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Houston hound's weekend LA menu

i'll be in town this long weekend and am wanting the LA ethnic food experience. from all my research on this board, this is what i've narrowed my eating itinerary down to.

what do you guys think?

Izakaya – Musha
Dim Sum – 888 (or Ocean Star?)
XLB – Din Tai Fung
Fish tacos – Tacos Baja Ensenada
Sichuan – Chung King
Burger – Father’s Office
Ramen – Daikokuya (or Santouka?)
Sushi – Sasabune

i want to mainly concentrate on chinese and japanese cuisines. i want to try beverly soon tofu on another trip, b/c i just had korean tofu soup recently. i want to skip korean bbq b/c i'll be going out afterwards and don't want my clothes to smell. i get plenty of good vietnamese in houston. nothing will ever beat lotus of siam in vegas and i get pretty authentic thai in houston too.

I want to spend some time walking around and exploring little tokyo. if santouka is better than daikokuya, where should i eat on sawtelle blvd? any shops or stores you recommend visiting?

also, i only have 3 full eating days, so i'm not sure how i'm going to squeeze all these places in. i am definitely not opposed to going to several places and "snacking" at each for lunch. can anyone help group them for me by location so i can hit multiple places in a row?

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  1. You have sort of an East side West side divide here. Musha, Father's Office, and Sasabune (although I will say that I would pick Sushi Zo over Sasabune any day of the week) are all within very easy striking distance of each other. If you pick Santouka over Daikokuya, you can add that one in to your West side grouping as they have a branch in Mar Vista which is adjacent to Santa Monica.

    Your Dim Sum / XLB / Suchuan places are generally in the same area and even Baja Ensenada can be found over that way.

    1. Depending on which Chung King you mean -- if you are going to the one in Rowland Heights, make sure you get the real menu and not the "Mr. Swiss" white-people-Chinese-food menu.

      3 Replies
        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          the Chung King in San Gabriel for the real stuff.

          1. re: neverfull

            The real stuff is also available at Rowland Heights -- you just have to insist that you are not going to eat "broccoli beef" and "general's chicken". The Rowland Heights branch has an outstanding cold appetiser bar.

        2. The fact that Sawtelle Blvd in West LA has so many options for Japanese within a few blocks makes me very happy as a Westsider. Throw in a Musha-like experience and a truly great Japanese-French patisserie or boulangerie and I'd be singing like a bird. But with Musha, Amandine, and Santouka just 10-15 minutes from Sawtelle, I'm at least chirping like a sparrow in Spring. The general vibe here is younger (a fair amount of students), suburban/urban, and casual. FO is now open at the east end of the old Helms Bakery building the Culver City/Palms area so that is just another 15 minutes in the other direction - less than 10 if the 10 (Santa Monica Freeway) is flying. You're after the burger which is fine, but comb through the posts here and you'll find a lot more gems that deserve more attention. As you may already know, the beer is first-rate, and if you're into martinis, FO carries more types of gin than Imelda has shoes...

          Downtown LA has J-town, which is another easy walk&eat proposition. You'll be covering more area - about the size of a typical neighborhood - and the choices are greater, but I personally don't care for the downtown vibe. It's definitely urban, the air can be quite thick with LA smog, and the tourists outnumber the locals. Little Tokyo is the standard bearer for the generations that came here from the first wave in the late 1800s to the huge wave that came after WWII. You will definitely find examples of every dish you're after, and get a better cultural experience here, especially if you decide to visit the Japan American Museum. And there's MOCA at the Geffen next to this museum. You can easily do six hours in J-town alone if you throw in the museums. FO is still within reach from here but I would count on at least 20-30 minutes between it and downtown as traffic is often an issue on this leg.

          A little more work but maybe more rewarding in my eyes might a trip to the South Bay. I mention this because just about all of these experiences that you are hoping for that can be found in the Westside can be found in the South Bay area where the newest and largest Japanese ex-pat population now resides. They arrived in the Torrance area starting in the 70s more monied in general than generations in the past, so the pickings can be more dense and wide.

          The only experience you'd be missing in this area is FO - both locations are at the other end of town. But what you sacrifice in terms of FO, you get back in places like Naja's and Yakitori Bincho, which are both on the Redondo Beach Pier. I put Naja's in a similar subset as FO - not that they are similar in terms of food - FO's focus is much much greater - they both are outstanding beer purveyors. So if brews are your bag, then count Naja's in. And Yakitori Bincho has now claimed the throne for yakitori. Posters like Rameniac and exilekiss give this place about as perfect as a score that a Japanese food experience can get. Load up on artisan level skewers and sake like a real salary-man in Japan. This combination alone makes a visit to the South Bay worth it.

          Torrance has Santouka in the Mitsuwa foodcourt and other counters offering pretty decent Japanese fare - my favorite is the Minamoto Kichoan manju counter. This is by far the most upscale manju and Japanese confectionary I've seen in So Cal - they fly almost all of their goods in directly from Japan. And there's Sakura-ya on Western that is more old school manju but still very good - the common man's manju that most grew up with. A bigger and brighter Musha is in Torrance, and noodle houses serving ramen or udon are littered across the Torrance/Gardena landscape. My personal favorite for udon is Kotohira but Sanuki no Sato just down a ways and is great as well. And Santouka is not the only great ramen option in the South Bay - I meekly defer to the vast expertise of rameniac for his reviews but I can think of at least a half-dozen ramen joints throughout Torrance and Lomita that are worth going to. And speaking of Lomita, you can hit up Gaja for okonomiyaki, Chantilly for great pastries (choux a la creme or sesame), and Kotosh for great Peruvian-Japanese.

          I think the one weak area in the South Bay is high-end sushi. It seems you're able to find far better sushi in much higher concentrations outside of the South Bay in general. Many of the South Bay sushi houses are now Korean-owned - a different focus on sushi. Couple this with the plethora of places in the beach cities that cater to the young and uninitiated. Also, the majority of ex-pats are married - sushi and sashimi for Japanese wives are second nature - of course not at the level of the better sushi houses - but with places like Marukai, Nijiya, etc., where fresh fish can be easily had, making decent sushi is easier than making cake. Maybe these reasons explain the lack depth of great sushi bars. Kanpachi in Gardena is decent. So if sushi is high on your list, maybe Sushi Zo/FO in Palms would be a no-brainer for sushi and burgers instead.

          1. On dim sum, both 888 and Ocean Star are solid choices if you want to do the cart-style. If you'd like to order off the menu, consider also Sea Harbour, Elite, or Mission 261.

            Musha, FO and Sasabune are on the westside. 888/Ocean Star (and the other dim sum places listed above), Chung King, Din Tai Fung are all in the San Gabriel Valley.

            Enjoy your stay.

            1. thanks everyone for the advise so far. i'm wondering if DTF's XLB can hold a candle to joe's shanghai in NY?

              3 Replies
              1. re: neverfull

                DTF and Joe's are different. Don't go to DTF expecting Joe's version. Not going to say one is better than the other -- it's a personal preference thing.

                Some people like chocolate ice cream, others prefer vanilla.

                DTF is rather fey in their preparation of XLB. If DTF was Snow White, then Joe's would be The Incredible Hulk.

                For something similar to Joe's try Giang Nan, but then why come to LA to replicate a NYC experience?

                Other XLB places to consider, aside from Giang Nan, are Mei Long Village, Dragon Mark, Jin Jiang, Chang's Garden.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  i don't need DTF's to be similar to joe's. i welcome the differences and i'm sure it will be lightyears ahead of the XLB i'm finding in houston, which is pretty terrible considering the huge chinatown and chinese population we have here. CHers here are on an eternal quest for new XLB places, but at best, the best of houston is mediocre. we don't ever have a crab option either.

                  i would like to try some of the other XLB places, but i feel i should give DTF's a try first and use them as a benchmark to measure the other LA places against. also, my family is from taiwan, so i'd like to get an idea of what they are used to XLB tasting like. i am very excited to be able to find the XLB version with crab so prolifically here.

                  i'm also very excited about dim sum. i've had dim sum at the top places in houston and manhattan. i've also had dim sum at some lauded restaurants in HK and SF, but nothing has been as memorable as the dim sum experience i had in LA in 2002. i think it was at ocean star b/c it was on the second floor of a large building with a courtyard. it was so good i made my friend take me back again the next day.

                  1. re: neverfull

                    While I'm not a big fan of DTF, I never discourage people to try it if they never been before. If for nothing else, one should go just so that they have a point of reference. Sort of like McDonald's -- like the Big Mac or not, if you want to be able to judge fast-food burgers, gotta have a point of reference and the Big Mac is about as good as any.

                    Yeah, that sounds like Ocean Star -- second floor, large building, etc.

                    Enjoy your stay.

              2. went to musha last night and it was awesome. we had the green bean salad w/bacon, wasabi tuna poke, musha fried chicken, braised pork belly, and the grilled skate/stingray wing. everything was amazing with the exception of the poke dish. it had a very earthy taste (not sure if it was the dressing or the poke itself, i've never had poke before).

                the skate wing, listed under the sides for $5.95, was my favorite find. they bring you a hot grill to the table and dried skate that has been soaked in hot water. you grill the skate on the grill until it has a dark char and then dip it in kewpie mayo that they provide. i had the same dish as abburiya kinnosuke in NY, a high-end izakaya.

                the other fan favorite was the braised pork belly. a big hunk of it was served in a large bowl with a sweet broth and was topped with 2 large pieces of potato, a soy sauce boiled egg cut in halves, and yellow wasabi paste was applied to the side of the bowl. the wasabi paste really provided an extra dimension to the dish and cut down on the unctousness of the pork. a small complaint was that the bottom half of the pork was a little stringy.

                so, i'm staying in west hollywood. does anyone have any recs on sushi places (trying to avoid koi and nobu, been to both) or other do-not-misses out here?

                2 Replies
                1. re: neverfull

                  Sushi Zo is not to be missed if you are looking for a stellar sushi experience. Have omakase at the bar. West LA, 90034 just off the 10 Frwy on National adjacent to Culver City.

                  1. re: Servorg

                    thanks for the zo suggestion. this was actually on my list too. i think we may be doing sushi tomorrow night after our day in SGV. we'll want something light.

                2. i just drove a total of 3 hours to santouka in the mitsui market for ramen (1h45m there, 1h15 back). lol. only in LA. but it was excellent. i got the shoyu (soy sauce) and shiyo (salt) ramens. the shoyu ramen was smokier, but it was a tad greasy. the shiyo broth was delicate and flavorful. it's hard to say which one i liked better.

                  we're still deciding on where to go to dinner tonight. lou on vine is more convenient to the club we are going to tonight and they assured us we wouldn't need a reservation (they won't take one anyway) or comme ca, although i'm thinking comme ca may be better for brunch.

                  btw, we tried going to the hungry cat for dinner but they only serve the lobster roll at lunch. WTF? i'm glad we called first before heading over there.

                  speaking of brunch, any suggestions???? i'm making my friend drive me all the way out to arcadia and monterey park tomorrow for XLB and dim sum. we may even make it to san gabriel for szechuan. so somewhere close to W. Hollywood would be nice.

                  thanks again for everyone's suggestions!

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: neverfull

                    Skip brunch around WeHo and save the room for dim sum. The San Gabriel Valley is unduplicatable in the US for the full Chinese food experience. If you're planning on dim sum and XLB and/or suchuan and then Zo that night, you're going to need the room and time, regardless of your call sign... Leave early and I can easily see you pigging out at dim sum starting at 0900-1000 (if you're going to cart-style, you're going to be ordering off of just about every cart but I really think you ought to go to Sea Harbour or Elite) where you'll be lucky to break $25 per unless you order live seafood (crab or lobster will bring you two or three distinctly different and incredible dishes), taking an hour or two break, and then doing XLB, where you will want to order the pork pump as well (go early or call ahead as this is a close second in popularity to XLB and much more scarce) and Lion's head dumplings, and a ton of other great dishes at places like Mei Long Village. And if you throw in Chung King - you're talking a serious amount of foodage and heat like you've never experienced at this point (dry beef is anything but dry, and you should assume everything is four-alarm fire hot) - you'll be doing window-shopping at Zo which will be a serious miscalculation.

                    If you're partial to uniquely Asian snacks (packaged or prepared), you owe it to yourself to check out any one of many Taiwanese snack bars, teahouses, and Chinese supermarkets as well.

                    Keep in mind - the number one recreational activity for the Chinese is eating, and they take this more seriously than any typical profressional athlete... Good eating to you!

                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      what is the pork pump?

                      hahaha, no, my brunch questions were for sunday brunch. headed to SGV now. considering going to elite. will hit DTF at 5 pm for 1/2 a meal and then chung king for the rest of dinner. no sushi tonight as we are getting a late start today. my friend has a bit of a hangover ;)

                      quick update on my trip. last night we went to bar marmont for a light bite to eat before clubbing. we ordered the french onion and cauliflower soup and the oxtail bruschetta topped with fresh parsley. both were excellent. the roasted/fried cauliflower that came on the side with the french onion soup was the highlight of the meal. it was crispy on the outside, soft inside.

                      1. re: neverfull

                        It's a nice piece of pork - I believe the huge rump portion bone-in that has been braised long and slow in probably soy sauce, ginger, star anise and probably some sort of vinegar. The result is this unctuous tender meat that is served in a brown sauce that has me reaching for a huge bowl of rice with each bite. I think it may be too much for just two, but you are neverfull, so who knows - maybe you can do it, or take the leftovers back and make a kick-ass sandwich...

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          I have no idea why it's so commonly called "Pork Pump." Bulavinaka is absolutely right -- it's from the rump section.

                          Should mention that the cut is cooked with the skin on and so has a wonderful gelatinous quality that I love and you may not (a friend was turned off by it). If you want similar flavor without the large portion, I know Mei Long Village for one does a dish that's very similar to the pork rump but uses shortribs. It's delicious.

                          1. re: Frommtron

                            I think "pork pump" was originally a typo for "pork rump," and somehow it stuck.

                            1. re: emmy

                              Right. I'm wondering why it stuck. 'R' and 'L' switches are common and totally nonsensical translations abound but why this one?

                              1. re: Frommtron

                                Yup, it's a typo for "pork rump" ... first perpetuated by Lake Spring Shanghai Restaurant in Monterey Park.