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Yama Sushi on the Lake – Fresh Fish Tastes Better with a View
The Crazy Yama

Yama Sushi on the Lake – Fresh Fish Tastes Better with a View

Yama Sushi on the Lake

Fresh Fish Tastes Better with a View

Yama Sushi and Grill
27782 Vista Del Lago
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
(949) – 716-YAMA (9262)
Let me make a statement…I LOVE SUSHI! Fresher the Better. I have eaten at most sushi restaurants in Orange County and many in L.A. and San Diego Counties. I have come to the conclusion there are a couple of types of sushi bars of out there and for the most part most sushi bars fit into these stereotypes.
The first type is the hard-core sushi bar with no menus and it helps to if you know the Japanese names for your sushi you are ordering. At this type of restaurant don’t look at the sushi Chef in the eye and never order a baked salmon roll or the Chef will chase you out with his kataba knife. You will definitely have extremely fresh sushi, but you will leave with PTSD.
 The next type of Faux cool fusion hispter sushi bars where you are likely to see the crew of the real housewives of the OC patronizing. These sushi bars are usually more concerned about classy appearance and their fusion sushi menu then actual good food. This kind of place is good for a classy time and you may even try to creative rolls, but you will have to take out a second mortgage or sell your first-born to eat there.
 At the other end of the spectrum is the high-energy fun rock and roll style sushi bars. These sushi bars are definitely fun with rock music, sushi Chefs eating sushi on a woman’s boobies and overall good vibe. The downside is that the sushi is usually an after thought and the only thing fresh behind the sushi bar is the Chef as he stares down your shirt.
Now I believe there is a sweet spot in these extremes that I mentioned above, that can take small elements of each of these sushi bar styles and make it fabulous.  This food blog review is about one of my favorite sushi bar finds in Southern California, Yama Sushi. I think the Owner Don Lee has found that sweet spot of sushi restaurants styles by combining subtle elements of these extremes.
Yama Sushi is tucked in a small corner the Vista del Lago shopping center, which faces Lake Mission Viejo. From the outside Yama is very unassuming and you might not see it right away if you weren’t looking for it. Although as you walk into the front door, you realize that the restaurant is actually very large with a 20 seat sushi bar, 15+ booths and about 15 tables on the heated/covered patio.
The decor is tastefully done traditional Japanese and even features a Tyko drum in middle of the restaurant. The wall by the front door even has pictures of the regulars. Behind the sushi bar are two flat panel televisions, very important when your favorite team makes it to the playoff and convenient to order extra Sake when they choke it in the playoffs. I love eating at the sushi bar, but this place has the most amazing patio area with a panoramic view of Lake Mission Viejo. I have eaten on the patio before and it is pretty breathtaking at sunset. But I digress ..we are here to talk about sushi, this is a food blog not better homes and garden.

 I have been here a couple of times and the fish is always very fresh and there is always a good selection of fish on hand. We were seated promptly at the sushi bar and our drink order, Nigori Sake and a large Ashahi, was placed within minutes of sitting down. The people who come here are friendly and laid back, so it is always easy to strike up a conversation we the people at the sushi bar…overall good vibe. We ran into some regulars who we actually made friends with here during a previous visit.

Sushi Chef “Iron Chef”

Once we were settled in to our seats, the Chef made eye contact, greeted us with a “konichiwa”  and patiently waited for our first order. I started the evening off by trying something new
Unagi Shooter!
and quickly tried to find the craziest item on the menu, short of conch or fermented makeral.  Looking through the menu, there it was in the appetizer section, an “Uni Shooter”.  Judging by the number of ingredients and contraction of ingredients I knew it was going to be good.
The Chef first poured a quarter cup of sweet sake into a cup, added green onions, Ponzu sauce, tabasco and the dropped in the Uni (sea urchin), Masago (fish egg) and then the yummy quail egg.  I gotta admit I was a little intimidated by it at first, as it was practically staring back at me. I knocked it back and it was fantastic!  The flavors were balanced and it even took a few chews before swallowing, yummy uni and quail egg…great combo!

Salmon Skin Handroll- I got hungry and took a huge bite before I remembered to take a picture

The next item I ordered was a favorite of mine, salmon skin hand-roll; this item is the beef jerky of sushi to me. The Chef toasts the freshly removed salmon skin and wraps it up in the hand-roll with veges. The Chef toasted the skins just right and balanced the load of veges and rice. A fun factoid, eating salmon skin is really beneficial for encouraging soft skin and shiny hair …but you already know that, don’t you gorgeous!

 The next item that we ordered was the Crazy Yama, which is seasoned and lightly search slices of Ahi, propped up by shred dedaicon, with the Iron

Chef’s super secret sauce poured over it.  The dish is then topped with a little ponzu, massago (orange fish eggs), bento flakes, thin slice white onion and green onion. This one of our favorite dishes here as it has a sweet, vinegary and slightly spicy finish. If you like seared Ahi definitely try this dish.

The Crazy Yama

The Crazy Yama

Another one of my favorites is Octopus Sashimi and I can usually tell if a sushi bar is good,  by the quality and freshness of the octopus. The Chef grabbed a fresh leg of octopus for me and created some nice slices of octopus. Good octopus should be firm but not rubbery.

Octopus Sashimi

It should have a slight brine flavor but overall very mellow.  The friendly cephalopod on my plate hit the mark.

My wife prefers baked rolls and has an affinity for cream cheese. Her favorite  is a baked salmon roll stuffed with cream cheese.  You Baked Salmon Roll with Cream Cheese...as you see a couple pieces are missing before I got to take the picturecan think of this dish a Philly Roll on steroids. On the inside is california roll (crab, mayo and avocado) and don’t forget the cream cheese! On the outside is fresh slices of salmon and then topped with a sweet and creamy sauce (mayo base…I think). Then he bakes it until it is served hot with a drizzle of ponzu.  This roll is good, but you have to be carefull, at first you cant get enough of it  and then you get regret when you each too much of it. Fortunately for my wife, I am known as “The Cleaner”, because of my skill set of finishing her plates. Sometimes my skills are invited if she taps out from getting full. And other times,  my chopsticks cross the DMZ  line for a  raid onto her plate to capture or kill any remaining food. Usually forays onto her plate sparks diplomatic protests; but secretly, I think she is grateful for removing the food. Honey if you are reading this now, you know it’s true.  😉

So at this point I am starting to get full from all the food, but I had to order a little more. It is a complimen to request a off-menu, Chef’s choice dish from your sushi cheff
Chef’s Choice Mystery Roll

Our Chef was good and I like surprises, so I was excited to see what he would make.  The sushi Chef came back with a hand-roll stuffed with like six different ingredients. I figured out that it had soft shell crab, scallop, langoustine, crab and then there where 2 other ingredients I couldn’t figure out. The blend of flavors was delicious and the opposing textures gave it a nice mouth feel. Our sushi Chef did a great job.

restaurant, high-caliber and friendly Chefs. Don was very excited when he told me that his restaurant recently won the “OC Hot List’s Best Sushi in Orange County” and business has picked up since. Yama sushi has a lot of special events including Sake Tasting (paired with sushi), sushi making classes (kids and adult classes) and has even hosted a wedding.

On my scale of 1-5, I would give Yama Sushi a 5. This is a very rare score for me to issue. A 5 on my scale means that I would tell everyone I know about it and would actively try to eat there as often as I can afford.  If you have not eaten here, I suggest you do. I also suggest stepping outside your normal comfort zone by ordering something different or even ask the sushi Chef to make you a surprise. I just voted for Yama Sushi on the ” Best Of OC” contest, because I found my favorite.

Yama Sushi on the Lake on Urbanspoon

About Tom Holmberg

Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.


  1. Daniele Holmberg

    Great post & I love the picture of the Iron Chef!!

    • Great review Tom! And…… I can attest to your testimony, Yama Sushi on the Lake has awesome food, great staff and a beautiful view of the lake/

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