What do businesses like Joe’s Pizza, Fisher Chiropractic, Lure Lashes, and FedEx have in common? What about celebrities like Hailey and Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift, Jay‑Z, Beyoncé and Margot Robbie? Well, the former are all establishments in the same Sunset Boulevard strip mall as a restaurant called Sushi Park. And the latter are a select handful of patrons that frequent it. Known for its high-end, omakase-only (chef’s choice) menu, which averages about $400 per person, Sushi Park is the most inconspicuous celebrity-filled haunt you may have never heard of.
The restaurant has very little online presence. There is no website. There is no Instagram. There are no articles explicitly about, or interviews with, its owners or chefs. There are very few reviews. It rarely appears in “best of” or “must eat at” lists. And it never seems to get mentioned by any other chefs, influencers, or pseudo-celebrities as a favourite restaurant. An infamous sign sits out front: “Attention. No Takeout! No Salad! No Teriyaki, Tempura! No Trendy Sushi! No California Roll! No Spicy Tuna Roll! We serve only Traditional Sushi!” So many celebrities visit the restaurant that the bannister outside has become nearly as recognisable in paparazzi photos as the famous faces themselves.
Which is why it was surprising that an unknown writer like myself could snag a last-minute Saturday night reservation at Sushi Park during the holiday season. Upon entering the restaurant, you’re greeted with bright lighting, Tang-orange walls, a long bar and several chefs diligently working behind the counter, a flatscreen TV hanging behind them. Top 40 music blares over the speakers. A row of shellacked wooden tables lines the wall. Anti-aesthetic is the aesthetic: shiny black granite countertops that harken back to the ’90s, disposable wooden takeout chopsticks, a bathroom with eggplant-purple walls, industrial liquid hand soap, a cheap black trash can, and white-tile floors that look like you’ve walked into a 2000s-era gas station.
Like the Saddle Ranch Chop House down the block, you come here for the experience, for the fact that you’re on the Sunset Strip; if you’re lucky, to breathe the same air as Kendall Jenner or Taylor Swift. On the night I dined, I happened to do so with the former, as well as one-half of the designers of luxury label The Row. We had the restaurant to ourselves – just three separate tables enjoying a quiet night out.
Peter Park, the chef who founded the restaurant in 2006, is something of an enigma himself. “I try to keep a low profile,” he says when I catch a few words with him on the much-photographed balcony during my visit. He’s hesitant to offer any personal or background information, yet his warm and friendly demeanour makes me feel like one of his loyal diners. Park, who is Korean and worked at a sushi restaurant in the Valley before eventually opening his own, maintains a sacred respite for his clientele, 90 per cent of whom are regulars: “When they want to come in, they can come in and enjoy.”
The restaurant’s IYKYK cachet has, naturally, got the fashion world to pay attention. In September 2022, Saint Laurent brought Park to its flagship Paris boutique to host a weeklong dining pop-up, invited by the brand’s creative director and Sushi Park patron Anthony Vaccarello. This was the first time Park had ever transposed the restaurant to another destination.
Others have taken note. Last December, Kendall Jenner was photographed outside the restaurant in images that were later used by Bottega Veneta for their resort 2024 campaign. Meanwhile, W magazine staged almost the entirety of its 2020 Best Performances portfolio in the mall that houses Sushi Park, featuring Florence Pugh, Adam Sandler and Brad Pitt, shot by Juergen Teller, who used the location as a backdrop.
For Angelenos and those in the know, Sushi Park has always been regarded as a very elusive and very expensive restaurant that caters to the elite. But despite the city’s penchant for celebrity and the press that follows, it has somehow remained shrouded in mystery – no small feat for an establishment that counts a long list of high-profile clientele as regulars. And with TikTok turning just about every under-the-radar restaurant into a content zoo, Sushi Park has somehow managed to eschew the social media circus.
“I think [it’s] just very, very good quality and very low-key. And it’s right there,” says one regular, a creative producer that once staged a photoshoot in the plaza. “Celebs [who live in Hollywood] aren’t going to the Valley for good sushi. It’s tiny, so only so many people can really be there.”
There is also no menu, meaning the chef will serve you what is available and fresh, and only begin to stop once you say you are 80 per cent full. Like the end-of-class savasana in yoga, they need time to prepare to wind down your meal. Trevor Corson, author of The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, says that this type of tavern-style sushi bar is more common in Japan, “where the atmosphere is relaxed and sociable and the chef is more like a friendly bartender who knows the preferences and quirks of his regular customers. Even then, though, the style of sushi is to ‘trust the chef,’ who has been to the fish market that morning to pick out what they think are the best ingredients in season, served in a minimalist way to highlight their natural qualities.”
A diner who has been coming to Sushi Park for a decade tells me, “Anytime you come in, it’s like family. And it’s very loving. You’re going to have a very beautiful meal and you’re going to have wonderful people and you’re going to leave, and nobody’s going to bother you. And there’s no bullshit. Which is such a beautiful thing.”
To better understand Sushi Park, one must understand sushi in LA. Los Angeles was the first city to import sushi from Japan around 1966 at a restaurant in Little Tokyo called Kawafuku, where the first “sushi bar” was established. While there is debate about who can truly lay claim to the invention of the California roll, a nearby restaurant called Tokyo Kaikan debuted it soon after. The Tokyo Kaikan vs. Kawafuku divide is one of new school vs. tradition, which continued to grow as sushi bars began to gain popularity in the ’70s and ’80s.
These restaurants laid the groundwork for people like Nobu Matsuhisa, who first opened Matsuhisa in 1987, followed by his chain of eponymous Nobu restaurants around the world. Nobu broke with tradition with signature dishes such as miso black cod, rock shrimp tempura, and yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, ushering in a long line of chefs who did the same (such as Katsu-ya, which opened in 1997, introducing its popular spicy tuna on crispy rice).
Sushi Nozawa also debuted in 1987, with an approach that’s more in line with the Sushi Park of today. Founded by Kazunori Nozawa (who then went on to start Sugarfish and KazuNori) in a strip mall in Studio City, he championed a simple and traditional Japanese style, becoming famous for his “trust me” chef’s menu. His no-nonsense approach to dining earned him the Seinfeldian moniker of “the sushi Nazi,” known for his strict rules, which included no cellphones, no loud talking, no switching seats, and no menu requests. In 1991, Sasabune opened, greeting diners with a handwritten sign that stated, “No spicy tuna roll. No tempura. No exceptions.” Then came Urasawa in 2003, which instituted a “10-second rule” from serving to eating, and a deserved reputation as the most expensive sushi restaurant in LA. Sushi Park fits squarely in this tradition, from its no-menu style and rigid rules, to its opening dish of sashimi with ponzu (a Nozawa tradition).
“Other sushi at that price point in LA or New York is going to be way better, but it is just not going to be as fun – especially to 23-year-old billionaires,” says Jason Stewart, the LA-based podcaster behind How Long Gone. At other locales with a similar price point, “you’re going to get an omakase experience that’s amazing, and you’re going to have some imported monkfish liver from Hokkaido or whatever, but Bad Bunny doesn’t give a fuck about that. He can’t tell the difference between them and he doesn’t want to have an 11-hour tasting menu. He wants it to be good, expensive, and to feel like a normal person, the way you don’t feel like a normal person when you go to Chateau [Marmont] or [members’ club] San Vicente Bungalows. You can kind of feel like a real civilian there.”
In my circle, I’d never heard of anyone who’d been, which was odd considering some of my friends’ sushi obsession. Before visiting the restaurant, I had only heard of Sushi Park in faint whispers and distant mutterings. And so, I began to ask around.
A model who had been on a date there once told me that there’s “not much to say. Weird date. Good sushi.” Another woman, who had also only been there on dates, said: “The food was good but I wouldn’t spend that money on myself. The lighting is bad. It was all dudes.” A daughter of a famous actor told me that she grew up going to the restaurant with her dad, who was an “OG patron.”
Others I spoke with were less forgiving. One person left after the second dish. “It’s not good,” she said. “It’s not the worst sushi I’ve ever had, but for the price, it’s not good at all. It felt like a scam. The rice wasn’t good and the fish wasn’t either, but it looked pretty.”
A chef I spoke to, who worked at a very high-end Japanese restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, explained that it’s “very much a scene. Other sushi chefs do not respect it.” Stewart expressed similar sentiments. “I’ve been a couple times and don’t get it,” he said. “The food there is fine. I don’t think it’s bad, and I don’t think it’s amazing.”
My opinion? The sushi is very good. During my 20-course meal there, I was guided through albacore so translucent the shiso leaf underneath peeked through, delicate bluefin tuna and toro, and white shrimp dotted with green yuzu that looked like a tiny brain, and was equally as tender. I was impressed by the butteriness and freshness of the fish, but felt as though the operatic element of culinary transcendence one might expect was missing. As a rare review put it, “Considering the price, we also want a few surprises, too. Those never come. It’s a standard omakase filled with familiar, slightly boring cuts of fish that you could find at most neighbourhood sushi bars around town.”
Sushi Park is less a Birkin, then, and more a beat-up Balenciaga, left over from the early aughts – still considered “luxury,” but perhaps a bit rough around the edges. Instead of glitzy interiors, a made-for-Instagram aesthetic, and a see-and-be-seen scene, in the 17 years it’s been open, Park has taken pains to leave its interiors intact, should even the slightest change send his regulars out of sorts. “We try to memorise their style, so when they come they just enjoy it,” he says. “That’s why I don’t want to touch anything.”
There is a strict no-photography policy, which is why you likely haven’t seen many photos online, apart from the infamous outdoor sign and the railing. Because celebrities are not going for a world-class culinary experience. They are there to be left alone, to feel like they’re at a “normal” restaurant, having a “normal” experience at their neighbourhood haunt, without the frills and decadence of a Hollywood clubstaurant. They want to feel like they’re a part of food culture, to feel like they have taste, to know that they know about an undiscovered, hidden gem, an under-the-radar type spot that still serves high-quality sushi.
After my meal, I walked down to the subterranean garage to try to speak with the keepers of Hollywood’s many secrets: the valet attendants. They were predictably tight-lipped. “The food is quality. One hundred per cent quality. And expensive, too,” one said. Another mentioned that “the place is small, but very private. That’s why [they] like it.” The baristas at the Starbucks downstairs were more forthcoming with information, mentioning that they’ve heard it’s very expensive, but not worth the price. Shakira and Emmy Rossum (Shameless) have, on occasion, ducked in to avoid paparazzi when it gets crazy outside, and ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte or two.
“It’s like people that have yachts,” says Stewart. “Everyone who loves it has never looked at the price.” Whether the clientele cares where the sea urchin is sourced from is yet to be determined, but if you’re a celebrity, maybe that doesn’t matter. After all, to quote Cheers, you want to be “where everybody knows your name.” If you go to Sushi Park, chances are, Peter won’t forget. Just don’t ask for trendy sushi.