Sushi Koyo has been in business since 1982 in Diamond Bar. Owned and operated by Hiro and Utako Takemoto - yes, they really are Japanese - they have raised their family here for close to 40 years.
A quaint little place tucked into a strip mall behind restaurant giants Acapulco (now closed) and D’Antonio’s, Sushi Koyo might go unnoticed, wedged between a hair salon and offices. The giveaway is the crowd that starts pulling in around lunch and dinner. The near empty parking lot hums with activity around noon and after 5 p.m.
Of the many sushi choices in Diamond Bar, Sushi Koyo comes highly recommended from an American couple who live in the neighborhood. Liz and Fred Romero have been coming to Sushi Koyo since 2006.
“Hiro goes down to the fish market and hand picks his fish himself," Liz Romero said. "He does not use distributors, which in my opinion sets him apart from other sushi restaurants. This way he knows personally how the fish tastes before he ever serves it.”
Many restaurants have a contract with a fish supply company that brings them their order weekly. Hiro takes special pride in choosing the fish himself.
“I get up at 3 a.m. twice a week to go to Los Angeles to hand select my fish," he said. "I am very picky, and I like to buy unusual things, but only if they look fresh and clean. It might seem crazy to some to be doing this, but I am a fisherman. No one picks my fish but me.”
The Romeros have their favorite: butterfish, which they have never seen on any other menu. That’s the way Hiro likes it, and the way he likes it is the way you will eat it if you choose to sit at the sushi bar.
In Japanese restaurants, sitting at the bar means you are a serious fish connoisseur, and will be happy to sample the chef’s creations. At Sushi Koyo however, this concept is raised to a whole new level: Omakase, meaning "chef’s choice" in Japanese. Not to scare you, but if you remember the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi, Hiro is that serious about the art and quality of what he creates behind his bar.
“If you want to order from the menu, pick a table," he said. "The sushi bar is my domain.”
He is the king of his domain. To test Hiro, we gave him an idea of our fish preferences on our first visit. If you come back, he will memorize your tastes, but stretch them to places you never thought you might go. The test came when we quietly and respectfully (remember Seinfeld) tried to order a sushi roll at the bar. Our request was ignored. We asked with a bit more enthusiasm the second time around, and were ignored again. A polite whisper from a regular informed us of the OMAKASE sign proudly displayed on the counter. A brief shake of the head was all we needed to be quiet and accept the delicious offerings of the master.
Hiro is a generous and loving chef. He built our taste buds up to a culmination of some very tasty items. It would do no good to tell you what we ate, because Hiro’s fish offerings vary daily, but we did sample the butterfish - like butter - and all of the flavorful hand made sashimi we could eat.
One of the specialties Hiro repeats due to customer requests is the Tuna Flower: a plate of bright red tuna sashimi layered on a plate in the form of a giant rose, drizzled with mild soy vinaigrette. We fought over that one, even though it was a generous portion.
Hiro entertains his bar with stories, jokes, and riddles, but don’t offer a beer or sake as is Japanese custom; Hiro is on the wagon.
“It is always a good time at the sushi bar," he said. "I cannot keep up with all the good times. I’m staying dry.”
Hiro’s wife, Utako, runs the restaurant, hostessing and serving with a smile. Kind and friendly, she is happy to meet new customers.
“We love Diamond Bar, and have stayed here for over 28 years," she said. "Our customers are like family. Come and see us!”
The Romeros add, “We always see a group of regular people there. Sushi Koyo has a pretty loyal following and one that is very diverse. His appeal covers more than just the Asian community. Anyone who loves quality sushi loves his place.”
Other items worth mentioning are the daily lunch special, beer, wine, and sake, and the Koyo Deluxe, with tempura, sashimi, and broiled king salmon with soup, salad and fruit for less than $10.
Thanks to the Romeros for their tip on a great local restaurant. Sushi Koyo is here to stay.