Downtown San Diego has a lot going for it, including waterfront walks, optimum access to public transportation and the arts, and when the baseball team’s actually winning, the Padres and PETCO Park. Still, the city’s best international cuisine resides on the fringes, in areas like Kearny Mesa. Shoot north on the 163 freeway to reach comforting strip mall restaurants like Wa Dining Okan, located in back corner of Sunrise Towne Centre since 2008.
The space includes a rectangular wood bar ringed with tables and sake bottle-lined shelves. Okan means “mother” in Japanese, and while staffers are friendly, the name refers to the homestyle cooking, not their demeanor.
Each lunch comes with a choice of rice, either white or seaweed-laced brown. Two sides might include marinated asparagus and mushrooms, and potato salad with carrot and scallion. Yes, there will be pickles, possibly carrots, cucumbers and radish. You’ll also receive a bowl of murky miso soup loaded with tofu puffs, gobo root, carrot, onion, konnyaku, and scallion.
Lunch is clearly Okan’s best meal deal, but the restaurant has more variety at dinner, with dishes like beef tongue skewers, flavored rice with Japanese clam, and braised Nagasaki-style pork. Now that Okan’s joined my regular San Diego rotation, they’ll all inevitably join me at the counter.