The best sushi in terms of value in all of South Orange County is Taiko in Irvine. Hands down! Granted, the wait is rather absurd, and there are times where I seriously question why people wait so darn long to eat at this place. I don’t think there has ever been a time where people aren’t standing outside waiting at the restaurant. In fact, I’m pretty sure that a majority of the time, there is a line forming before they even open at 5pm. It’s crazy! It’s not awesome sushi. In fact, it’s pretty simple straightforward Japanese. Nothing fancy and nothing outside of the box, but it’s great bang for your buck, and I truly believe that is why it draws the crowd that it does.
Normally, when I eat at Taiko, I always sit in the dining room, because the wait is usually not as excruciatingly painful, but my mom and my brother rave about the bar and how it’s so much better. In fact, my brother swears that they use lower grade sushi for the dining room. I’m not sure if it’s true, but personally, I don’t think the sushi I’ve had in the dining room has been bad. It’s perfectly fine. Nevertheless, since it was just a party of three, I was willing to brave the wait in order to see what the hullabaloo was all about with the bar.
So I immediately noticed that they take greater care in how they serve the sushi. For example, the salmon is topped with some onions, bonito flakes, and a ponzu sauce. They do the same with the albacore and add some scallions and minced ginger as well. It gives both the salmon and albacore a more interesting flavor than when dipped in wasabi-mixed soy sauce. Considering those are two of my favorites, I still appreciated the twist on presentation and taste.
The yellowtail (pictured here) and toro were both very good. I would say the yellowtail was slightly above average and the toro was good, but I’ve probably had better. Unfortunately, the toro wasn’t fully defrosted, so it was very cold to the bite and you couldn’t enjoy the normally rich fatty flavor that you get with fatty tuna. I don’t know if that necessarily means something… the fact that it was still that cold or frozen, but considering the taste you get for the value, I am not going to knock Taiko for this.
I don’t eat snapper too often, so it was difficult for me to judge, but I think it was pretty decent. Snapper is one of those fishes that is commonly offered on most sushi menus, but I can’t say I have had it enough times where I can distinctly recall how it tastes. I think it has a more neutral taste… not as fatty as say salmon… and although it kind of looks like yellowtail, I don’t think it has the same rich flavor. I guess it’s kind of like a less fatty yellowtail. Maybe that is partly why they serve it with some green onions, roe and some kind of sauce. I liked it, but I will have to try snapper a little more so I can better describe it. This is all from memory, and obviously, it wasn’t too memorable.
I’ve only recently started eating mackerel, because Pdho tends to like the really fishy fishes. It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. Spanish mackerel, however, is pretty darn good! Although I ordered Spanish mackerel, I don’t think this is what they gave me. It didn’t taste quiteright, but I think the scallions and ginger helped to mitigate some of the normally fishy flavor.
My mom likes the Crunchy Roll which is basically a shrimp tempura roll. I actually thought it was pretty good, but you really can’t order too many of these rolls. These special rolls tend to be big fillers, because they use so much rice. I get a little annoyed by that, but in Taiko’s case they actually put a lot of real stuff in the rolls. In this case, in addition to a couple big-sized shrimp tempura pieces, there was also quite a bit of avocado, asparagus and lots of crab meat. It was delicious, but if I ate more than one of the 8 pieces, I would have been stuffed.
I ordered the spicy scallop nigiri. I was very impressed with how much scallop they put in the order. I mean… it was seriously overflowing off the plate. Unfortunately, the scallop itself were the small ones and I don’t think they actually tasted all that great. In fact, the mayo mix that they added couldn’t mask the bland and slightly remnant frozen taste of the scallops. I really like scallops in general, but this was probably the most disappointing dish of the night.
There were 2 other things we had that I really liked. One has been my “must-have” for pretty much every sushi restaurant and the other has now become a “must-have” for every time I come to Taiko. Any guesses from anyone?! Forget it, I’m just going to tell you.
The former is the spicy tuna hand roll. I really like Taiko’s hand roll in particular because they stuff with lots of spicy tuna. However, the mix of sriracha and Kewpie mayo (if that is what they use) is in just the right combination to provide equal spiciness and creaminess. I could have eaten one all by myself, but it was good that I shared so I could save my stomach for the last dish to come…. which brings me to the latter dish.
The Shrimp Boat is ebi (aka cooked shrimp) topped with mounds of cooked crab meat. I think they add a little bit of Kewpie mayo to the crab meat to provide some creamy texture to the mix. And all this is served nigiri-style over a patch of which rice and wrapped with seaweed. It was delicious! Admittedly, it is the kind of thing that sushi snobs would turn their noses at, and sushi novices who don’t eat raw would insist on a couple orders of this. Hehe! I don’t profess to be either. It’s good though… and if it’s good, I don’t care… I’ll eat it.
Overall, I did enjoy my experience at the bar. We did end up waiting over 90 minutes though, and I question whether that was really worth it. It was a good thing I didn’t come hungry, because that would have put me in a bad mood off the bat. If your party is small, then I would definitely say that the wait is worth it. You really can’t beat the quality at the really reasonable prices. I think the total bill for the three of us was $30/person. For sushi, that’s really not bad. The only thing to know, especially for those sushi connoisseurs is Taiko doesn’t really offer a lot of the exotic types of fish. It’s the typical sushi fare that you would find in even the most ghetto of sushi joints…. which is perfectly fine, because whatever traditional fishes they do offer is a good portion and solid in taste.
14775 Jeffrey Rd
Irvine, CA 92618
PAFO Ratings for Taiko:
Price 3 stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3 ½ stars