Cheap Eats: Japanese


Icon by Peter Hoey

The owners of Atch-Kotch have brought a little bit of their sitting room to their dining room. She knits; he does crosswords. This has long been the place to go in Hollywood for Japanese noodles. The menu revolves around ramen, udon, and soba. The food is refined, the prices modest. A bowl of ramen comes draped with truffle-like shavings of barbecued pork. The accompanying shrimp-fried rice bears the sear of the wok. » 1253 N. Vine St., Ste. 5, Hollywood, 323-467-5537.

Kokekokko doesn’t ramp up, it explodes into action. Every seat is taken within moments of opening. Chicken hearts arrive threaded on a skewer. Then comes the gizzard—a miniature gamy bite—and the dango (a crowd-pleasing, charred chicken meatball). To their credit, the chefs still manage to radiate slacker ennui while working at warp speed. The lack of formality isn’t rudeness, it’s a necessity given that someone’s always waiting. If you’re not ordering, eating, or drinking, you’re out. » 203 S. Central Ave., downtown, 213-687-0690.

Yakitori chefs are masters of grilling skewers of chicken over Japanese coals. At West L.A.’s Nanbankan all the chicken parts are offered, but vegetables are a strong suit. Many—such as okra and green beans—are wrapped in a sheath of bacon. Corn is served on the cob or with the kernels cut off and presented in a bowl; blackened from heat and hit with a squeeze of lemon, it’s sublime. » 11330 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A., 310-478-1591.

Most local soba makers specialize in only one noodle type, and even fewer produce it by hand. Chef Seiji Akutsu offers three handmade soba varieties—each with a photo illustration on the menu—plus superb, spongy udon. Some pricier entrées—Berkshire pork and sashimi plates—are worth the splurge, but the best soba slides in just within our budget. » 16525 S. Western Ave., Gardena, 310-532-9348.

The yakitori chef here wears his headband with the aplomb of the Karate Kid. The customers, mostly workers from the Japanese companies headquartered nearby, swap stories and nurse longnecks while waiting for their skewers. Chicken liver, giblet, and heart are basted with shoyu on the grill. Chicken skin is presented as a sputtering, salted lozenge. At meal’s end the patrons linger by the glow of the coals. » 18517 S. Western Ave., Gardena, 310-715-1588.