On the edge of downtown Los Angeles, Little Tokyo is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. With a history going back to the late 1800s, many shops and restaurants here have been run by the same families for generations. This vibrant, historic neighbourhood has seen a lot. It survived the Great Depression, as well as the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII. This past year, along with other communities, it has endured the restrictions of Covid-19, along with racism and xenophobia towards Asian communities. Which is why now more than ever, Little Tokyo restaurants need our support.
The dining options are plentiful, from old-school ramen joints to vegan sushi, there’s something for everyone. The neighbourhood also spans just a few blocks – making it easy to explore on foot. Whether you’re just here for a quick bite or spending the entire day here, here are seven Little Tokyo restaurants to patronize!
With four outlets in California, Daikokuya is the place for ramen in LA. Although, it’s only right to go to the original outlet in Little Tokyo! Many would agree, and it’s evident in the long lines. Get a bowl of the top seller Daikoku Ramen which comes with ramen noodles, tender pork belly slices, boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and green onions in their famous tonkotsu soup base. For a richer ramen, you can also ask for the Kotteri flavor which uses soup extracted from the back fat.
2. Marugame Monzo
For the best udon in LA, head over to Marugame Monzo. Their handmade udon is great in different ways, be it the traditional hot udon, or modern takes like their udon carbonara. If you get past the line and get a table, try to get a counter seat where you can see all the magic. Behind a large glass, udon chefs roll, cut and hand-pull the noodles. Some must-try dishes include the Uni Cream Udon, a savoury and creamy fusion that’s sure to delight. Add on a soft-boiled egg for maximum satisfaction!
3. Sushi Gen
Sushi Gen has been here since 1980. It is in an unassuming strip mall, but it is a cult favourite for sushi aficionados. The main draw here is the Sashimi Lunch that comes complete with salad, sashimi, soup and rice. Sashimi fans will love the Sashimi Deluxe, which comes with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, toro, squid and more. There are few rules to stick to when dining here – no using your phones and laptops, and your whole group must be present to be seated. As with several other Little Tokyo restaurants, come prepared to queue.
Kagaya is one of the pricier restaurants in Little Tokyo, serving up high-end shabu shabu. You can only order by set menus, such as the regular beef set, seafood set or the premium wagyu set. Cook your dishes in the bubbling broth, then dip it into your choice of sauce. Kagaya is definitely more upscale than your typical shabu shabu restaurants, but you definitely get what you pay for here. Service is excellent, but since it is a small place, they do limit your meal time to 90 minutes.
Vegans and vegetarians definitely deserve more than a tamago sushi or a cucumber roll. Which is why herbivores should head over to Shojin for a delicious meal. They craft sushi, rolls and dishes that’s completely gluten-free and vegan friendly, such as the Spicy Baked Scallop Roll that’s made with mushrooms and onions. They even torch it before serving, right in front of you! Make sure to also try the Shojin Dynamite Roll, which is their best-selling sushi roll. As a sushi joint, it’s fancier than your run-of-the-mill ones, making it a creative spot for a date too!
With a history dating back to 1903, Fugetsu-Do is also as old as Little Tokyo itself. The family-run sweets shop serves up handmade mochi, manju, delicate dessert and baked goods, along with imported sweets and snacks. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the seemingly endless shelves! You won’t go wrong with the handmade mochi and manju which is arguably, the best in the city. They are perfectly chewy and flavorful without being overly sweet. Do note that they are only open in the daytime, and close by 6pm.
7. Wolf & Crane
After you’ve bought your Japanese sweets, queued for a bowl of ramen and adequately explored Little Tokyo, duck into Wolf & Crane for some Japanese whisky or craft cocktails. A no-frills, casual bar for the community to come relax, gather, party, politic, romance, seduce, dance and drink alike. If you’ve never had Japanese whisky, then this is the place to fall in love with it. Bring your friends, or enjoy a solo nightcap!