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Let's Do Lunch: Miyako Sushi

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There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

I suffer from the mixed blessing of being a sushi snob; my fussiness with where I'll belly up to the sushi bar and what I order means I skip places whose star menu items include gobs of imitation krab and deep fried rolls the size of your arm, and I might give you a bit of narrowed glare if you mash your wasabi in your bowl of soy sauce and drape your pickled ginger over your bite of nigiri. But I also crave sushi with a regularity that rules out the five-star high end big time sushi eating I wish I could do all the time (hey, I've had that once-in-a-lifetime epic dinner at Urasawa) which means I've had to find an affordable sushi place that has high-quality fish without a lot of bull.

I've been going to Miyako Sushi in North Hollywood for a few years now, but I've mostly kept it my secret because, well, every food writer has that one spot they don't want to share with readers. They have (don't freak out!) an all-you-can-eat lunch deal that is well-priced ($19.90) and offers a respectable selection of really good sushi.

As a creature of habit, I tend to order at Miyako in a similar progression of flavors each time. After securing a side order or two (Sunomono is refreshing and light, the Green Mussels an indulgence of mayo and shellfish I can't resist) I prime my palate with some basic nigiri (Tuna, Salmon, and Yellowtail) to start. They serve the fish without wasabi (no, it's not freshly ground) so you'll want to pause to apply a swipe of the spicy green paste yourself before gently dipping just one corner of the fish (not the rice, you heathen) into your soy sauce.

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The fish is always tender and fresh here--although if you're drowning it in wasabi loaded soy sauce you won't know what the fish tastes like anyhow. If you want to waste calories on Miso Soup, Tempura, or Gyoza--be my guest. These are all included on the AYCE menu, and are perfectly tasty, but why distract from the main event?

Miyako's rolls are the usual series of very basic (spicy tuna, eel and avocado, California and so on), basic (Dragon, Tiger, Dynamite) and signature (Love Roll, Jen Roll). Not a fan of the mega-fried or over-complicated Americanized rolls, for the opening round I might go for something simple and spicy; if I'm really hungry and can handle a bit more heft in my midday meal I'll go for the Tiger roll, which has a plump tempura battered and fried shrimp in a roll topped with spicy tuna and eel sauce. Typically, though, a simple cut roll with some zing, like a Spicy Scallop roll, is the way to go.

Round two of nigiri is time to get a little more tang and depth of flavor: White Fish (delightful citrus-sour flavor), Albacore (topped with crunchy fried onions and ponzu) and Halibut (a mild, light and bright bite). Hold off on the mackerel, though, because that is its own very dense, briny, fish-y flavor. This can be balanced nicely with a roll or piece of sushi that's got inherent sweetness--eel. If I'm not full beyond capacity, an eel and avocado roll is the perfect way to go. Bigger appetite: Go for the Dragon roll. Just want a taste of sweet: Eel nigiri. Anyway you go, you've got the warm meatiness of the eel and the thick sweetness of the sauce.

If you remember I said I was a snob, you might ask me at this point where the uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), or toro (tuna belly) was. Look, this isn't the place for that. If you're going for the real delicacies that sushi--really good sushi--can entail, you're not going to get it at an AYCE for less than $20. That scallop in the scallop roll is chopped and mixed; yes, it's plump and vibrant, but it isn't that velvety mouth-sized bite of hotate drizzled in yuzu and black salt that rolls down your throat. They aren't garnishing with shiso leaf, and they aren't cutting the heads off live sweet shrimp. This isn't that place. I love those places, but they have to be a treat.

When I get that undeniable craving for an uncomplicated, reliable, affordable sushi lunch, I head to Miyako. It's off the beaten path of the Valley's "Sushi Row," and while you'll likely sit next to some folks who work at Disney or some kids from the Millennium Dance studios and not polished gourmands, you're going to get a lot of good sushi for not a lot of cash.