Americans are known to “hit the bars” after breaking away from their 9-5, but in parts of Japan, an izakayas—“i,” meaning “to stay,” and “sakaya,” meaning “sake shop”—is a more common post-work retreat. Izakayas attract visitors for their wide array of sakes, and they serve homestyle small plates to counterbalance the sweet drinks’ effect. Wa Dining Okan in Kearny Mesa was born of this tradition.
With a minimum of 10 sakes—all bottled, never boxed (like wine, think: quality)—beer and both a standard and seasonal menu, the modest spot sits in stark contrast to the typical roll-loving sushi joints most sun-drenched San Diegans are used to. In other words, don’t expect “krab” and avocado wrapped in seaweed.
Much of the produce used in dishes like Gobo Salad are made with fresh gobo—a root vegetable popular in Japan and known for both its flavor and medicinal value—and comes from Rancho Santa Fe’s coveted Chino Farms. The meticulous farm is managed by former cancer researcher turned grower Tom Chino and wife Nina, and frequented by top chefs across the county.
Menu items cost $8-$10, on average, with heftier-sized options priced at $15. Selections include meaty nibbles like pork cheek and all-vegetable options like the aforementioned salad. The menu also includes an array of udon, poised for the end of the meal, according to the menu. Like tapas, order several dishes and share with friends.
Don’t be dissuaded by the monkfish liver topped with uni, which is positively delightful. And don’t skip out on dessert. The mochi tastes homemade, the custard rivals flan and the black sesame pudding will dance in your dreams.
Though the restaurant is lodged in the corner of a Kearny Mesa strip mall, its location is more convenient than one might imagine. It’s situated next to Nijiya, a Japanese market that operates its own organic farm and sells humanely raised meats and other goods commonly used in Japanese cooking. A trip to Wa Dining Okan warrants a visit.
Warning: This particular square is saturated with other Asian restaurants and shops, so Wa Dining Okan is easily missed. Use Nijiya as your compass. And don’t miss out on the $40 hour-long massage offered a few doors down.
Wa Dining Okan is located at 3860 Convoy St., #110, San Diego, CA 92111.
Find other bites within a 30-minute drive here.