Restaurant Review #128: Hide Sushi, Sawtelle, West LA

Halibut and albacore

Hide Sushi (pronounced hee-DAY, or something like that) has built a reputation on being remarkably inexpensive given the high quality of its fish. But just how cheap, and how good, could it really be? In my experience, cheap sushi is almost always chewy sushi. Yuck.

In spite of the reputation, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d poked my head in on several other occasions--just long enough to see that the wait for a table was too long and that the interior didn’t look particularly nice. I knew the fish was supposed to be good, but I like to eat at places that have at least some semblance of atmosphere, and I know plenty of places where I can have both. Also, they close at 9:00 and won't seat you after 8:00, and they only accept cash, so it's not always the easiest place to eat.

Cherry blossom photos cover up overhead lights

On a weekday at 1:45, the wait was finally manageable--just one other group in front of us. When I finally got all the way inside, I found that the restaurant is actually quite nice looking. It's not dateworthy, but nor is it the junky hole-in-the-wall I had anticipated. Even the ceiling is decorated! The nondescript, somewhat scuffed, off-white tile floor must have been what gave me the initial bad impression. Indeed, the floor probably is the least nice aspect of the interior, but the tables are a solid, shiny golden brown, and, well, I'll let my photos tell the rest of the story.

The walls are actually covered in inexpensive cream-colored carpet. It seems strange, but it looks nice, and may be part of the reason that the restaurant isn't too noisy. Since it's busy, it's still noisy, but you'll have no problem carrying on a conversation. Some of the tables are uncomfortably close together, though--if there are only two of you, you might find yourself so close to your neighbors that you are practically sharing a table.

The restaurant felt a bit chaotic and hostile when I first walked in--there is no apparent hostess, waitresses are darting to and fro, and space is limited. There's always a line, so how do you get on the wait list?

When you walk in, walk past the chairs on the wall to your right (which will probably be full of people) and write your name on the dry erase board, as well as how many people are in your party and whether you want a seat at the bar (s), table (t), or first available (s/t). A handwritten poster next to the dry erase board explains all this, as well as the restaurant's cash only policy (they have their own ATM just inside the door in case you're short). The system is efficient, but it can seem cold to a newcomer. I was kind of nervous about what kind of dining experience I was in for. Was this the kind of place that scolds you if you don't eat your food properly? Because I don't eat my nigiri in one bite like I should (if they want me to do that, they should make it the right size for my mouth!).

I didn't need to worry, though. Hide Sushi is an extremely well-run restaurant, and any place that serves spicy scallop rolls has no license for scolding. As soon as we were seated, our waitress took our drink order. Our food came quickly, and our check came quickly. The restaurant has plenty of staff, and they really stay busy. When we first walked in, we could barely get through the door because of the hustle and bustle of waitresses running plates to and from tables, but that paid off later when our waitress came by to check on us more than once and our water was refilled quickly.

So, how's the food? Hide Sushi does, in fact, serve top-notch California sushi at midwestern prices. I ordered only a few pieces, both because I wasn’t that hungry and because when trying a new sushi restaurant, I've found that it’s always a good idea to test the waters before ordering $50 worth of sushi. The menu is pretty short and pretty basic, but that was fine with me since I usually don't stray far from my short list of favorites: yellowtail, albacore, red snapper, and scallop.

Yellowtail scallion roll and yellowtail sushi

Our food came quickly, but I was a little skeptical of my less-than-clean looking plate. I'm well aware that the two minute cycle in the industrial dishwasher doesn't always make plates look clean, even though they've been safely sterilized by burning hot water, but I still want to eat off of a clean plate. Also, Hide Sushi's picked ginger is hot pink, which grosses me out since ginger is supposed to be pale yellow (except for young ginger, but that isn't what they were serving).

These minor shortcomings aside, the fish was excellent. The yellowtail was perfectly smooth, soft, and fresh. I wasn't as big a fan of the roll, but I think that had more to do with my changing tastes than with its preparation. Some of the rolls come with only four pieces, so the lower prices can be somewhat deceptive. I'm okay with this though--if I want to eat a variety of things, I don't really need six bites of the same roll. I actually wish more restaurants followed this practice (while adjusting their prices accordingly, of course).

The halibut was unexciting--it truly tasted like nothing, and brought to mind something I heard on KCRW's Good Food about fish being like condiments for the rice. I'm not a fan of that view, but with such a mild fish, I could suspend my disbelief for a moment. The albacore was another piece of excellent quality fish, and came with a bottle of ponzu. Dipping the fish in ponzu didn't work very well--I couldn't get enough sauce on my fish. Next time I'll dribble it over the top. It is nice that Hide Sushi lets you decide for yourself whether you want ponzu on your albacore, unlike most other restaurants. They also list any toppings and extra roll ingredients on the menu, so there are no surprises whatsoever.

Surprisingly, I was full in spite of sharing my small meal with my friend. You might want to try the teriyaki and tempura lunch special though, which is $10 for plenty of tempura and a small piece of meat. There are also several salads, with and without fish.

If you've been to Hide Sushi, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

Hide Sushi
2040 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

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