Gaijin Noodle and Sake House

Sake Shaved Ice? Free sake shots? Yes, please!

Gaijin recently opened in downtown San Diego. “Gaijin” means foreigner or outsider in Japanese, a perfect name for this Japanese fusion place.


When I first read of the opening, I was a little wary. When I was contacted directly by the restaurant to check it out, I almost declined. Then I did some more research and saw many positive reviews. I perused the menu and was surprised to see creative items like Sake Shaved Ice and decided to give it a try.

The restaurant owners are very much aware that they are outsiders and don’t pretend to be otherwise. As stated in the website description, “we embrace our role as outside admirers of the country’s cuisine.” And I think they do it well.

Rather than trying to copy all the traditional dishes, Gaijin offers many dishes that are indeed inspired by Japanese cuisine but with a unique twist so that you don’t automatically compare it to a version you’ve had at a traditional Japanese restaurant. The menu is fun and so is the atmosphere. In fact, a round of free sake shots to thank the chefs are provided during dinner.

Complimentary Spicy Cabbage

I really liked this raw cabbage slaw. It reminded me a little of kimchee that has not yet reached its full fermented state.

Blistered Shishito Peppers

Lightly seasoned with salts and spices and grilled, these were simple yet addicting. I couldn’t stop eating these and will have to make them at home sometime  once I figure out the spice rub used.

Black Sesame and Mango Kakigori Cocktails

Japanese shaved ice mixed with sake. I’ve never been a huge fan of sake, but I really enjoyed it in this form. I preferred the black sesame which used a milky sake that is lighter and sweeter. The mango was stronger and also had a spicy kick. These were visually appealing and so fun to eat. An extra shot of sake was provided as well to pour over the cocktails.

Portobello Mushroom

All the yakitori items come with two skewers and I found them to be reasonably priced. The mushrooms were plump and juicy.

Skirt steak

The steak was grilled to a medium rare. They were tasty though I would have preferred a little more flavor on the meat rub.

Crispy Jidori Chicken Skin

This was one of the highlights of my night. The bowl might look small but there was quite a large amount of crispy chicken skins in there. Each skin was super crispy. It was so good, I’m afraid to find out the nutritional facts. Sometimes it’s better not to know and just enjoy.

Spicy Miso Ramen

We got a half order only because we were getting full. The broth wasn’t overly salty like miso broth of other spots. But I still prefer the version at Yakitori Yakyudori.

Uni Green Tea Soba Noodles

The Uni was mixed into the noodles so it wasn’t visible but I could taste it. It was served with some eggs with soft yolks.

Bacon S’more

Okay so this may not have any relation to Japanese food but it was tasty. Mmm… bacon.

DH and I had a good time here, and not just because of the free sake shots. We enjoyed all the food we tried and we liked that Gaijin is not completely trying to copy traditional Japanese dishes, but rather offer up their own unique ones. We would definitely come back again with friends.

Please note, my meal was complimentary but I was not paid for this review and my opinions are my own.

Gaijin Sake and Noodle House
627 4th Ave
San Diego CA
Gaijin Noodle + Sake House on Urbanspoon

8 comments on “Gaijin Noodle and Sake House”

  1. I laughed when I saw your post today b/c i JUST went to Yaki last night w/ the family (I tried Natto and that sticky yam for first time and completely remembered your hubby’s reaction to sticky yam).

    But I’ve been wanting to try Gaijin for a while now! I hate going downtown , especially when you can just to go to Convoy and get your fix of Asian food. How was the parking? The fried chicken skin looks AMAZING!! Why can’t most of this yakitori places do fried chicken skin (vs the kawasu )?

    • Yeah I don’t often see the fried chicken skins on the menu and I love them. For $5 a bowl, I thought it was a really good price. This place is definitely fun with a group of friends. They do a round of free sake shots in the middle of your meal and a lot of the food items come with an extra shot of sake too.

  2. I wish we had tried one of the ramen dishes when we were there… we tried the “drunken noodles” but they ended up being pretty dry and bland. We DID have the mushrooms, which I really enjoyed. And, I wanted a bowl of chicken skin but was voted down. I think it’s not a bad spot for a quick bite if you happen to be downtown.

    • Oh you should come back for the chicken skins! It’s like the ultimate tv snack. Hmm, drunken noodle was one I was considering, I’m glad I didn’t get it. I was pleasantly surprised with the food and the prices. Not too expensive for downtown and they seem to add sake to everything, which makes everything better.

  3. I wish I lived in San Diego after reading all your restaurant visits! Although, I can’t complain since I’m in LA. Koreans do a very similar dish for the Shishito peppers. It’s a delicious ban chan.

    I just made it today!


    • Ah, I love going to LA for food! Definitely better option in LA compared to SD. Thanks for sharing your recipe, I am excited to try it.

  4. I would totally order the chicken skins. You’re right in not finding out the nutritional facts on that one… would probably be a major buzz killer. I haven’t heard of this place but it sounds fun – I love when places do little twists on items, it makes dining so much more fun!

    • I passed by it a few times when it first opened and I’m glad I got to try it out. Definitely a fun place with some good food!

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