Which makes for a better dessert: this, or tempura green tea ice cream?
  • Which makes for a better dessert: this, or tempura green tea ice cream?
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Yoshino's Japanese Restaurant

1790 W Washington Street, Mission Hills

I spent a disproportionate number of my high school days eating katsu from a small, family-owned restaurant just outside the gate of a military base on Okinawa. Attempts to replicate the experience in San Diego have largely failed. Even when I can find it on a menu, something usually seems to get in the way, and that thing is usually sushi.

I mean, how do you consciously choose to eat a fried pork cutlet when a dozen varieties of fresh fish may be ordered instead?

No great mystery what it's going to be like inside.

So I go to Yoshino's. I've driven past it for years, and pretty much the entire time a banner out front has said, "Now Serving Sushi." I can't say how long it's been since "now," but the place is supposed to have been there for decades, so for all I know they strung it up on day two.

Nevertheless, I've often assumed this was first and foremost a traditional Japanese restaurant that added sushi to its menu back when eating raw fish first caught on stateside. Therefore, I could safely focus on the katsu, and not feel as though I were greatly missing out on the fish.

I grabbed a booth and opened the menu, pausing just long enough to appreciate how typically Japanese the place is — not some cartoonish TGI Fridays take on Japanese, with all kinds of kitschy kawaii decorations, but simple and understated, a family style spot with just enough shoji to represent.

The not-so-pretty katsudon, a student favorite because it tastes like victory.

As anticipated, the menu did feature plenty of typical non-sushi dishes, including tonkatsu, the deep-fried pork cutlet I craved. Better yet, they offered katsudon [cot-sued-own], which is what you get when you put tonkatsu on a bowl of rice with fried egg. For reasons I shouldn't have to point out, this makes it better.

The high school nostalgia would not be complete without asking for an ice-cold Sapporo to accompany the pork, whereas the know-better adult version of myself ordered a seaweed salad to at least present the illusion of healthy eating.

Seaweed cancels out cholesterol, right?

The kastudon arrived, and it sure doesn't look pretty. But that didn't stop me from wolfing it down. As I ate in silence, I finally began to notice some of the conversations around me. On one side, a couple of local fishermen talked shop. Behind me, a Japanese couple spoke in their native language. Pretty much everybody around me would seem to have a qualified opinion about good places to eat raw fish, and here they were.

So, for desert, it would have to be sushi. I was too far into my meal to get too adventurous with uni, or the shishamo on special. Instead, I opted for my usual baseline nigiri, yellowtail and salmon.

I know salmon's not supposed to be an authentic sushi order, but until it stops tasting great, I'm going to keep ordering it. This one tasted great. The yellowtail gave me at least a little sushi cred, having just a sliver of scales left on to add some oily nuance. Both fish were tender and delicate, and however much it reawakened fond memories, I couldn't help wishing I'd skipped Yoshino's katsu. Next time, I'm going to get deeper into the sushi.

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