and never at a conveyor belt place before! :) Was the turnover quick enough so that you were able to get it still hot?

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I am still a total sushi novice and I have yet to try out a revolving sushi bar. I have heard negative things about such bars though. The main complaint that I hear is that the sushi comes out tepid and mushy. But from your experiences, it appears that I should expand my horizons. I am intrigued by your descriptions, especially of the overflowing plate of edamame!

At 12:10 AM, Blogger digkv said...

That was a wonderful post, I love how you explained the main audience of the place; that way, we wouldn't be so dissapointed upon entering. But seriously, sushi on conveyor belts seems insulting for some reason, There's no intereaction of ordering, sushi loses its art form and seems so Ford assembly line. Thanks for the great post.
p.s. I too am addicted to uni, its flavor is sweet and remniscent of the sea; it talstes like the inside of a crab shell.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Sorry I haven't been by in awhile. I was moving last week.
Those are some freakin' good prices for sushi! Of course, it all adds up if you love sushi, as I do.
I love, love, LOVE uni! I am craving it at this very moment. I know that I will demand that Dave bring me some take-out in the hospital when I am recovering after childbirth this summer.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I want to try this place but want to make sure its truly a conveyor sushi place. Not like Sushi 5 that has signs on the conveyor and you still have to order. i want to see the food, grab it, eat it and go!

At 4:43 PM, Blogger MessyJessy said...

We lived in Japan when I was a little girl. I still remember the conveyor belt in the sushi joint.

My favorite at our local Japanese restaurant is the fresh steamed and salted edamame. It usually is overflowing!

At 8:43 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


For me, revolving sushi places like Kura is about stuffing my face full of sushi and getting out the door no more than $15 poorer. This is something I would probably go bankrupt doing at a place like Shibucho or even Frenzy Sushi. Although, I think a robot drink cart is exactly what Kura needs!

The Bill,

It's both! Fun *AND* reasonable! Hope you like it. But like I mentioned, it's not great sushi, but good enough for the price.


HAHA! I can imagine what grief John put you through. I wonder where he places Kura on the sushi totem pole!


And AJI just happens to be one of my favorites!


Genki Living's takoyaki is awesome! I prefer it to their crepes. But yeah, I lucked out 2/3 times at Kura when they had the takoyaki. It had just come out of the kitchen and was still hot.


These places can never replace a real sushi bar, where pieces are prepared to order. Sushi has a short half life. The other place I frequent, called Sushi 5, is actually a revolving sushi bar by name only. I have to order most of my dishes with the waitress, and it comes out by conveyor belt. I have to say, I like Sushi 5 a wee bit better because of it.


You got my general impression of the place -- where sushi is food, and not an artform. It would be a shame if a person only experienced Kura as their only source of sushi.

And uni! My friends still make fun of me for describing uni as "the sea-water saliva of a mermaid's kiss" from this post.


Here's to a quick delivery and a uni feast for you! Heck, make it a live uni!

Diamond Dog,

Ahhhh...the proof is in the pudding! Did you watch the video I made? You'll see that it's exactly what you hoped Sushi 5 would be.


So this place is doing right by the edamame avalanche!

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Uni....my favorite! Can one ever get enough sushi??? ;)

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have any resources on making Indonesian tempeh dishes? Most of the recipes I've found on the internet try to use it as a meat substitute rather than letting it do its own thing.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I don't think I can get enough sushi. Please note this statement if I die of mercury poisoning.


Here's our family's recipe for making fried tempeh. Simple, easy, and good. In a mortar, crush a few cloves of garlic (the more the better) with salt, MSG, and water. You're looking for a paste that can easily be spread. Then cut some tempeh and score it with a knife. The more scoring, the more flavor seeps in. Marinade the tempeh in the paste for a few minutes to an hour. Deep fry in oil until golden brown. Eat.


Thanks! I like yours too!

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never been to one of these before, and sushi, like many others, is one of my all time fav. I was forced into this restaurant by a friend and left very satisfied and wanting to return =)

At 5:31 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


It is good! Try Kaisen too. It's a revolving sushi place that's also really good.


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