Mentai udon is a “must”
Del Mar Plaza, 1555 Camino del Mar, Del Mar
If you’re dining on a patio somewhere, one good way to tell you’re in Del Mar is when multiple impeccably groomed, toy-sized dogs discretely nibble bits of sushi from the manicured fingers of their doting owners.
There are other clues, of course, like taking the coast highway north from Torrey Pines State Beach (alternatively south from the dog beach), or the impossibility of navigating the Plaza without making at least one wrong turn, but the “preponderance of tiny dogs” test seldom fails.
Shimbashi by night
This is the way it goes on the patio at Shimbashi Izakaya, where a weird mish-mash of families, nervous young professionals out on a date, in-the-know Japanese patrons, and ubiquitous little dogs somehow creates a compelling ambiance. Of all the places you could go for distinctly above-average sushi (where “shiny” fish such as mackerel, shad, and sardines receive treatment equal to the more expensive toro), this is one of the more pleasant and less formal.
Mackerel with cured seaweed and halibut fluke with yuzukoshō and grated salt
Shimbashi could be a spot for sushi snobs, but it isn’t. “I like goat cheese, yeah, but not the smelly sock kind,” explains one patron to the others in his party, while another lavishes praise on a bar in Oceanside that “has kombucha on tap.” The occasional scared patio dog yips or barks, and little towheaded grommets in flat-brimmed caps eat their fill of California rolls. Young men impress their dates by ordering lavishly from the sake menu, which does contain some impressively expensive libations.
Many of Naomi Wise’s observations from 2010 hold true about Shimbashi’s tapas menu. Mentai udon ($8.50) may be the only “must” dish on the menu: a tiny bit spicy and a whole lot creamy, it’s like a gentler bottarga. Deep fried garlic ($4.50), served with plenty of toasted sesame oil, also works well. But without rhyme or reason behind what’s good and what’s not, it’s safer to stick to the sushi menu.