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LA Times Critic Uncovers a New Strip Mall Sushi Star in the Valley

Plus the wildness of Pasadena’s best tacos, and first word on an OC fine dining newcomer

A piece of sushi glows under light.
Shin Sushi
Shin Sushi
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

This week’s batch of reviews spans a new Encino gem, a Pasadena taco paradise run by one of the most colorful chefs in town, and an upscale experience with eyebrow-raising inconsistencies down in Orange County.

First up is Shin Sushi, which LA Times co-critic says, in no uncertain terms, is LA’s next great sushi destination. Addison loves the “stripped-down Encino charmer,” saying:

After spending a few nights across the counter from him, I’m convinced that [chef Taketoshi] Azumi is a vital player in the Los Angeles sushi arena.

Addison adds:

Tai, or sea bream, is often the first piece, peachy pale and silvery around its edges... Vinegar murmurs through the rice; a dab of wasabi barks more than it bites. A pleasure-filled silence follows while the taste buds register traces of soy and reconcile textural contrasts.

Ultimately Shin Sushi earns high marks across the board, though Addison does offer one caveat: Go for dinner, because the daytime version simply “doesn’t thrum with the same specialness.”

Elsewhere, Times co-critic Patricia Escárcega took to Pasadena for Maquina Taco, calling the modern taqueria a “spartan space” on a “freshly gentrified strip of Lake Avenue.” The focus is on colorful owner Greg Lukasiewicz and Maquina’s wide array of options, from ground lamb to pork belly that comes “basted with a dark, sweet mole, then laid over sopa de arroz”. And there’s more:

Chapulines tacos are some of the best I’ve bumped into around the city: pure crunch, salt and citrusy spice, the fried grasshoppers served over a thin line of chopped cabbage that amplifies their brittle pleasures. Cabeza is melty and rich but also brutishly unctuous on a recent visit. Oxtails and lengua are velvet-soft, a deeply earthy pairing that will resonate with lovers of both ingredients.

Maquina Taco’s food “worthy of attention,” and its chef “is naturally restless and obsessed,” making for a compelling night out in Pasadena.

And finally, Brad A. Johnson spent a whopping seven meals trying to decipher the befuddling decadence of newcomer Knife Pleat at the South Coast Plaza in Orange County. The Yassmin Sarmadi and Tony Esnault (Church & State, Spring) restaurant leans decidedly French and uniformly upscale, but despite the caviar and white truffle trappings, Johnson has a hard time offering a full-throated endorsement. Lamb chops “arrive solidly brown instead of medium-rare as ordered,” among other issues, with Johnson adding glumly that “almost every triumph has been tempered with disillusionment.” Still, the restaurant, in its best moments, is “teetering on the verge of greatness.”

Shin Sushi. 16573 Ventura Blvd., Encino.
Maquina Taco. 1274 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena.
Knife Pleat. 3333 S. Bristol St., Costa Mesa.