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ISO the Best of Japan in LA/OC

I have a Japanese friend who's moving to LA to teach and study at UCLA, and I suspect that after a while he'll be missing the tastes of home. Unfortunately (and as my cardiovascular system will sadly attest), I know more about our fair city's Mexican food offerings and steakhouses than I do about its Japanese fare.

I've told him about Ramenya on Olympic near Sawtell, and Sushi Gen downtown. (Urasawa is probably not in his budget.) Also mentioned the Murukai Forum in Garden Grove. (It is in Garden Grove, right?)

So, where else should I send him? What are the best places for Japanese grub in Los Angeles and Orange County?

As always, TIA hounds.

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  1. Musha! I really can't say enough good things about it. He might enjoy visiting Little Tokyo downtown and westside Little Tokyo on Sawtelle when he checks out your recs for Gen and Ramenya respectively.

    1. While it's easy to find fantastic sushi here in Los Angeles, it's harder to find the other comfort foods of Japan. I still bemoan the lack of any decent izakaya in Little Tokyo, but am excited to hear that a good one, Honda-ya, will be opening there soon. In the meantime, take him to Musha- the one in Torrance is best but the Santa Monica one isn't bad. They have great Japanese style fried chicken, tofu salad, risotto (strange, I know, but Japanese izakayas have a great mix of Japanese and western fusion food), sashimi, the flame torched saba....it's all good grub.

      There's also some pretty good eatin' (katsu- fried pork cutlet, rice, miso soup, etc + good ramen) at the little places in the Mitsuwa market in Torrance, plus a giant Japanese book store where he can get his magazine and book fix.

      Tuna Toast http://tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com/

      1. My Japanese informant is telling me the Japanese community is moving en-masse to Gardena and Torrance, which seem to be THE places to look for from now on.

        Anybody corroborating this?

        2 Replies
        1. re: RicRios

          The Japanese community has been there since at least Post-WWII. And yes, more and more are moving there because of the existing community, social infrastructure, schools, Japan-based companies, and of course, the food...Lomita has been slowly but surely popping up as a place for great Japanese food as well. Gaja, Chantilly, and Kotosh at Kamiyama are three great places that are at the same intersection, and Il Chianti just down the road on Narbonne... I think the OP's friend will do well if he finds a place in the general South Bay area if at all possible...

          1. re: bulavinaka

            Yup, the en masse thing happened in the 70s and 80s, and that laid the economic foundation for further growth of Japanese businesses to the area, just as bulavinaka describes. Similar thing happened with the Chinese to Monterey Park at about the same time.

            I think the OP's friend will be happy with a place near Sawtelle, since I think the commute from the southbay to UCLA will quickly wear thin. There are plenty of options around Sawtelle to keep him/her feeling at home, although I find Sawtelle (and the west side) geared more towards a younger expat crowd. Frequent weekend trips to the southbay will just enforce the feeling of japaneseness, when necessary.

        2. Marukai, not Murukai, is in Gardena, not Garden Grove.

          There are 3 grocery markets on Sawtelle: Nijiya, Safe & Save, Granada, and 1 on Centinela: Mitsuwa, so no need to drive down to Gardena, although things are a little cheaper at Marukai.

          Sawtelle Blvd. offers an array of fairly decent, if not great, Japanese food: yakiniku, yakitori, shabu shabu, shushi, ramen, udon/soba, curry, pastries.......and it's close to UCLA, so no need to venture down 405 especially during weekdays.

          3 Replies
          1. re: fdb

            I beg to differ about not needing to head down to the South Bay... The breadth of selection and variety down there is amazing... I agree that Sawtelle has great offerings but is only a snapshot of what Japanese and Japanese-Americans look for...

            1. re: bulavinaka

              I agree with you on the need to go to the South Bay for good Japanese; I do it as often as possible. That said, I wouldn't recommend finding a place there just for the food options and commuting to UCLA.

              But then again, I'm leaving Silver Lake for Ktown today because I don't want to deal with the northern East-West commute to UCLA...I'm a fan of Olympic and, for that matter, of the Sawtelle area for its relative convenience.

              1. re: PseudoNerd

                In LA, the commute is almost everything... Go Bruins!

          2. I happen to like Maru Sushi in Valencia, CA. I've taken a japanese exchange student friend of mine there and she liked it, so I guess it must be good?

            2 Replies
            1. re: tonicart

              dont mean to be rude, but there are americans who thing mcdonalds is the best burger in the world. Just because one is from japan, doesnt necessarily mean they know what they are talking about when it comes to food. I have not been to Maru however, so im not trying to say its bad...just making a point

              1. re: carln

                agreed, can't tell you how many Italian restaurants are recommended as good because the owners are Italian...
                BTW, Izayoi is a best bet for Japanese food in LA. 2nd and Central downtown.

            2. Otafuku in Gardena - they make their own soba, including the white soba.

              Komatsu -
              Komatsu Tempura Bar
              1644 W. Carson St., Ste. B, Torrance
              omakase style tempura. BTW at UCLA there will be plenty of people in his department that will know places. let him post them here for the rest of us.

              Also, the teriyaki house on Pico that is invitation only - some $100 per person - if he gets in thru a ucla contact, let him post.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Jerome

                Totoraku currently runs about $150pp, not cheap but worth it to an Angeleno. Someone coming directly from Japan may agree or disagree, I hope he gets to try it and reports back here with his opinion!

                1. re: hrhboo

                  Just there (Totoraku) and it's $175-pp and worth it! More amazing was the presence of Chef Gino from ANGELINI with a large party?
                  Near Sawtell we like MANKAPU, wicked Japanese BBQ.

                    1. re: Servorg

                      Thanks! At least I spell Urasawa correctly? Lot's of practice?

                      1. re: russkar

                        It saves on having to tell some future idiot who replies something along the lines of "I can't find this place -- please tell me the address, the phone number and how to get there from my house".

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Half the fun is watching the hounds driving in circles.
                          The first time we went to Manpuku was with Hiro from Urasawa on a Sun night (his day off). Nothing beats having him cook for you except he picked up the CK after dinner also, grand slam!
                          Can you imagine how many times we went to Urasawa before he invited us to dinner? One of the people with us eats there every week with his girlfriend which must cost about $4,000- a month.

                2. re: Jerome

                  Twice this quarter, I've ventured to Gardena to eat @ Otafuku to find them closed on Saturday. THough I don't quite know the exact hours, they're closed after 2pm on Saturdays. Their hours aren't posted anywhere online.

                  1. re: Jerome

                    i second both the above recs.

                    also agree with above poster that my friends from japan have foodie and generic tastes. just depends.

                  2. Lots of good suggestions already.

                    If your friend is teaching at UCLA, then the Sawtelle area is definitely a good destination for Japanese food. One of my favorite places there is Yashima for their curry plates and bento boxes. May not be "best" but it definitely hits the spot when you're looking for some Japanese comfort food.

                    11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 210, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                    1. And your friend should be familiar with Fu Rai Bo, as I believe there are over 50 branches in Japan IIRC correctly from what the owner told me.

                      They are branches in both Gardena and on Sawtelle, along with a few other locations.

                      1. Is Nanbankan still around on Santa Monica near Butler? I used to eat there a while back when I worked in the area and it seemed to cater to lots of native Japanese diners.

                        It was also very good.

                        1 Reply
                        1. Downtown:
                          (213) 613-9554

                          (310) 446-5241

                          1929 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                          132 S Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: yinyangdi

                            oh ... and more Westside options:

                            (310) 479-5400

                            (310) 478-7769

                            Mori Sushi
                            (310) 479-3939

                            11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 102, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                            11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 101, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                            Mori Sushi
                            11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                            1. re: yinyangdi

                              Mid-City West: Ita-cho

                              Pasadena: Shaab

                              Itacho Japanese Restaurant
                              7311 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                              Shaab Restaurant
                              77 N Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103

                          2. I recently went on a Japanese binge and my blog has been blowing up w/reviews for the South Bay LA (Torrance/Gardena/Lomita) area. So here are some of my favorite discoveries from the past few months.

                            I've been to my fair share of izakayas and here's my list with favorites at the top:

                            1. Kan Izakaya Yuzen, Torrance. Pricey and more upscale, though the food is excellent
                            2. Ikko, Costa Mesa. Traditional nigiri and sashimi are the star here, though their izakaya dishes are excellent as well.
                            3. Musha, Torrance. Louder, more boisterous atmosphere, though food is only decent

                            Japanese fusion. Because for some reason, I prefer the Japanese way of making Western food.
                            1. Il Chianti, Lomita. Can't say enough good things about the Jap-Italian place.
                            2. Spoon House, Gardena. Numerous permutations of spaghetti. #34 is really good
                            3. Bistro Beaux, Torrance. Lots of pastas and gratins, as well as izakaya dishes
                            4. Cafe Hiro, Cypress. French-Japanese

                            1. Sakura-ya, Gardena. I always get a box if I'm in the area.
                            2. Fugetsu-do, LA
                            3. Mikawaya, Gardena
                            4. Chikara, Gardena

                            1. Patisserie Chantilly, Lomita. Cakes are light and delicious!
                            2. Cream Pan, Tustin. The strawberry croissants are legendary.

                            As you can see, most of the restaurants are in the South LA (Gardena, Torrance, Lomita) area. I also here Yuzu, a washoku in Torrance, is stellar, though really steep.

                            I've got a cuisine index going on my blog and you can find photos/reviews for most of these places here: http://poptisserie.blogspot.com/2007/...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: poptisserie

                              Went to Izakaya Kan for Father's day and had a really nice meal with some new experiences. I started with the Mentaiko (cod roe) that was really different. I loved the extra salty caviar flavor but I didn't care for the texture. My two year old daughter had a few little bites also. I think she agreed with me (She said, "I don't want no more.")

                              Then I had the beef tongue on a skewer. I had never eaten tongue before. My logic was I didn't want to taste anything that would be tasting me back but it was a night for new experiences. Really beefy flavor but really chewy. MrsMista had the Ground Chicken lettuce wraps which she and baby girl really enjoyed. They also had two kinds of chicken yakitori (sauce and salted). The salted was their preference.

                              Next up for me was the Udon. To borrow a line from The Matrix, "Really good noodles."

                              The wife finished up with the stir fried pork and cabbage which was really tasty but it seemed to have more bean sprouts than pork and cabbage put together.

                              My last dish was a beautiful eel roll. The waitress warned me that the Japanese pepper paste was spicier than the wasabi. Given the choice, I would have had them put the paste inside the roll. It was tasty but not hot enough for me. My wife says my taste buds are dead.

                              All in all, it was a great Father's day meal in a very nice restaurant. Give it a try.

                            2. Have your friend explore the four pillars of Japanese culture in Los Angeles: Little Tokyo, Sawtelle, Gardena/Torrance and Costa Mesa. The food courts at the Mitsuwa Marketplace (in Mar Vista on Centinela and Sawtelle, in Torrance on Western and 216th, and in Costa Mesa on Paularino near Bristol) will probably scratch an itch, especially the unbeatable shio ramen combo at Santouka.

                              The Sawtelle corridor is definitely geared toward a college and just post-college crowd, so be aware -- not that there aren't great places to go such as Manpuku and 2117, but it's definitely "young and hip". I like the Curry House and also Sawtelle Kitchen for the Japanese take on Western food.

                              There's also a few really excellent Japanese places on Brookhurst Street (which is absolutely the chow axis of Orange County) near Ellis: Kappo Honda and Robatayaki Shinsengumi serve yakitori and excellent sake (I like Shinsengumi better); Ramen Shinsengumi is very tasty for ramen; and Tsuruhashi is very good for yakiniku.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Another eatery just opened up in the food court at Mitsuwa on Centinela. Didn't get to try it but the checker I talked with says it's pretty good, with the hamburger and dumplings being her favorites...

                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                  Santouka was good there too. Good idea.

                              2. Kanpachi sushi in Torrance is great. It's a small place with only about 20 seats. The sushi is fresh and the service is great. I would also recommend Torafuku in LA. They're famous for the way they cook their rice. I recommend taking him to places in Gardena and Torrance. The Japanese community there seems more compact, rather in LA where everyone is spread out. Meiji Market in Gardena has a good japanese-style spaghetti place.

                                1. Though I agree that the south bay is a key destination (particularly for shopping @ Marukai and the housewares at the Marukai "99 cent store" a little further east on Artesia, but also for some food categories, like noodles), there's a reasonable diversity of decent options in West LA! Some that come to mind in a few different categories:

                                  Izakaya style:
                                  Raku (Olympic, at Barrington) (some Korean fusion items; this place is one of my current fave eats in all of LA!)
                                  Terried Sake House (on Santa Monica, near Barrington) (skip the sushi, stick with grilled dishes)
                                  Sasaya (next door to Terried; pricier)

                                  Gyukaku (Pico, at Westwood)
                                  (Not in the same league, but Sak's Teriyaki house near UCLA can be surprisingly good for a quick fried bite :) In fact, it might be the only Japanese place in Westwood Village that I'd recommend)

                                  More traditional (and best rice in LA!!):
                                  Torafuku (Westwood & Pico, at the westside pavilion; can be pricier, but excellent lunch specials)

                                  Spaghetti/curry/"yoshoku" places:
                                  Blue Marlin (Sawtelle, near Olympic)
                                  Hurry Curry (same mini-mall)
                                  Sawtelle Kitchen (a bit farther north on Sawtelle)

                                  Noodles: unfortunately, not so much on the west side
                                  Yabu (Pico) for soba
                                  Kotohira (Gardena: redondo @ western) for udon
                                  Otafuku (already mentioned above) for soba
                                  Hakata Ramen (Gardena: redondo a bit west of western) for ramen
                                  Suehiro (Little Tokyo)
                                  Sanuki no Sato (Gardena) for udon

                                  For some things, it pays to keep in mind there might be good Korean versions in Koreatown-- for example, some of the best daifuku mochi, in my opinion, comes from the "German Bakery" in Koreatown, and can be found at Hannam supermarket (Olympic @ Western)

                                  There's lots more, but these are just a few that leap to mind! Certainly not everything's available on the westside, but most of the major categories are covered in some form :)

                                  1. I am a Japanese girl from Japan and if your friend is by UCLA I highly recommend kiriko, Orris, and Sasaya (Izakaya). And since much grocery shopping gets done around Nijiya/Marukai- he/she will find the places close by quite easily

                                    1. Like being back in Japan! A small storefront- inside.... a cozy restaurant with charming staff but the food! ----- a trio of Sunomono - not your standard stuff but a variety of tastes and textures..... delicious quality sashimi, miso-marinated salmon.... smoked okra covering fresh sweet tofu - amazing contrast and a new taste for me (who knew okra could taste that good?)..... silken, velvety Chawan Mushi.... a hot egg custard soup that is one of my favorite dishes and this one was a delight-- with mushrooms and fresh gingko nut.... finally ochamozuke- a hot tea broth with baked rice and other tasty tidbits... (don't knock it - it's delicious) followed by red bean ice cream (red bean is just not one of my faves--- but good quality). Wakasan is a treasure with a few tables and a counter so it is a good place to dine on your own --- or with friends who know and want authentic Japanese cuisine..... now I was a little put off by the "omakase" and then the sign said that it was a yakitori (charcoal) house... I was wary of having to eat a large course multi-course meal without being able to choose.... I realized why they do what they do---- you will be in a good hands with a master chef and his team who know how to look after their customers by providing authentic dishes that are well balanced and carefully planned to to give you a tasty experience. So don't be put off by the omakase - they are gifts that will surprises you and it is very relaxed and friendly... and it is definitely not just a yakitori house.. it is so much more - a true gem hidden behind a small storefront with a tiny sign.... It is on Westwood bt. Santa Monica and Olympic on the west side of the street next to a small parking lot.... I tell you this as it took two attempts to find it and I had the address... Oh and 35.00 plus sake for this - a bargain for what you get in return--- and cheaper than flying to Japan where this place would be prized.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: haveforkwilltravel

                                        Older post - it's from 2007 - but Wakasan is still good.