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Facing Demolition, Michelin-Starred Shunji Sushi in West LA Makes New Santa Monica Plans

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A contentious fight over the fate of Shunji’s current Pico Boulevard address means a new home is needed for some of LA’s best sushi

Shunji sushi on a plate bearing the restaurant’s name.
Crystal Coser
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.

Massively popular West LA sushi restaurant Shunji is on the move. Eponymous chef/owner Shunji Nakao seems to be heading back to his Santa Monica stomping grounds near the airport there, after having spent time working at the now-closed Hump before opening his own spot on Pico Boulevard in 2012. Jonathan Gold lauded the spot that very same year, and in 2019 Shunji was given a Michelin star, calling it one of the best Japanese restaurants anywhere in Southern California.

News of the new Shunji Japanese Restaurant comes via this ABC license posting for the space at 3003 Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica. The former tenant there, casual cafe Zabie’s, closed permanently last month after a quarter-century of business, and now it seems that Nakao is planning to move in some time soon, though it will likely take a while to reconfigure the restaurant and reopen with a new sushi-specific layout.

But wait, there’s more. It’s entirely likely that this new Shunji location will not act as an expansion, but rather a move of the whole business from its original home at 12244 W. Pico Blvd.. The current restaurant’s address has been mired in a longstanding back-and-forth between locals, city officials, and a property owner who wants to tear it down to build something new. Much like the famed Norm’s on La Cienega from years ago, some are trying to protect the building by bestowing it with historic monument status, since it was originally a location of a bygone chain called Chili Bowl.

The round shape of the building was actually made to look like a bowl of chili, and is a prominent example of novelty architecture, a whimsical style where buildings look like the thing they sell that became popular across Southern California in the 1940s. Other examples include the Tail O’ the Pup cart, which is currently being renovated for an eventual return to life, and the long-endangered East LA tamale building.

As the LA Daily News noted back in February, the plan was for the city council’s Land Use Management Committee to consider heritage status for the site, but given the ongoing pandemic their needs have been focused elsewhere. With a determination on the state of the project dragging on, the owner of the property actually sued the city late last month, arguing that so much time had elapsed without an answer that they should be allowed to move forward with redevelopment. No official determination has yet been made.

Eater reached out to Shunji to discuss the future of the current restaurant location on Pico, and the upcoming location in Santa Monica, but so far has not heard back.

Shunji Japanese Cuisine

3003 Ocean Park Boulevard, , CA 90405 Visit Website