Food & Drink

The Underground Guide to LA's Little Osaka

Published On 10/01/2014 Published On 10/01/2014
Sushi Tsujita

You know Tsujita is there. And Plan Check. And also Daikokuya. But when it comes to the packed area around Sawtelle and Olympic -- aka Little Osaka -- that's pretty much all you know. From bacon hidden in everyday mini-malls to Four Loko you can only find down side streets identified by signs written in what seems like at least 27 foreign languages, here's the underground guide to end alllllll underground guides to LA's Little Osaka.

B Sweet Dessert Bar

B Sweet Dessert Bar

Ever walked by the old Nikkei Credit Union on Sawtelle and said to yourself, "man, I wish there was a bread pudding shop here instead"? Well, somehow the dudes at B Sweet totally heard you, cause that's exactly what they opened inside, stocking the place with a rotation of flavors like coffee cake crumble, horchata, and circus animal cookie. If you need more reasons to go into a sugar coma, they’ve got salted caramel cookies, donut ice cream sammies, and good, old-fashioned coffee to wash it all down.

Max Karaoke

Max Karaoke Studio

This karaoke studio with private rooms doesn’t serve alcohol, but thankfully you’re allowed to BYOB and BYOF for a $1/person surcharge. Win-win...-win-win-win-win-win.

Tiffany Tse

Max Liquor

Remember that BYOB karaoke spot? Well, this liquor store happens to be a few doors down (what are the chances they’re owned by the same person? Possibly named Max?) and shills run-of-the-mill wines and beers alongside harder-to-find shōchū, soju, sake brands, and, uh, Four Loko.

Blockheads Shavery

Blockheads Shavery

Not just where Charlie Brown goes when he has too much facial hair, Blockheads Shavery is also a cash-only Taiwanese shaved ice spot with massive weekend lines, because it's "healthier" than frozen yogurt or ice cream... which is why you're gonna want to top it with Oreo cookies, house-made rice cakes, and condensed milk.

Sushi Tsujita

Sushi Tsujita

The people behind ramen powerhouses Tsujita and Tsujita Annex have been quietly planning a Sawtelle takeover. Their latest venture, Sushi Tsujita, focuses on top-caliber sashimi that tastes just-caught fresh. Go here if you’ve got money to burn or a date to impress, since the omakase-style menu can set you back $120.

SEOUL SAUSAGE CO.

Seoul Sausage Co.

Considering they have one of the city's best under-the-radar burgers AND some of the city's best fried chicken, AND AND AND some of the city's best sausages, you should maybe... go there?

MJ Cafe Express

MJ Cafe Express

Sawtelle’s got at least three other boba shops, but this new kid on the block scores points for its vast menu. In addition to caramel pudding milk slushies and guava tea, they serve up tasty Taiwanese cafe food like sausage and minced pork rice, macaron ice cream sandwiches, and chewy/crispy mochi waffles.

Tiffany Tse

Nijiya Market

For a relatively small market, Nijiya’s got a mind-blowing selection of fresh fish, barbecue-ready meat, and to-go sushi/bento boxes, in addition to plentiful Asian sauces, spices, and snacks (including the elusive green tea-flavored Kit Kats). Bonus: they usually have someone outside whipping up okonomiyaki and yaki udon on a grill.

Gottsui

Gottsui

OK, yes this strip mall spot has the oddest food you're ever gonna eat, but it also has the tastiest food you're ever gonna eat, so stay with us through the description: they take a bunch of cabbage, chop in your choice of ingredients (seafood, bacon, seafood & bacon, etc), fry it up all mashed together with eggs, and then top it with EVEN MORE ingredients and a ton of sauces. And it's fantastic.

Kula Revolving Sushi Bar

Kula Revolving Sushi Bar

When you want no-frills, decently priced sashimi and rolls, Kula’s your best bet. The revolving sushi restaurant usually has a wait time, so you can always write down your name and check out the next-door Daiso (see below) to kill time.

Tiffany Tse

Daiso Japan

Daiso stores are Japan’s answer to 99-cent stores, except, like almost everything Japanese, they’re a lot more awesome. Once you get past the fluorescent lights and pink signage, you can scoop up cheap knick-knacks like storage containers, cooking utensils, and garden tools. Everything’s $1.50, unless it’s something fancy, like a button-down shirt for $8.

Tiffany Tse

Flores & the Ladies’ Gunboat Society

"Modern Southern comfort food" sounds like an annoying hipster trend, but the reality can be pretty tasty, especially when served up by the Ladies’ Gunboat Society. The permanent pop-up, run by one of the guys behind The Hart + The Hunter, operates in the Flores restaurant space and specializes in chicken fried rabbit and a pea/rice/bacon dish dubbed Hoppin’ John.

Giant Robot

Giant Robot

This place is packed with novelty merch -- the kind of stuff you don’t need, but want -- and a solid comic/manga selection. If you find yourself walking out with a ninja mug and drumstick chopsticks, you wouldn’t be the first. Also, down the street, their GR2 gallery sells original prints, which you can hang in your living room to impress people and be all, "look at me supporting indie artists".

Tiffany Tse

Kushikatsu Tanaka

It’s tough improving on bacon and spam, but Kushikatsu does it by sticking them on skewers, dipping them in batter/panko crumbs, and frying them to a golden crisp. More traditional items, like shrimp and beef, get the same treatment. Food-on-a-stick not your thing? Order the L.A. Men, a taco/ramen hybrid with ground sausage, tortilla chips, salsa, and noodles in a tomato miso-based soup.

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Tiffany Tse is a freelance writer for Thrillist, and thinks there’s no shame in wanting a pair of drumstick chopsticks. Keep up with her on Instagram at @twinksy and Twitter at @twinksy.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. B Sweet Dessert Bar 2005 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

This bread pudding shop has a rotation of flavors like coffee cake crumble, horchata, and circus animal cookie. If you need more reasons to go into a sugar coma, they’ve got salted caramel cookies, donut ice cream sammies, and good, old-fashioned coffee to wash it all down.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Max Karaoke Studio 2130 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

This karaoke studio with private rooms doesn’t serve alcohol, but thankfully you’re allowed to BYOB and BYOF for a $1/person surcharge.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. Blockheads Shavery 11311 Mississippi Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

Blockheads Shavery is a cash-only Taiwanese shaved ice spot with massive weekend lines, because it's "healthier" than frozen yogurt or ice cream... which is why you're gonna want to top it with Oreo cookies, house-made rice cakes, and condensed milk.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Sushi Tsujita 2057 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

The people behind ramen powerhouses Tsujita and Tsujita Annex bring you Sushi Tsujita, which focuses on top-caliber sashimi that tastes just-caught fresh. Go here if you’ve got money to burn or a date to impress, since the omakase-style menu can set you back $120.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Seoul Sausage Company 11313 Mississippi Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

If there's one thing Seoul is known for, it's living in constant fear their neighbors to the North are going to bomb the s**t out of them. If there's another, it's sausages -- or at least, that's what Seoul Sausage Company'd lead you to believe. The company is a labor of love to the founders, brothers Yong and Ted Kim, who bring a spin on Korean BBQ that won them the title of Food Network's 3rd The Great Food Truck Race.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. MJ Cafe Express 11307 Mississippi Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

This boba shops scores points for its vast menu. In addition to caramel pudding milk slushies and guava tea, they serve up tasty Taiwanese cafe food like sausage and minced pork rice, macaron ice cream sandwiches, and chewy/crispy mochi waffles.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Gottsui 2119 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

At Gottsui they take a bunch of cabbage, chop in your choice of ingredients (seafood, bacon, seafood & bacon, etc), fry it up all mashed together with eggs, and then top it with EVEN MORE ingredients and a ton of sauces. And it's fantastic.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Kula Revolving Sushi Bar 2130 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

When you want no-frills, decently priced sashimi and rolls, Kula’s your best bet. The revolving sushi restaurant usually has a wait time, but you can write down your name and check out the next-door Daiso to kill time.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. The Ladies' Gunboat Society at Flores 2024 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

Modern Southern comfort food can be pretty tasty, especially when served up by the Ladies’ Gunboat Society. The permanent pop-up, run by one of the guys behind The Hart + The Hunter, operates in the Flores restaurant space and specializes in chicken fried rabbit and a pea/rice/bacon dish dubbed Hoppin’ John.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Kushikatsu Tanaka 2004 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025 (West La)

t’s tough improving on bacon and spam, but Kushikatsu does it by sticking them on skewers, dipping them in batter/panko crumbs, and frying them to a golden crisp. More traditional items, like shrimp and beef, get the same treatment. Food-on-a-stick not your thing? Order the L.A. Men, a taco/ramen hybrid with ground sausage, tortilla chips, salsa, and noodles in a tomato miso-based soup.

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