Sugarfish Restaurateur Transforms an L.A. Corner with Wild New Dining Complex
Uovo, KazuNori, and HiHo Cheeseburger all serve ingredients that nobody else in Los Angeles has.
The buzziest new dining corner in Los Angeles is at Wilshire and Crescent Heights. That’s where prolific restaurateur Jerry Greenberg opened outposts of his Uovo pasta restaurant, his KazuNori hand-roll bar, and his HiHo Cheeseburger at the Vision on Wilshire development in September.
“It’s such a dense and great area,” Greenberg said. “But there’s actually not a ton of food options. We were super excited about addressing that audience.”
When Greenberg realized that the Vision on Wilshire apartment complex had ample parking (there are 120 free spots for his customers, which is a big deal around these parts) and space for three of his restaurants, he jumped at the opportunity. Greenberg, who first made a splash in the restaurant industry when he and legendary sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa opened their first Sugarfish in 2008, isn’t just focused on serving some of the best food in Los Angeles. He and his partners painstakingly criss-cross the world to search for ingredients and recipes that nobody else in L.A. has.
Uovo serves fresh pasta that’s made in Bologna and rests in a temperature-controlled compartment when it flies commercial to Los Angeles (on planes already headed there). Uovo’s Bologna kitchen is run by chef Pino Mastrangelo and pasta maker Stefania Randi, both of whom came from Antica Trattoria della Gigina, a restaurant in Bologna where Greenberg says he tasted the single best noodle he’s ever encountered. Greenberg and his Rome-born partners, brothers Carlo and Lele Massimini, once took an R&D trip to Italy that involved eating 77 different pastas in three days.
Standout Uovo dishes include tonnarelli all’amatriciana with difference-making pieces of crispy guanciale. There’s vongole pasta made with a clam-sauce recipe from the Massimini brothers’ mother. There’s a transporting Bolognese sauce made with a recipe from Antica Trattoria della Gigina, which is a restaurant that dates back to 1956.
“We want to give them that credit,” Greenberg says. “It’s not a close approximation. It’s the recipe.”
There is one key difference, though. The beef that Uovo serves, in its Bolognese sauce, in its ravioli di carne, and in its tremendously delicious lasagne verde, is 100 percent grass-fed, grass-finished wagyu from New Zealand. This sustainably raised free-range beef, which is high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat, is the same meat that’s used at HiHo.
Greenberg traveled all over the globe to taste beef before opening HiHo, which debuted in Ojai in 2015 and then relocated to a Santa Monica location next door to the first Uovo in 2017. He’s convinced that the rich but clean-tasting wagyu he gets from New Zealand is the best beef that exists. His belief in this wagyu is so strong that he even became a part-owner in First Light, the farmer-affiliated company that supplies the beef, after he opened HiHo. Now First Light’s beef is available in select L.A. grocery stores like Bristol Farms, Erewhon, and Vicente Foods, but no store has HiHo’s burger patty.
Unlike many other burger restaurants, HiHo has no plans for massive expansion.
“If we wanted to open up ten HiHos in the next two years, it wouldn’t be possible,” Greenberg says. “There’s not enough beef in New Zealand. Growth and scale is not our gig. Quality is.”
It’s the same kind of thought process Greenberg has at KazuNori, which debuted in downtown L.A. five years ago, and at Sugarfish. There’s only so much good fish in the ocean, so he’s cautious about expansion.
But he knows that he has a sourcing advantage because his restaurants give him buying power that competitors don’t have. He can do things like serve nori that’s selected and roasted specifically for his restaurants. He can buy tuna and lobster that’s simultaneously used at KazuNori (which has four locations in L.A. and one in New York), Sugarfish (which has 11 locations in L.A. and two in New York), and high-end sister restaurant Nozawa Bar in Beverly Hills.
Beyond the $175-per-person omakase meals at Nozawa Bar (the only one of his restaurants that takes reservations), Greenberg is offering world-class food at prices that might seem surprisingly low when you consider how he’s sourcing his ingredients. You can get tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce for $16 at Uovo, a double cheeseburger for $7.95 at HiHo, and a set menu of five hand rolls (including toro and lobster) for $20 at KazuNori. This has been the same formula Greenberg has used since he opened the first Sugarfish in Marina del Rey 11 years ago. As he told Food & Wine in 2017 after he opened the first Uovo, he wants to give guests “food that will wow them at a price that might be a little lower than expected.”
Most customers might not fully understand the lengths Greenberg takes to develop his menus, but that’s fine. He’ll always remain on the hunt for the next great ingredient. In fact, he and partners Kazunori Nozawa, Tom Nozawa, and Lele Massimini are about to take a ten-day trip around northern Japan.
“We want to meet fishermen,” he says. “There’s certain fish we’d love to get access to, but there's a limited supply. We want to start long-range conversations about changing supply lines.”