It was kind of ironic that on the day I was thinking about writing a column on Ogata, I heard that classic rock staple “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto” by Styx. After all these years of not really paying attention to the lyrics, I looked them up and discovered that they were saying thank you in Japanese to the robot.
I found that a very appropriate thing to say to the proprietors of Ogata, who have been serving up quality, affordable Japanese cuisine in the heart of Encinitas since 1995, which happened to be the year I landed here. While Ogata has updated their interior a bit since then, it still retains an old-school charm and comfort that is a refreshing reminder of the somewhat sleepy downtown Encinitas I experienced upon relocating to the area. Sushi has also exploded on to the area dining scene since then and there are definitely more trendy options, but none that really have the soul of Ogata.
My history with Ogata goes way back. Sushi was pretty foreign to me coming here from Michigan in the mid-1990s. I was fortunate to have a co-worker at the old Quill Communications named Linus who spent time in Japan, spoke fluent Japanese and was the perfect person to ease me into the nuances of Japanese cuisine and sushi. One of the places that took happened was Ogata, where I was introduced to edamame, udon, miso soup, katsu curry, California rolls, and slowly into sushi and sashimi with the not-so-foreign-to-me salmon my first raw fish experience.
Sushi was easier to acclimate to, with the rice providing a nice buffer to the fish. I quickly learned that higher quality fish was delicious on its own, sashimi style. I was soon on to tuna, yellowtail, albacore and the exotic to me unagi or eel.
I don’t know what the turning point was but I was soon craving Japanese food on a weekly basis and found out quickly that Ogata was where I could make that happen very affordably. This was even more important with my teenage son Quinn having developed a taste for Ogata through a similar initiation.
I would highly suggest Ogata for families looking for an authentic Japanese experience without breaking the bank. An example of this was the assorted mixed sushi with a spicy tuna roll and rainbow roll with soup and salad that was under $10 forever and only recently was bumped up to a still very reasonable $14.50. I still find that to be my go-to combo at Ogata but have also had serious cravings for the Katsu curry, which is a deep-fried pork cutlet with a brown curry sauce and rice. The Katsu curry also comes with chicken, calamari or jumbo shrimp. Ogata has also caught on to the brown rice trend, which is a nice lower carb option than traditional white rice and works as a decent substitute in most dishes.
The rolls are solid at Ogata as well, with plenty of crowd pleasers like the ever-popular rainbow and spicy tuna rolls. Udon is also a favorite with the tasty noodles paired with pork, beef, vegetables, chicken or mixed tempura. There is also a big mix of teriyaki, tempura and stir-fried vegetables for those in your group who don’t go for the sushi thing.
I did not see anything on the menu more than $15 and most entrees came in well under that price point. Ogata also offers a very solid $5 lunch special that includes three nice-looking options. A full selection of Japanese beers and sake are available. Desserts include green tea and plum wine ice cream along with a sesame ball a la mode. A sesame ball is a type of fried pastry made from rice flour. The pastry is coated with sesame seeds on the outside and is crisp and chewy and very nice with ice cream.
Ogata has always had a charming tradition that has the entire staff giving a big goodbye upon exiting the restaurant. It’s a nice way to end the meal. Ogata is located at 615 S. Coast Highway 101 in downtown Encinitas. Check them out at ogatajapanesecuisine.com.