Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats restaurants—often obscure, ethnic, unsung spots—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Have a place she just must taste? Drop us a line.
With jazzy Norah Jones playing in the background, chef Mino greets us at the bar with an amuse bouche of mixed fish — a tea cup filled with chunks of yellowtail and halibut in a fiery orange chili pepper sauce in honor of Hamakaze's one-year anniversary. We had no idea about the milestone, but were happy to celebrate with a free starter. Mino, who says he also works as a chef for Japan-based ANA Airlines, is a bit of a character and just laughs when we point out the copy of Sushi for Dummies he has prominently displayed behind the bar.
The menu is huge to begin with thanks to more than two dozen rolls, all of the usual sushi and sashimi suspects, an entire page of Izakaya (small tapas-style dishes traditionally served in Japanese pubs), and a list of blackboard specials, which tonight includes baked green lip mussels and white sea eel sushi. There's also a happy hour every evening from 5 to 7PM, which, we notice, doesn't seem to have much of a financial equation to it. The California blue crab roll, for example, is half off ($4 instead of the usual $8) during the two-hour window, while the price of the deep-fried scallops only drops a dollar to $6, and a handful of $10 bento boxes (which include teriyaki chicken, salmon, or fiery beef) aren't offered on the regular dinner menu.
We start with an order of seared albacore sushi and two pieces of yellowtail, both recommended by Mino. Both are fresh and good cuts of fish, but the smoky tasting albacore with a touch of ponzu is the standout of the two. We can't resist taking advantage of the bargain blue crab roll, and though there isn't anything wrong with it, we find it's nothing special.
We move on to the Izakaya menu which contains mostly hot dishes like sautéed shishito peppers, stuffed jalapeno tempura, and a shrimp and scallop pancake. Our server says the sautéed green beans with garlic are one of the eatery's most popular items and when the heaping bowl arrives we can taste why. The beans are crisp and covered in a not-overly-sweet oyster sauce spiked with zingy pieces of crunchy garlic. It's a hit.
A warning: Not everything at Hamakaze is a steal. There's a "designer roll" menu with most items (including a shrimp tempura roll topped with spicy tuna and a sashimi roll) in the $15 range. But nearly all of the sushi menu choices are between $5 and $8, and the majority of the Izakaya items are south of $7.
Before we leave our waiter tells us about the restaurant's 9PM sake tastings on weeknights. Ten bucks gets you three tastes from their sake menu along with a scorecard for ranking your faves. Then he hands us a mug with the restaurant's name on it, another little anniversary treat. I can't help but feel that most of these celebratory rewards are probably meant for the regulars who've supported the place during its freshman year, but, hey, I'm not one to turn down complimentary kitchenware.
The next day, when I look at Hamakaze's takeout menu, I notice that those $10 bento boxes come not just with rice and miso soup, but also eight (yes, eight!) Izakaya samplers. Somehow, in between the free gifts, multi-page menu, and happy hour math, I missed out on the biggest bargain Hamakaze had to offer. If only I'd been following them on Facebook ?
Dinner: $3 to $18