Shinkou Sushi & Poke Showcases Fine Fish and Style in Laguna Hills
To say that you can find good sushi in Laguna Hills would likely cock a few heads in confusion. Not a city in Orange County that is typically known for restaurant diversity, Laguna Hills might be one of the last places you'd consider getting sushi from but that's not to say that there aren't gems hidden there. Shinkou Sushi & Poke opened in 2009 (under the name Shinkou Sushi) with a goal of changing that perception one roll at a time and to also provide quality sushi to-go in the area. I was invited in to give their menu a try and get a chance to hear their story - why a sushi chef decided to come to the area and build out delicious sushi offerings in a delivery-friendly format.
Veronica & Jung Kwan are the joyful owners behind Shinkou Sushi & Poke, and they were more than happy to share their story and dishes. They were proud of their menu, and there is good reason for that. Jung was formerly a sushi chef who started working in Japanese restaurants during his collegiate years. The more we talked, the more I understood how well he knew his fish and how discerning his sushi tastes were. They realized when Veronica was in the hospital after giving birth to their son that the delivery options for good food were limited. In came Shinkou Sushi.
The restaurant itself is small with 20 or less seats but the intimate nature is purposeful and appropriate. Most of their customers order for pick-up or delivery, and after stepping into the poke bowl realm, they have seen this number rise. I begun with a warm bowl of Miso Soup, simple but satisfying. Then I ventured to getting a side of their sesame chicken which is a part of the menu's Terikyaki Bowl offering ($7/$8.50 - choice of brown rice, white rice; choice of up to two proteins - grilled chicken, sesame chicken, salmon, tofu; and choice of vegetables - broccoli, carrot, cabbage), one of their most popular dishes. I loved how crispy the chicken was despite having a glaze all over it. It was juicy inside and full of flavor - it would be great in a full bowl, especially if you love hefty heaps of sesame seeds as well.
Though the teriyaki bowl is quite popular, the items that make Jung light up immensely when you order are the Nigiri and Sashimi. In true sushi chef form, he is proud of his fish and did not hesitate to arrange together a variety of pieces that evening including Albacore, Yellowtail, Salmon, Eel, Seared Salmon, and Snow Crab. I found each slab of raw fish generous in size and fresh, some practically melting in my mouth. They were put together with just the right amounts of wasabi (if any) underneath, and the rice was soft and balanced in its vinegary inclusion. If you're wondering where to start, the seared salmon is a solid beginning with just enough smokiness from the charring on top to give you the notes but enough rawness to still give you tender salmon flesh.
So how did they start incorporating poke into their menu? It began with their customers actually who were consistently asking to combine their fresh fish with other options and accompaniments. Piece by piece, the poke bowl idea was born and just so happened to fall in line with the recent trend of poke spots popping up. Their Poke ($9.45/$12.95) gives customers a choice of brown rice, white rice, or salad topped with ahi tuna or salmon and a variety of sauces from spicy to garlic ponzu to spicy sesame aioli to ginger. Each bowl comes with sesame seeds, green onions, white onions, masago, kanikama (crab salad), and seaweed salad but there are options of adding more. For an extra $1, you could pile on avocado, more seaweed salad, more kanikama, cucumber salad, and/or crispy garlic. I tried their garlic ponzu salmon and spicy ahi with garlic chips, and I'm disappointed to not have had second or third helpings! Their fresh fish was made even brighter with their different sauce, and the inclusion of the kanikama and seaweed salads per bowl was much welcomed, giving both soft and crunchy textures to the meal. A regular sized portion would suffice to fill you up well but go for the large if you love yourself some poke as I do!
Another popular asset to Shinkou's menu are the different rolls they have. I tasted half portions of their Firecracker ($11.50 - shrimp tempura roll topped with spicy tuna finished with sweet sauce and chili sauce) and namesake Shinkou Roll ($10.95 - shrimp tempura roll topped with salmon, masago, and shiso leaf finished with sweet sauce, spicy mayo, and chili sauce) for just a peek into their selection, and these are solid components of the menu. As with most rolls overall, the sauces used make a difference and their combinations were well-chosen. The Firecracker had a healthy amount of heat to follow the crunchy shrimp tempura inside and the sweet sauce mellowed it out before being overwhelming. Spicy tuna on top lent additional heat but also a melt-in-your-mouth texture to each bite. Then there was their namesake roll which was a medley of colors to begin with. Again, the play of crunchy textures with delicately soft salmon was a fun mix, and the masago made it even more playful with each piece's little pop. I'd definitely go back for more of this one.
All in all, the items on Shinkou's menu give for a good experience there. They aren't meant to be a traditional Japanese sushi bar but they do mean to give their customers great food for the types they're getting. Rolls dominate the Laguna Hills customer base's wants but shoot for their nigiri if you want to see how they stand alone in their commitment to quality fish. You shouldn't be disappointed. Find Shinkou Sushi & Poke at 24881 Alicia Pkwy, Laguna Hills, CA 92653 and make sure that any poke bowl you get comes topped to the brim with crispy garlic. You'll thank me later!
Photography by Minerva Thai. More photos to be available on Facebook here.