Pulling into a nondescript Western Avenue strip mall in Gardena, opening an unmarked door, and finding a new drinking den where you can order shochu and on-draft craft beers is the kind of unlikely experience that makes living in L.A. a joy.
But it’s after you start drinking a Golden Road 329 Days of Sun lager at Shu-Bar, look at the vintage pachinko machine (just for display), and then ask for a food menu when things really get delightfully strange.
Soon, there will be a $1.50 chorizo taco next to your chopsticks on the table. The taco wouldn’t be out of place at an East L.A truck, and the secret-recipe red salsa alongside it is something we end up keeping on our table all evening because it’s really good when you dip Japanese drinking food in it. It works with fried chicken skins and umami-bomb skewers like chicken meatballs wrapped in shiso and enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon. It even works with agedashi tofu.
Shu-Bar is a two-month-old izakaya that serves dinner from adjacent ramen-ya Shu-Chan. The bar is operated by Remi and Tsuyoshi “Yoshi” Hisataka, a sister-and-brother team who are the children of Shu-Chan’s Shuji and Mariko Hisataka.
Remi and Yoshi are pouring a rotating selection of local craft beers alongside Asian selections. On the night we visited, draft options also included Three Weavers ESB and Imperial Stout plus the requisite Sapporo and Asahi. Beyond beer, there were California red, white, and bubblies, plus shochus like Suzume, Kurouma Gold, and Kirishima, all available by the glass or bottle, with no bottle costing more than $42.
So this is an easy place to linger, or to have a 30-person holiday party like the one that took over most of the cozy space on the Friday evening we popped by.
But back to the crazy food menu. Mariko was the ramen chef at Iroha, Gardena’s beloved Marukai market noodle shop. Iroha closed in the summer, not long after Mariko left the stand.
“My mom is the hardest-working person, and everyone loves her,” Remi says proudly, adding that Mariko is the type of tireless chef who can do the jobs of three people. “They probably just couldn’t figure out how to fill that void.”
The Hisataka family once ran a Torrance restaurant, also called Shu-Chan. That closed about eight years ago, and after what Remi tells me was some years of struggles, the parents finally got a second chance at opening their dream restaurant.
Shu-Chan isn’t just a family story, though. It’s also kind of an extended family story, about a group of chefs who have had this new restaurant brewing in their mind for years.
Eduardo and Marina Morales are close friends and business partner of the Hisatakas. Eduardo was in the Torrance kitchen too, and now he and Marina have put chorizo and asada tacos on the new Shu-Chan’s menu. Marina’s salsa recipe is held so tight that even Remi doesn’t know how to make the red sauce.
Plus, you know what happens when you get a talented Mexican chef and a ramen master in the same kitchen. Chorizo ramen is what happens!
This bowl of noodles with ground sausage and egg in a shoyu broth no doubt pairs well with all kinds of beers. But it’s actually light compared to a lot of ramens, much less fatty than a tonkotsu with pork belly chashu. That said, a generous $5 half-order might be more than enough if you’re ordering skewers too.
The new Shu-Chan isn’t even five months old, but it already seems fully formed, which isn’t surprising when you learn who’s behind it. Shu-Bar, though, is a work in progress. The lack of signage isn’t because Remi and Toshi are trying to run some kind of secret-knock speakeasy. They’re developing their bar with a relaxed timetable and are still working out what they want to put outside. They’ll also be adding a late-night menu, taking over their parents’ kitchen after the restaurant closes at 10 p.m.
“We’re really still in the thinking process,” Remi says. They served poke on one recent night and might do so again. They’re not planning ramen, but will likely have bar snacks like fries or tater tots. Yoshi might even have his dad teach him how to make some yakitori skewers.
Shu-Bar, 15915 S. Western Ave., unit B, Gardena, 310-719-7102