Just East of Japan: Finding the Best Japanese Food in Los Angeles
By Jenny Peters
Los Angeles Local Expert
No matter what part of Los Angeles you are visiting, there's wonderful Japanese food to be found. Perhaps that is because it is the first stop for Japanese chefs immigrating to America from their homeland, or maybe it springs from the deeply rooted Japanese-American community that has been a part of the City of Angels for generations. Whatever the reason, excellent Japanese fare can be found all over the Southern California Los Angeles basin, from those places that are literally overlooking the ocean (think Nobu Malibu) to restaurants built on the side of the mountains (Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills) and the ones located in the heart of Little Tokyo, too (Daikokuya), which is situated in the downtown area and has existed there since the 1880s. Another famed corridor of Japanese excellence is along Sawtelle Boulevard in West L.A. That area has long been known as Little Osaka and it features restaurants that offer everything from sushi to shabu shabu to dumplings to yakitori (grilled skewered meats) and even ramen noodles. But regardless of where you live, work or go to play in Los Angeles, there's sure to be a Japanese place nearby, for it is one of the most popular cuisines served up in this city where ethnic restaurants abound.
Daikokuya Little Tokyo
Daikokuya is a tiny place in Little Toyko, L.A.'s downtown enclave of Japanese immigrants. Looking more like an American diner than a classic noodle shop, nevertheless Daikokuya is one of the top spots in town to find a large, steaming bowl of tonkotsu soup, a combination of broth, tender Kurobuta pork, noodles, bean sprouts, scallions and a soft-boiled egg, all for under $10. It's such a popular place that you are likely to find a line out the door; even with three other locations in West L.A., Arcadia and Monterey Park, this outpost is always a busy place. They also serve up crispy gyoza dumplings, sushi rolls, teriyaki and an assortment of rice bowls, so come hungry. Note that this Daikokuya is cash only. (213-626-1680)
When Chef Katsuya Uechi wanted to open a place where he could actually spend some quality time, he chose Studio City and named the place Kiwami. Katsuya, who owns six other restaurants in the Katsu-ya Group as well as partners with SBE for the nine Katsuya by Starck eateries around the world, offers an omakase (chef's selection) meal at Kiwami that he selects and prepares. It comes at market price, and you'll need a reservation to experience his personal touch. At other times, try his Japanese version of tapas (served only at Happy Hour), like a Shrimp Shumai Dumpling or a Spicy Tuna Handroll. At dinner, don't miss the Crab Stuffed Tuna Sashimi lollipop and indulge in the Seafood Tajin Pot. There's plenty more to try, and even if the chef isn't personally preparing your meal, it's still one of the best in town. (818-763-3910)
Hide Sushi is a family-run restaurant in Little Osaka, the Westside's Japanese enclave. Open since 1979, the small, homey place is low on frills, with no "chic and trendy" component to it at all. Instead, Hide offers up classic Japanese tastes for lunch and dinner, from sashimi and sushi to tempura, teriyaki, miso soup and more. They make their own sauces -- teriyaki, tempura, ponzu and salad dressing -- in house, all closely guarded secret recipes that keep locals coming back for more. Hide offers beer and cold or hot sake, but no hard liquor. No reservations are accepted and no credit cards, it's cash only here. (310-477-7242)
SUGARFISH By Sushi Nozawa
At SUGARFISH By Sushi Nozawa, everything is freshly prepared, right down to the house-made soy sauce and ponzu. But don't expect a lot of either of those, as Chef Kazunori Nozawa presents his delicious sushi ready to eat. In fact, he's gotten his "Sushi Nazi" reputation by insisting patrons eat his food exactly as it is served. He must be doing something right, with his "Trust Me" and "Trust Me/Lite" omakase-style offerings, which consist of sushi, sashimi and hand rolls, for there are now eight SUGARFISH By Sushi Nozawa locations, from Marina del Rey and Santa Monica to Calabasas and Studio City. And don't be surprised to see a well-known Hollywood star sitting nearby, for Nozawa has a big celebrity following, too. (323-488-3636)
Yamashiro Hollywood is one of the most iconic restaurants in all of Los Angeles, simply by virtue of its fantastic location and decor. Set above Hollywood Boulevard in a gorgeous pagoda with stunning views of the whole city below, Yamashiro also boasts a beautiful Japanese garden and classic interior. What began as a private home in 1911 has long been a classic Japanese restaurant serving up everything from sushi to shoyu-glazed black cod, with some seafood tempura, seaweed salad and Asian baby back ribs thrown in too. There have been rumors around town that Yamashiro may lose its lease to developers at some point in 2015, so now is the time to check out this L.A. classic. (323-466-5125)
Once named one of the ten best restaurants in the world by The New York Times, Matsuhisa began life in 1987, when Nobu Matsuhisa chose this small spot on La Cienega Boulevard to open his very first restaurant. It was the beginning of an empire, as Nobu combined flavors from his native Japan with tastes of Peru, where he had lived and cooked for a number of years. Now approaching its 30-year anniversary, the restaurant still offers sublime sushi as well as a complete menu of everything from black cod (the chef's signature dish), Kobe beef, rock shrimp tempura and a vast sake and cocktail selection to wash it all down. (310-659-9639)
Sushi Roku — Santa Monica
Sushi Roku has been wowing locals and tourists alike in Los Angeles for many years, with the first location near the Beverly Center, followed by Santa Monica and Pasadena. All under the helm of master sushi chef Hiroshi Shima, Sushi Roku started the trend of super-sophisticated Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, with its rock-and-roll sensibility in everything from decor to music -- it's nothing like a traditional, quiet sushi spot. But the sushi and sashimi are always first rate (don't miss the seared albacore sashimi drenched in garlic ponzu) and the fusion dishes combining French and Japanese influences always satisfy. Be sure to try the signature Hanabi, spicy tuna on crispy rice. It's a fantastic taste sensation. (310-458-4771)
K-Zo chef and owner Keizo Ishiba chose the burgeoning restaurant strip along Culver Boulevard in Culver City to open his celebrated eatery. Known for his fusion of traditional Japanese small plates, sashimi and sushi with the French style he learned during his culinary apprenticeship, Ishiba constantly delights the neighborhood with his inventive fare. Love Miso Soup? You'll fine it here. Rather have Bouillabaisse? That's on the menu too. Share small plates of Salmon Kama (broiled collar with ponzu sauce), Tuna Carpaccio and Dynamite Green Mussels; or order Ishiba's version of omakase, called a prix fixe dinner here in honor of that French influence. No matter what you try, it is bound to be delicious here. (310-202-8890)
Katsuya by Starck - L.A. LIVE
For some of L.A.'s best sushi and coolest scene going, head over to Katsuya by Starck L.A. Live. This outpost of the restaurant chain helmed by Chef Katsuya Uechi and designed by Philippe Starck must be seen to be believed. But don't let the hip decor fool you; this place is serious about its sushi. Try the signature Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno and don't miss the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna. We'd suggest simply putting yourself in the chef's hands with the omakase ($75); you cannot go wrong. And don't miss the Flaming Mandarin cocktail, for it is a taste sensation like no other. Keep your eyes open, too, for there's always a chance to see a few famous faces at the table right next to you, enjoying their favorite Katsuya delicacy. (213-747-9797)
Los Angeles is where it all began for Nobu Matsuhisa, the acknowledged king of Japanese cuisine, who now has high-end eateries all over the world. His first restaurant, Matsuhisa, is a tiny place on La Cienega Boulevard; Nobu Los Angeles is further north up that same street; and the prettiest of them all, Nobu Malibu, is perched right on the sand on Pacific Coast Highway in the heart of that posh beach community. Malibu gets our vote for the best of three solely on location, for the gorgeous ocean views and sleek restaurant design somehow make Nobu's signature dishes like Black Cod Miso and Yellowtail with Jalapeno seem even more delicious when eaten there (and they are seriously fantastic no matter where you taste them). (310-317-9140)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
Read more about Jenny Peters here.