Kiku Japanese Grill
888 Los Angeles Ave., suite C

Living in East County has been quite an adventure. From rolling greenbelts of ag and open space to clusters of strip malls, in which some of the occupants wilted away a while ago, there is something rather innocent and pure, living in a region bordering denser suburban and urban cities. With that, restaurateurs have a unique challenge in staying afloat and offering something attractive to locals. And so, Kiku Japanese Grill found a niche, fast-food sushi.

It was a Wednesday evening when we found a place to park in the little mall just off the 118 at Los Angeles Avenue. There was a fair stream of customers coming in to order to-go or to eat there, but this place was made for people who want their food fast. Without sounding negative, the best way to describe Kiku is that it has a feel similar to a mall food court: four salads on display (the Kiku salad plate offers a healthy spoonful of each for $5.79), a place to pick up orders with plastic silverware and condiments easily accessible, and a kitchen behind the counter with staff equipped for efficient service. The seating is open with booths and chairs but nothing really bold in nature for décor.

For our dinner, we chose the sushi sampler with pot stickers, the tempura and steak plate with a side of egg rolls and pot stickers, chirashi donburi and the Kiku salad with two sodas, a fountain drink and a Japanese fruit soda, which had a certain strange peachy aftertaste. I wouldn’t mind trying the soda again but I might want to figure out how to translate the writing on the can so I can know for sure what I just had. Or how to ask for it again. The guy at the counter, however, will know what you mean if you describe it.

I could have sworn that it didn’t take longer than washing my hands and picking up utensils before our order came out. Mind you, this place specializes in affordable sushi made fast. And so the meals were just as expected. The sushi sampler had the standard offering: shrimp, salmon, ahi tuna and yellow tail sashimi over sticky white rice with crisp pork pot stickers and a bowl of soothing miso. The chirashi donburi featured salmon, ahi, yellow tail and albacore atop field greens and seasoned sticky white rice with fresh sprouts and a spoonful of spicy crab salad. The crab salad was my favorite part of the meal.

The teriyaki steak was tender and not too sweet, with a big helping of tempura vegetables and rice. The real treat, however, was this great deal of a mound of salad — bowtie pasta and corn salad, peanut coleslaw, field greens and a tangy tomato and onion salad. If you are stressing about money and being hungry, it’s a pretty satisfying meal.  While we spent $50 on our entire meal, we had about two days’ worth of leftovers to work through, though I wouldn’t recommend leaving the fresh fish for later.

And just like that, like a flash in a pan, we were full and headed out with a couple of to-go bags. If you know what to expect, you won’t be disappointed. I wouldn’t recommend a romantic anniversary dinner here, but for something convenient and affordable and if sushi is a must, Kiku is a good place to go.