Everywhere You Need To Eat and Drink in LA’s Little Tokyo
Eat your way through one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods.
The hardest part about going to Little Tokyo is trying to decide where to eat. With roots going back to the late 1800s, Little Tokyo is one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods as well as the largest of the three surviving Japantowns in the country and the heart of the largest Japanese-American population in North America. Many of the shops and restaurants have been owned by the same families for generations, some as long as the early 1900s. The vibrant historic district has endured the Great Depression and the forced removal and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. This past year, like many communities, it also tried to survive regulations related to COVID in addition to the racism and xenophobia that Asian communities have faced during this time. Which is why, now more than ever, it’s time to head to Little Tokyo to support these businesses and keep one of the city’s most culturally rich neighborhoods afloat (especially during AAPI History Month - aka right now!).
Little Tokyo’s plentiful dining options run the gamut: From an over 100-year-old candy shop to vegan sushi restaurants, there’s something for everyone. Bonus: the area is condensed so it’s easy to roam on foot. The area is filled with gems all over, but to make it easier, we put together 12 places you should definitely check out first.
We couldn’t put together a list of places to eat in Little Tokyo without talking about the Shabu- Shabu House. If you haven’t tried shabu shabu, it’s a DIY of sorts where you take meat and vegetable and cook in boiling water and serve with dipping sauces. If you couldn’t tell by their name, it’s sort of Shabu Shabu House’s specialty. With each order, you get delicately sliced pieces of meat assorted vegetables, noodles, green onions and minced garlic, house-made ponzu and sesame oil, and rice. And if you order it as takeout *technically* it’s homemade.
How to order: Call 213-680-3890 for takeout.
This confections shop is almost as old as Little Tokyo herself. Since 1903, the family-owned sweet treat shop has been serving made-in-house mochi and delicate desserts among shelves of imported candy and snacks. When you get to the case of goodies, do not get overwhelmed with their wide selection, and don’t be scared to ask their friendly staff questions. We can’t resist their iconic chewy and flavorful mochi in sweet strawberry and slightly bitter green tea.
How to order: Walk-ins of two or less welcome. Credit card minimum is $15.
The OG ramen shop of LA has expanded and now has multiple locations throughout Southern California, but it’s only right to pay your respects to its first location in Little Tokyo. Lines tend to get long (don’t say we didn’t warn you) but your patience will be rewarded with a bowl of brothy, noodly goodness. If you’re at the original location, it’s only right that you get their original ramen. Their namesake Daikokuya Ramen comes with rich pork broth soup and soy sauce base, sliced pork, and chewy noodles. Even as the weather warms up you will want to slurp up a bowl.
One of the many great quirks about this city is the best food can sometimes be found in an unassuming strip mall. Example: Sushi Gen. Located across the street from an Office Depot, this restaurant creates simple sushi with quality ingredients. They have some of the butteriest fresh salmon and tuna that will melt in your mouth. Do not sleep on the sashimi deluxe which comes with cuts of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, toro, squid, and various chopped fish all for $40 or almost half the price of a parking ticket.
How to order: Call 213-617-0552 for takeout.
Vegans and vegetarians deserve more than a sad cucumber roll at a sushi restaurant. Which is why herbivores should head over to Shojin for inventive remixes on sushi joint favorites. They whip-up “won’t miss the animal bi-product delights” like their take on a spicy scallop roll that comes with spicy tofu and avocado roll as the base, topped with a generous helping of mushrooms and onions and drizzled with a spicy mayo-esque sauce. They even torch it right before you. Their most popular item is their Dynamite Roll that mimics a spicy tuna roll that’s creamy and spicy with a hint of sweetness.
The yakitori spot is best known for its chicken that is flavorful, tender, and charbroiled to perfection. Served in five or ten pieces, the yakitori comes with hot mustard, ginger and green onion paste, Sichuan peppercorn, and seven flavor spice for your dipping pleasure. If you need a little more than chicken on a stick, make a meal out of their appetizers like their tempura and deep-fried marinated chicken.
We love to hear success stories like Milk + T. What started out as the first self-serve boba truck by two boba-loving women with limited restaurant experience is now three brick-and-mortar locations in LA, Portland, and Vegas. Their business approach is to remain transparent on what they put into their drinks. They use all-natural ingredients and make their own syrups with real fruit and sugar. The drinks are a perfect after-dinner treat that’s sweet, refreshing, uniquely flavored, and non-dairy options. The bases come in iced tea, milk tea, and coffee with the option to top with ice cream.
The only place in LA that we know of where you would have to make the tough decision between a traditional Japanese breakfast and beef bourguignon is Azay. The Japanese and French restaurant was created by chef Akira Hirose who has a foot in both countries’ cultures and has been holding it down in Little Tokyo for decades. But don’t get it twisted, this isn’t a fusion so don’t expect to order duck confit on udon noodles. Chef Akira keeps the French food French and the Japanese food Japanese in a way to pay homage to his Japanese culture and his extensive background in French cuisine. They also offer tea experiences with ceremonial grade matcha tea. Visit their site to find upcoming dates.
We can think of very few times drinking in an alley is permissible, Far Bar’s outdoor patio is one of them. Nestled between two historic buildings, their patio has a laid-back vibe. But, as the old adage says, it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, it’s what’s on the inside. And inside, Far Bar is creating delicious cocktails and a fusion menu that has sushi rolls and spicy chicken sandwiches sitting by eachother in delicious harmony. They also have an impressive selection of microbrew beers, including a wide variety of Japanese imports.
You don’t come to Mitsuru (part diner, part fast food restaurant) for an elaborate meal, you come here for a down-home meal. Their food tastes like something you’d get at your Japanese grandmother’s house. Bypass the American breakfast and lunch staples on the menu and go straight for a bowl of the spicy chicken udon that has a complex broth and soft, never soggy, noodles. Be careful not to confuse this with the equally good Mitsuru Cafe around the corner (great red bean cakes, if you’re interested.)
How to order: Indoor seating available. For takeout call 213-626-4046.
When it comes to udon, no one can outdo Marugame Monzo. Their handmade udon noodles are thick, soft, and are great cold or hot. They serve traditional udon like hot udon with sliced beef in broth. But it’s their new takes like miso carbonara that make them the undisputed city champs. Their signature dish, uni udon, takes hand-crushed sea urchin and turns it into noodles, then tops it with a cream sauce and with salmon eggs.
As charming as their food is delicious, the over 40-year-old Suehiro is the place to go for comfort food in Little Tokyo. Their expansive menu includes favorites like crispy katsu chicken blanketed in velvety curry. Their hayashi rice lays hashed beef over a bed of rice and tops it with a thick and flavorful sauce and an over-easy egg. Suehiro has a little bit of everything so come hungry.