A traditional Japanese saying translates more or less into “Dress till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka.” Sawtelle Boulevard’s Little Osaka, a narrow thoroughfare headed south through West L.A., is chock-a-block with places to dig into Japanese food. Some might be slightly slicker cafes than our favorites in Little Tokyo, but still with a surfeit of affordable options for shabu shabu, sushi, curry, charcoal-grilled meat, ramen, and imported groceries. With so many restaurants side-by-side along this street, we seek to break down a few of our favorites on the district’s southern end. Check out seven recommendations for where to find a good Japanese bite on Sawtelle Blvd. in this week’s strip search.
Okay, we admit we were a little harsh on this tiny sushi spot, which sells every item for $2.75, the first time we came in and promptly left with turned up noses. Some of the blame can fall on Hide across the street, where we’ve been subjected to some unappealing fish in the interests of friends who wanted to save on sushi. Turns out Sushi Stop, while obviously no Mori, makes for a worthy visit. The quail egg shooters, scallop sushi, and ikura all taste quite fresh, the traditional and specialty rolls are acceptable, if a little loosely bound, and the aburi dishes are proudly prepared with a flame sear and intriguing seasoning, be it black caviar on seared salmon or truffle oil on seared albacore. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch on early enough, as now the biggest problem at this discount sushi restaurant is catching a seat, so inundated is it with groups of college friends and couples on dates. But hey, at $2.75 a dish, suffering one or two non-food-related indignities is probably to be expected.
Sushi Stop, 2053 Sawtelle Blvd. West L.A. 310-473-3999.
The Sawtelle Place mini-mall is a dream come true for those seeking a casual Japanese bite, even if it’s a nightmare for those who appreciate a well-organized parking situation. On the ground floor, Nijiya Market, though just about a third of the size of Mitsuwa and lacking the food court (where let’s face it, Santouka is the only real draw anyway), has a better supply of ingredients and a bigger, fresher selection of packaged sushi, made daily right behind the display. You’ll find myriad prepared snacks to-go at Nijiya like tamago, tsukune, and tofu, intimidating displays of candy and sodas, all the cooking supplies and ingredients you’d need to make your own meals at home, and free samples of Japanese fare on the weekend. They chain also has its own farm in San Diego for organic produce. Small, but mighty.
Upstairs, you’ll find a branch of Curry House, which serves chicken katsu, pork tonkatsu, seafood, and short rib with a richer, more soulful dousing of Japanese curry than you’ll find across the street at (less expensive) Hurry Curry Tokyo. Pick the leg meat, add an egg, and try the hot stone curry rice bowls. When all is said and done with your savories, Beard Papa’s awaits downstairs with a smattering of European and Japanese-inflected pastries, though the original vanilla cream-injected puff is still the best option. Across the street sits a strip of fairly average restaurants, while at night it becomes a sure-fire nook to find food trucks like Phamish, Flying Pig, and No Tomatoes.
Sawtelle Place, 2130 S. Sawtelle Blvd. West L.A.
Yakitoriya and Daichan sit one on top of the other next to popular sushi joint Kiriko. Yakitoriya specializes in grilled skewered chicken (yakitori) and is the closest thing the Westside has to Downtown’s Koekkoko, though it doesn’t quite reach the same flavor (or price) stratosphere. Grilling skewers of chicken parts on oak charcoal imported from Japan in the traditional style, you find everything here from the skin, bone, and gizzard to the hearts and liver, as well as more common cuts, along with quail eggs, delectable duck dishes (like duck and truffle ravioli), chicken rice bowl (don), and grilled veggies (with the option to wrap them in bacon). The selection of skewers is bigger and better at Nanbankan up the street, but the prices and business-as-usual street-side vibe here feel more authentic for munching on this street vendor classic.
Upstairs is Kaiten-Sushi Daichan, which yes, is a conveyor belt sushi place (kaiten). But it’s pretty good. The chefs make everything in front of you before placing it on the belt, with the color of the plate reflecting its price, and they know their regular customers’ preferences, occasionally sliding big parties a bottle of sake or plate of fish on the sly, and always ending the meal with sliced fruit handed across the bar by way of wooden palate. While the sushi on the conveyor belt tends to be cuts of nigiri on warm rice, the restaurant has a size-able menu of sushi, rolls, cooked dishes, and specials. If you’re skeptical, give it a try and watch how quickly your plates start stacking up.
Yakitoriya and Daichan Kaiten, 11301 W Olympic Blvd. West L.A. 310-479-5400
While we still prefer Santouka’s ideal broth and soft slivers of pork at Mitsuwa in Mar Vista, Ramenya is the best ramen option in Little Osaka, and while actually just around the corner from Sawtelle, it is much preferable to the perpetually over-crowded, perpetually over-salted Asahi. Okay, the crowds have overcome Ramenya as well, but it’s more worth the wait for free barley iced tea and a large selection of regional noodle and non-noodle options. In addition to great commoners like chashu shoyu ramen, negi ramen, and shrimp fried rice, Ramenya has Singapore and kim-chi noodles, deeply savory jya-jya miso noodles, egg drop tan-tan, Yokohama sanmar noodles, garlicky aho noodles, and ecstasy for egg-lovers in a shrimp omelet. You will leave full and probably come back to try a dish that caught your eye on your last visit at this straight-forward diner.
Ramenya, 11555 W Olympic Blvd. West L.A.