I first heard about The Open Door in Monterey Park through a food blog, and after looking it up on Yelp to find rave reviews, decided it was a must-visit. When I asked a friend to go with me, she said, “Yeah, then we can go to the Aquarium!” Wrong Monterey, but I digress. Monterey Park is located between Claremont and Los Angeles. It’s a mostly-Asian neighborhood; the restaurant is sandwiched between a Hello Kitty store and a Japanese bakery.
When I started going to The Open Door, I thought it looked sketchy from the get-go with its B health code rating hung in the window—never a good sign when you’re about to eat raw fish. But now, rest assured, the rating has gone up to an A.
The décor is cutesy. A giant fake cherry blossom tree stands in the middle of the fairly small room, complete with dangling plastic flowers. The walls are painted with sushi illustrations and various Japanese characters, and a chalkboard on one wall covers all of the specials: most recently, pork belly with white nectarines and various random fish parts such as salmon collar.
The restaurant is an izakaya, which typically focuses more on drinks and bar food than anything else, but The Open Door’s menu is anything but stingy. The sushi offerings are plentiful, though random snacks like tater tots with ketchup, while not authentically Japanese, provide a fully-cooked alternative. My typical order sticks closer to the real thing: the Albacore Sashimi bathed in Gochujang Miso or the Salmon Sashimi in Garlic Citrus Soy topped with fried garlic chips.
There’s also a version of the hanabi that consists of spicy tuna atop a bed of crispy fried rice. The Open Door’s is slightly crunchier than Sushi Roku’s or Katsu-ya’s but sticks to your teeth in an annoying way. The sushi rolls are hit or miss. I personally love both the tuna and salmon rolls, which have fried onions and avocado inside, but beware: you must love onions to appreciate these, because quite a lot are packed inside in each roll. Others are less successful. Stay away from the ”crunch roll,” for example. It is filled with Rice Krispies and tastes like peanuts. Who wants sushi that tastes like breakfast anyway?
The Open Door’s appetizers are generally good, and the truffle butter edamame in particular is to die for; I’ve never had anything like it. The restaurant also offers the usual selection of skewered meats from traditional to izakaya cuisine. There are, however, some dishes that seem very out of place. Chicken wings, short-ribs, hamburger sliders, and other more American dishes populate a large section of the menu, which, in a way, stays in line with the bar atmosphere, but still throws me off every time.
For dessert, the s’mores, although DIY and extremely sloppy, definitely quench cravings for something sweet. The alcohol menu is limited but contains a fair selection of beers; my favorites Hitachino Nest White Ale and Chu-His definitely hit the spot and are fairly priced for a pitcher during happy hour. Meanwhile, the most notable drink in the bar may be the Hello Kitty Wine, which comes as a red or white; I dare any braver souls than I to try it. Other than the shockingly expensive Mickey’s 40-ounce with wasabi peas for $8, most prices are reasonable.
The Open Door’s service is marginal: the food comes out quickly but catching the attention of the servers is very difficult. I’ve always arrived around 5 p.m., which happens to be happy hour, but the restaurant fills up very quickly after opening, so I recommend coming early. Sure, Kazama Sushi may be closer, and yes, Sushi Cruise gets more of a laugh.
But for a Japanese-fusion experience with some truly delicious moments, hop on that highway and walk through The Open Door.