Southern Californians sure love strip malls. In other parts of the country, a restaurant in a low-slung shopping plaza can carry a stigma, but along the stretch between San Diego and L.A., they’re often the provenance of in-the-know diners who can discern good food, no matter the facade. In San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood, Izakaya Masa has been going strong for the past seven years. The name of this Japanese pub refers to chef-owner Masayoshi Tsuruta, who’s built a strong following despite a back corner, side street location.
The space features decorative fans, paper lanterns and memorabilia from sumo matches and the Softbank Hawks baseball team (who hail from Masa’s hometown of Fukuoka).
Hakata Ramen ($6.95) was the closest thing we saw to a misfire, with murky, one-dimensional pork broth that couldn’t find redemption with rosy sliced pork, crispy fried garlic chips, nori, sesame, scallions and punchy pickled ginger.
Izakaya Masa preaches comforting small plates, sushi, sumo and baseball, and thanks to Masa’s care in the kitchen, customers are unlikely to strikeout.