Mitsuwa is magic. One minute you’re on the hot asphalt of parking lot Hell in Mar Vista, the next you cross a threshold of electronic doors and are beamed into one of the few places in L.A. where you can buy a Japanese smart-toilet, pre-packaged pork belly skewers, DVD box-sets of Samurai epics, a plush Mario doll, whole sculpin, a new cell phone plan, affordable uni, luxury sake, a killer tonkatsu sandwich, and arguably one of the town’s very best bowls of ramen, all under one roof.
Mitsuwa is a national chain with a few locations stretching to New Jersey, and it considers itself the largest Japanese supermarket in the U.S. Since we have considered moving in here on occasion, we thought it just about time to demonstrate Mitsuwa would provide for all three meals of the day, saving you money on Japanese cuisine and getting a few great bites along the way. Come take a look as we wander the aisles at the Mar Vista location of Mitsuwa Marketplace.
Mitsuwa opens at 9:00 A.M. It’s breakfast time. As you walk in, you’ll find magazines and books to your right at Sanseido and a video store to your immediate left. Take a few more paces and find yourself at the bookstore’s tiny corner cafe. Sushi makes a perfectly acceptable breakfast in Japan, but since we generally frown on slugging down the requisite beers at 9:00 A.M. in the U.S., we’ll save the glories of Mitsuwa’s raw fish for dinner. At the cafe, you’ll find a decent cup of coffee or green tea, along with a selection of Japanese and European breakfast pastries. All of these little bites are inexpensive and completely crushable, from the black pork sausage in a blanket to the gloriously greasy loaf of spinach and egg Danish to what they call an egg salad “donut.” There are also sweet things and sandwiches, which should not be overlooked for a second. In fact, the tonkatsu sandwich is one fo the best things hiding in Mitsuwa, just two slices of thin white bread book-ending a big, fried, craggy pork cutlet with just a thin stripe of tangy, sweet sauce. The combination and construction leads to flavors divine.
It’s lunch time and everybody’s heading to the food court today. The star of this arrangement is undoubtedly Santouka, a giant of L.A.’s ramen scene that our own city expert on the subject, Rameniac, consistently puts in a leading position in his best-of examinations. Whether you’re going for the shio, soy, or miso broth, it’s hard to go wrong with these salt-bombs when the soft fatty pork and stable noodle threads start slithering their way down your gullet, leaving a strong coating of rich broth in their wake. A marinated egg on the side, which costs an extra dollar, is also one of our favorite things to put in our mouths.
The rest of the food-court can be a little bit of a crap-shoot. You can get bowls of udon next to Santouka at Sanuki Sandou (yes, they have “bukkake” ramen), set tray meals at Misasa, and donburi at Tamaya. The first two have a few charms, hewing more closely to Japan’s utilitarian lunch spots than stand-outs with blockbuster recipes. Since there are plastic models of all the food and most everything comes under ten dollars, it’s very easy to order here. And although we’ve been disappointed much more than pleased while branching out, we have enjoyed some of the whole fish plates, like the mackeral set, at Misasa and the udon, while not prize-winning, is there for a fix at Sanuki. Tamaya’s at the bottom of the list, though there is a brief moment or two when its chicken soboro bowl is interesting. Split in the middle with the power of red pickled ginger, one side of this rice bowl is spread in ground chicken, the other in fluffy yellow scrambled eggs, both balanced in harmony. For the ultimate experience, beeline for Santouka. If blood pressure or variety are priorities, eat around the other options and you’ll probably find something you can live with.
Dinnertime is when Mitsuwa’s grocery store component makes our little hearts pitter-patter. In addition to the aisles of Japanese candy, sake, beer, snacks, and produce found here, the seafood and meat selection is a major score, with both low prices and high quality hanging out somewhere for a change. Pre-packed pork belly skewers come in at ten for $6.00, and look much more appealing than those boxes of loose pork belly in some of KTown’s markets. A fat packet of uni sells for $9.99, while sizeable pieces of salmon or hamachi range from $3.00-$5.00. Take them home with some pre-packaged sushi rice and make your own sushi at home. Two raw fish fanatics can easily manage a feast for under $20 this way.
The fish can bear a slight kiss from the cooler and certainly isn’t what you’d expect at Nobu. But it’s much better than some of the discount sushi restaurants out there, including one not so far south on Centinela and to be frank, even Mitsuwa’s own pre-made sushi station. Anyway, the list goes on: Yellowtail collar at $6.99, whole sculpin for $3.99, U.S. and Australian wagyu for under ten bucks, rib-eye for sukiyaki at $10.99 a pound, green mussels at $3.99 a pound… It’s insane. From the unusual to the stuff Ralph’s overcharges you for, in the end, Mitsuwa’s best pleasures are the ones you prepare yourself.
Mistuwa Marketplace, 3760 Centinela Ave. Mar Vista. 310-398-2113.