Hermosa Beach Branch jabi (The more upscale original is down in Redondo Beach at PCH and Avenue E) sits on one of those wonderful South Bay Beach city streets brimming with restaurants of every color and cry – streets like Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Main Street in El Segundo at Manhattan Beach Boulevard.
In this case, Japonica HB is surrounded by Roque Sushi, Dia de Campo, Raila, Agave Azul, Hermosa Brewing and the well-disguised Fox & Farrow.
Like all of them, Japonica HB is packed almost every night. And in this case, for some very good reasons—it’s delicious sushi and sashimi made with a side edge, served at a reasonable price, in a loose easygoing setting.
There is plenty of seafood in nearby Raila, but you’ll pay a lot for it there. Here, you can eat an assortment of oversized Madcap rolls, for well under $20 per plate—which qualifies as a bargain these days. Prices are rising everywhere, but Japonica HB reminds us that we can still eat our favorite foods without having to pledge another.
In its own right, japonica is a transportation experience; It transports you from a busy beach-adjacent section of Hermosa Avenue, where most patrons choose to sit at one of the outdoor tables, which spill into the gutter, to a back street in Tokyo – perhaps in Ginza, though. More likely in Roppongi (somewhere that Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson would have gone in “Lost in Translation”). What I’m trying to say is that Japonica has a loose feel of urban Japan. It’s authentic, but in a deeply understated way.
In Japonica, you have the feeling of being inside a sort of back alley Japanese diner—or perhaps one of those sake pubs packed with paychecks at the end of the day, a breed of casual cafe that’s more prevalent here in Southern California. has been; Garda is alive with sake pubs. It has enough sax to count as a sake pub – a dozen of them, from Honjojo through to Junmai, Ginjo and Daiginjo (which is on top of the world).
There are also some good beers on draft, including Kirin Ichiban, which go very well with food. Or … not with food. It goes well with everything.
In terms of sax, an evening at japonica is an education in the sometimes mystical world of sake styles – some sweet, some dry, some filtered, some not. (Unfiltered sack sounds horribly like milk.) Some are both sweet and dry at the same time. Most are served cold, even frozen; Hot sake is served, although warming sake is like heating a Chardonnay; The result is drinkable, but a little intimidating.
After a few thumbs up, I’m ready to eat a variety of appetizers, both cold and hot. Definitely an order of edamame, both spicy and not, which is both delicious, and gives me something to do with my fingers as I take them out of their shells. Or some seaweed salad, with lots of sesame (goma-e) flavor, a dish that I think is healthy, even though it certainly tastes sweet, like a dessert as an appetizer.
The menu here is more blue-collar than in the Redondo branch, where appetizers run for fish liver drizzled with citrus ponzu sauce, and fried baby Spanish mackerel (a dish that feels bland by comparison to sardines). In this case, there are Brussels Sprouts with Crushed Pecans, Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna, Chicken Gyoza and Japanese Fried Chicken.
There is also ramen, six of them – pork, chicken and beef, spicy and vegetarian. They are good on a night when fog is forming over the Pacific Ocean, and not on a hot summer afternoon.
And then, there’s the world of sushi and sashimi, which is Japonica HB’s bottom line. I love sashimi carpaccio – Bluefin Tuna, Yellowtail, Scottish Salmon and – a variety of flavors with yuzu ponzu, Japanese balsamic, and sweet onion ginger dressing. But still, I have always liked my food to be simple, straightforward and taste like it.
There are also 25 rolls, 16 of which are craft rolls – although with names like Jessica Albacore, The Hasselhoff and Bluefin Bombshell, “craft” doesn’t seem like the right word. “Nut” or “Wako” come close.
Kyoto Kryptonite, for example, “has double spiced tuna, cucumber, sweet soy glaze, serrano smoked chili sauce and chili peppers on a crunchy rice roll.” Burning Man includes tempurad serrano peppers and Sriracha Diablo sauce. There’s Sriracha Aioli on Dungeons & Dragons. There’s Smoked Chili Sauce on Holly Mackerel!
Thankfully, there’s cobbler ice cream for dessert. It takes a lot to put out a fire.
Meryl Schindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance food critic. Email email@example.com.
- Rating: 2.5 stars
- Know: 1314 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach
- information: 424-257-8274; www.japonicadining.com
- Meal: Casual Indoor/Outdoor Sushi Bar
- When: Lunch and Dinner, Every Day
- description: On one of the busiest restaurant streets in the South Bay, with several sushi options nearby, Japonica is the busiest of them all – plenty of beer and a boost of fun.
- Reservation: needed for large groups
- Atmosphere: Loose and super-casual, with many diners sitting on Hermosa Avenue, watching the high-steppers pass by.
- Prices: about $35 per person
- In the expression list: 15 Appetizers ($2.99-$27.99), 6 Ramen ($13.99-$15.99), 7 Sashimi Carpaccio ($14.99-$29.99), 7 Sushi/Sashimi Options ($4.99-$36.99), 7 Special Sushi ($7.99) – $24.99), 9 Classic Rolls ($6.99) -$13.99), 16 Craft Rolls ($9.99-$17.99)
- Credit Card: MC, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a visit from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a visit from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good go-to for foodies Place. Worth a visit from anywhere. Neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get caught in on-going traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)