Soulful in Studio City

You’ve probably passed it a million times and not noticed. But Daichan, housed in a tiny strip mall, is a major foodie hotspot, loved for its simple yet brilliant Japanese cuisine.

My best friend says, “I won’t eat it if it ever swam or grew underwater.” Then there’s my husband, who has been known to eat a jaw-dropping quantity of sushi in a single seating. Me? I’ll  eat raw bits in small quantities but sometimes just to be polite.

Thankfully, there are places like Daichan, a family-owned Japanese restaurant in Studio City that has quietly  built a rabid fan base since opening in 1996. Here, raw fish entrees don’t even begin to tell the story.

Part of Daichan’s success is that it appeals to a wide range of diners—from vegetarians to the super health conscious. Owners Yuka and Yoshi Udagawa eschew bottled preservative-filled sauces for homemade ones. Yoshi describes his fare as “simple”; only seven ingredients and a handful of spices are used in sauces. The result is a pan-Japanese menu that is quite extensive for Daichan’s small, 10-table dining room.

It’s Japanese soul food, meant to evoke the spirit of the country as opposed to spotlighting a single regional cuisine. The menu has everything from pumpkin to poki to Pocky and is an ideal choice when dining with a mixed crowd.

Park carefully when heading to Daichan, as an unwelcome ticket will cost you more than dinner for four at this family-friendly place. The strip mall ambience that greets you upon arrival is immediately replaced by a dining room that seems straight out of your Japanese grandma’s attic—as featured on Antiques Roadshow.

The walls are completely covered in bric-a-brac, and the servers greet you in Japanese. The service here is warm and welcoming, so don’t be surprised if you’re recognized by face on your second visit.

The best way to experience Daichan is to share. The signature poki bowls ($12 and $13) feature your choice of sashimi, nicely mixed with wakame seaweed, sesame oil, spicy soy sauce, green onions, lettuce and rice; brown rice is available upon request. The Kawachi entree, available with cooked chicken or salmon, is also popular ($11). It comes piled in a bowl piled with finely chopped cabbage, lettuce, green onion, sesame and red ginger, tossed in a deliciously light, sweet and sour vinaigrette.

For non-fish eaters, the yakisoba, udon and teriyaki are all excellent options. There is a limited selection of beer and wine here, but you may be satisfied sticking to the house-made sake or simply green tea. Daichan is open for lunch (their busiest meal) and dinner six days a week but is closed on Sundays. Consider calling ahead for a reservation or doing take-out, although part of its considerable charm is the intimate décor.

In a city filled with generic sushi joints, Daichan is a welcome oasis of friendly, authentic Japanese fare that is well worth your visit.