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We Tried Five Hand Roll Bars in Los Angeles. This One Was the Best.

The simple hand roll is decidedly egalitarian and its etiquette straightforward. Now that Los Angeles has become an unofficial hand roll capital outside of Japan, we decided to try five popular concepts across the city and rank them accordingly. Here’s what we found.

Since the 2014 introduction of KazuNori, Los Angeles chef Kazunori Nozawa’s iconic hand roll bar, restaurants dedicated to hand rolls began popping up all across the city. In a rare interview about KazuNori’s grand opening, Nozawa told Los Angeles Times, “I wanted to make sushi available to as many people as I could with the cost remaining affordable.”

The simple hand roll is decidedly egalitarian and its etiquette straightforward: a trained sushi chef lines a sheet of crispy nori in warm, seasoned rice, tops it with chilled fish, seafood, or vegetables, and rolls it up into a portable cylinder. The chef places the hand roll in front of you, and you eat it. Immediately. (It's very important to enjoy the nori while it’s still crisp and the fillings at the correct temperature.)

Now that Los Angeles has become an unofficial hand roll capital outside of Japan, we decided to try five popular concepts across the city and rank them accordingly. Here’s what we found.

a piece of raw fish in a sheet of nori
Albacore hand bar at HRB. Photo by Marina Watanabe for L.A. TACO.

#5) The Hand Roll Bar Experience ~ Century City

The Hand Roll Bar Experience, stylized as HRB, is the one hand roll bar on the list that I wouldn’t recommend. I even hesitate to call it a hand roll bar because it is merely decorative and the hand rolls are made in a separate kitchen. HRB’s albacore hand roll was edible, and marinated ikura was a welcome addition to the salmon hand roll, but you should steer clear of the spicy tuna: the paste-like tuna scrape displays an off-putting combination of flavors that don’t blend well. If you’re killing time waiting for a movie at AMC Century City 15, the bar itself has a nice atmosphere, and you could do worse considering you're at the food court. But you could also do better.

Inside Westfield Century City Mall, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd Suite 9210, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 4 and 28 - "Santa Monica/Century Park West."

A handroll with salmon and ikura on a table
Ikura Hand Roll at The Bar. Photo by Marina Watanabe for L.A. TACO.

#4) The Bar: Hand Rolls by Seabutter ~ Studio City

Tucked away in a Studio City strip mall, the Bar is the follow-up to Seabutter’s chain of contemporary sushi restaurants. Some sushi purists will be put off by an inclusion of ingredients like truffle-infused soy sauce, artichoke, and cilantro, but their yellowtail and salmon ikura hand rolls were fresh and simple enough to appeal to our whole table. Still, I would have liked to see less of a reliance on truffle in their premium hand roll menu—soy truffle, artichoke truffle, minced truffle, sliced truffle. There may be such a thing as too much truffle.

4383 Tujunga Ave. Studio City, CA 91604. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 155 - "Tujunga/Moorpark."

A closed hand roll with rice poking from out of the nori
Spicy tuna at Yunomi Handroll. Photo by Marina Watanabe for L.A. TACO.

#3) Yunomi Handroll ~ Arts District

Chef David Movsisian’s Yunomi Handroll is another modern take on Japanese cuisine. Movsisian, who worked for twelve years under chef Katsuya Uechi, incorporates unorthodox ingredients such as tomatoes, serrano peppers, crunchy onions—and, yes, truffle soy—into his temaki. Yunomi’s fish is expertly cut into substantial chunks and the hand rolls are well-portioned. Their rice is a touch less vinegar-y than the rice at KazuNori, and some rolls, such as the spicy tuna, are wrapped with seasoned Korean seaweed instead of traditional nori.

806 E. 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90013. (Yunomi has a second location in Culver City) Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro A and E Lines - "Little Tokyo/Arts District Station", Bus Line 106 - "1st/Vignes", or Bus Line 30 - "1st/Central."

A hand roll with avocado coming out of the front
A blue crab roll at Azai Hand Roll. Photo by Marina Watanabe for L.A. TACO.

#2) Azai Hand Roll ~ Beverly Grove

Situated less than a mile from KazuNori’s Mid-Wilshire location, it might be easy to overlook Azai Hand Roll. The intimate hand roll bar is unassuming on first glance, but I was blown away by the quality of their fresh fish and perfectly seasoned rice. Azai also offers the most substantial portion sizes of all the hand roll bars we tested, and their temaki was so flavorful that it could rival KazuNori.

8036 W. 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90048. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 16 and 218 - "3rd/Crescent Heights" or Bus Line 217 - "Fairfax/3rd."

Spicy Tuna at KazuNori. Photo by Marina Watanabe for L.A. TACO.

#1) KazuNori ~ Koreatown

Is it any surprise that KazuNori came out on top? I went into this ranking hoping that an underdog might rise and surpass my love of the place, but KazuNori still reigns supreme. Nothing beats the experience of biting into their crispy nori, warm sushi rice, and chilled fish. The flavors, temperatures, and textures melt together in your mouth in the most satisfying way and it’s nearly impossible not to let out an audible sign of enjoyment after the first bite. Long reign KazuNori.

3465 W. 6th St #50 Los Angeles, CA 90020 (KazuNori has locations in DTLA, Marina del Rey, Mid-Wilshire, Santa Monica, Studio City, and Westwood) Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 18 - "6th/Alexandria", Bus Line 20 - "Wilshire/Alexandria", Metro D Line and Bus Line 720 - "Wilshire/Normandie Station", or Bus Line 206 - "Normandie/6th."

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