We’re calling it now: L.A. is set to enter a new golden age of Japanese food. Yes, we’ve long been obsessed with strip mall sushi and South Bay noodle shops. But thanks to a wave of creative chefs pushing past tradition, and respected Japanese chains eager for expansion, words like izakaya, omakase, and kaiseki have become embedded in our culinary lexicon.
And why not? Most cities are lucky to have one Japanese district; we have three, and that’s only the start. We’re home to trailblazing chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa, a 114-year-old mochi shop, chargrilled chicken masters, and bowls of tonkotsu ramen so savory, they’ll haunt you days later. No matter what you’re craving, the city’s multitude of inspired Japanese restaurants aim to satisfy.
All that’s left to say is itadakimasu (“Let’s eat!”).
Best Bowls of Noodles
With styles imported from across Japan, L.A.’s ramen, soba, and udon noodle scene is boiling hot right now. We say, get to slurpin’.
16 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena
Noodles: Thin, straight.
Toppings: Chashu pork, onion oil, chili-miso paste, scallions, mushrooms, bean sprouts.
Fun Fact: Koku roughly means “robust taste,” which is why this bowl arrives extra-seasoned with pork fat and garlic, a style popular on the pig- obsessed island of Kyushu.
3760 S Centinela Ave,. Los Angeles
Noodles: Thin, curly.
Toppings: Chashu pork, scallions, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, fish cake, sesame seeds, pickled plum.
Fun Fact: The chain’s signature steep-sided bowls ensure that the ramen stays hot during cold Hokkaido winters.
2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
Noodles: Thin, straight.
Toppings: Chashu pork, egg, scallions, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, dried seaweed.
Fun Fact: To produce the velvety broth, pork bones are simmered for more than 60 hours (at peak times the wait outside the shop can seem equally long).
2012 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
Noodles: Thick, straight.
Toppings: Chashu chicken, egg, scallions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, dried seaweed.
Fun Fact: This rich broth is made from pure tori (poultry). Each bowl contains a pound of simmered bones.
18537 S. Western Ave., Gardena
Noodles: Thick, curly.
Toppings: Chashu pork, scallions, corn, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, black sesame seeds, butter.
Fun Fact: Hokkaido is known for its dairy production—thus, the slab of butter.
515 Washington Blvd., Marina Del Rey
Noodles: Thick, handmade.
Toppings: Chashu pork, egg, scallions, bamboo shoots.
Fun Fact: The dish’s name means “Chinese noodles,” a nod to its origin.
6525 S. Western Ave., Gardena
One of the South Bay’s oldest soba-ya (soba shops), Otafuku is prized for its delicate handmade buckwheat noodles. Try them hot, swimming in dashi broth, or cold with a smoky dipping sauce.
329 E. 1st St., Los Angeles
Think of udon as soba’s fatter, chewier cousin. Strands here are rolled and cut by hand; toppings range from miso-laced carbonara to cold bukkake (smothered) udon with bonito flakes, egg, and grated radish.
Best Omakase Under $100
In L.A. you can spend a fortune at Urasawa or bliss out on the cheap in a strip mall. That’s the life when you have the nation’s best selection of sushi. But the real magic is happening midrange as chefs blend the modern and traditional to create stellar omakase meals.
1. Sushi Nozomi
1757 W. Carson St., Torrance, $38
The South Bay fixture serves textbook, tastefully garnished sushi. The “chef’s choice sushi” includes ten nigiri made with whatever seafood your itamae (sushi chef) has selected that day, plus a negitoro (fatty tuna with scallions) hand roll to finish. It’s also known for offering the best Santa Barbara uni in L.A.
9162 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, $40
Choose from six omakase tiers; the basic one includes sashimi, seven nigiri, and a hand roll. Nobi Kusuhara—who trained under Sugarfish’s Kazunori Nozawa—embraces the warm rice style Nozawa made famous.
1414 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach, $48
Kurisaki is of the Matsuhisa school: Its chef-owner worked with Nobu-san for more than a decade. “Assorted sushi” (ten nigiri and a hand roll) includes modern flourishes like yuzu kosho on seared toro.
12244 W. Pico Blvd., Sawtelle, $47
Few sushi chefs have gained a cult following like Asanebo alum Shunji Nakao. Stop by for his “premium lunch special”—12 chef’s choice nigiri and a hand roll—and you’ll see why: He excels at fusing purist bona fides with inventive twists, like Japanese sea bass with kombu (kelp) salt.
410 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, $60
The underrated Shiki adheres to Edo traditions, a style focused on the subtle flavors of rice and expertly aged seafood. “Sushi omakase” ($70 at dinner) includes two appetizers, ten nigiri, and soup
11043 California Route 2., West L.A., $65
The 14-piece “Sushi Moriawase” at Yoya Takahashi’s Hamasaku has long been a Westside crowd pleaser: a middle ground between classic and inventive at a solid value—think sawara (Spanish mackerel) cured in shio koji or ikura (salmon roe) seasoned with yuzu rind.
7. Q Sushi
521 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, $75
Hiro Naruke ushered in L.A.’s era of true Edo-style sushi. Fish is aged for flavor and texture; rice is seasoned with red vinegar. Dinner is spendy, but the “Wakaba” lunch consists of 17 pieces (ten are nigiri).
17302 Ventura Blvd., Encino, $80
The modern nigiri toppings might seem familiar to Angelenos—true salt, gold flakes—but Sushi Zo veteran Ryota Okumura anchors his omakase with precise execution and Edo period technique, down to serving each fish at its correct temperature.
Best Bento Boxes
Despite what our therapist says, it’s OK to compartmentalize. Here are seven spots that don’t cut corners when it comes to the beloved bento box.
851 Cordova St., Pasadena
Mix and match seasonal deli salads at Shigefumi Tachibe’s contemporary Japanese deli, where Pasadena office crowds fill up on marinated eggplant and hijiki seaweed with soybeans.
2. Aburiya Raku
521 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood
At lunchtime score an eye-popping bento filled with the Japanese powerhouse’s greatest hits, from sashimi to charcoal-grilled Kobe beef. Oh, it’s available for Postmates delivery, too.
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena
A traditional morning spread—rice, miso soup, tofu, grilled fish, pickles, and a rolled tamagoyaki omelet—arrives arranged on a lacquered tray when you order the breakfast combo at this quaint wood-paneled diner.
1929 Westwood Blvd., West L.A.
Served in hexagonal bowls, these artful lunchtime bentos feature dishes such as soy-marinated salmon and okra with sesame sauce. But move quickly; only a handful are made each day.
5. Sakae Sushi
1601 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena
Since 1962, Sakae has been selling beautiful paper-wrapped boxes stacked with pickled mackerel oshizushi (pressed sushi) and spinach-filled nori-maki rolls. It’s like a box of chocolates, but better.
1816 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle
Nobuo and Mihoko Anzai have been running the Little Osaka mom-and-pop shop for decades. Bring cash, order the daily assorted bento, and be sure to say arigatou gozaimasu.
Jeffrey Ozawa and Jaimie Lewis deliver California-influenced ekiben boxes (a single-compartment style) to workers across the city. Check their Instagram feed for seasonal specials.
They are often translated as “stay sake shops,” blurring the line between pub and restaurant. Is it any surprise we’ve become obsessed with the Japanese equivalent of tapas?
1. Aburiya Raku
521 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood
Like its Vegas predecessor, this stalwart has become a reliable haunt for superb, unfussy drinking food.
11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Sawtelle
Toshi Sakamaki helms the grill at L.A.’s greatest yakitori shop, a subset of izakaya dedicated to flame-kissed chicken parts.
815 Hill St., Downtown
Inside a moody, semi-hidden restaurant, David Schlosser meditates on counter-service dishes like sea bream glazed with sour plum irizake and abalone with mochi.
424 E. 2nd St., Little Tokyo
Head to Yoshikazu Kondo and Jun Isogai’s Little Tokyo hideaway for wasabi-dotted beef tongue and sardine tempura, paired with rarefied sakes.
1880 W. Carson St., Torrance
The South Bay is rife with solid izakaya, but few compare to versatile Hachi, a cozy drinking den that nails the straight-from-Tokyo vibe.
Crispy and clean. Who can resist fresh tempura?
The food court stall in Mitsuwa Marketplace is renowned for its ten-don (tempura donburi): heaps of tempura splashed with sauce and mounded over rice. Don’t miss the fried soft-boiled egg.
2. Tempura Endo
9777 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
Tasting menus at this Kyoto-style gastro-temple start at $150, but the reward is exquisite. From sea urchin to Wagyu beef, no delicacy goes unbattered.
1740 Artesia Blvd., Gardena
Find juicy Karaage (fried chicken chunks) based on a 70-year-old recipe at this market vendor. Frying oil is changed daily to ensure a golden crust.
Here’s where to find pan-fried bliss.
Come for the ramen; stay for the gyoza. The popular noodle chain is famous for its recangular dumplings covered with chopped scallions.
1620 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena
On weekends at his supermarket stall, Kenichi Usui fries pleased dumplings (with house-made wrappers) until their bottoms are nicely burnished.
2002 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle
The Chinese-Japanese spot has a wide gyoza selection: giant-size, shrimp-filled, pepper-spiked. The standard ones—garlicky and delicate, folded like tortellini—are best.
Soft and stretchy, Japan’s classic dessert is an art form—sweet rice pounded into cloud-like dough, accented with a colorful array of fillings. For best results, head straight to these artisanal mochi makers.
315 E. 1st St., Little Tokyo
Family run for more than a century, the Little Tokyo shop has the charming feel of a vintage candy store. Daifuku mochi, rolled by hand and stuffed with sweet bean paste, are most traditional, but the ones filled with peanut butter are the big sellers.
16108 S. Western Ave., Gardena
Decorated with flowery bits to make them resemble fruits such as apple or persimmon, Chikara’s intricate creations look like precious gems. Ask for a gift box to have your mochi tied up in equally gorgeous wrapping.
16134 S. Western Ave., Gardena
The Fujita family has been making fresh mochi and manju (filled buns) at their humble shop since 1960. Rustic and simple (and only $1.50 each), the best include kinako-mochi (dusted with soybean powder) and kuri-mochi (filled with chestnuts).
118 Japanese Village Plaza Mal., Little Tokyo
Credited with inventing the first ice cream-filled mochi, the historic confectionary supplies Trader Joe’s—but better to get these chilled treats from the source.
Where to Eat on “Sushi Row”
Ventura Boulevard is home to Sushi Row, of course, an unrivaled stretch of fish specialists that dates from the 1960s. Here’s where to hit the highlights.
11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
The High Roller: The only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Valley wows for a price: Omakase (featuring top-grade Wagyu and sushi) runs around $140 per person. Order by the piece for a more affordable lunch.
12953 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
The Local Favorite: Hidden inside a renovated house, this hole-in-the-wall serves creative rolls like the salmon-filled JR Jr. Regulars know to ask the chefs for what’s fresh.
18713 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
The Group Hang: The mini-mall mainstay does fine albacore rolls, and the kushiyaki (grilled skewers) means there’s enough variety to please picky tablemates.
11680 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
The Originator: Before it became a sceney chain, Katsu-Ya was inventing fusion dishes like spicy tuna on crispy rice and baked crab hand rolls. This location still makes the city’s best.
Japanese Chefs to Watch in L.A.
Meet the chefs broadening L.A.’s definition of Japanese food.
The Noodle Evangelist
If you want to talk soba, go find Sakai. No one in America is more invested in recapturing the spirit of Japan’s culturally significant buckwheat noodle than this film producer turned cookbook author, teacher, and all-around booster of washoku (traditional Japanese food). Whether hosting workshops through her organization Common Grains, convincing local farmers like Alex Weiser to grow buckwheat, or selling handmade soba at Echo Park’s Cookbook, she pushes toward greater grain awareness with a holistic, ambitious outlook.
The Kaiseki Queen
Nakayama honed her technique while apprenticing under L.A. sushi masters, but it wasn’t until she was cooking at her relative’s ryokan (inn) in rural Niigata for three years that she found inspiration in the elegant, seasonally driven cuisine known as kaiseki—meticulous multi-course meals influenced by the traditions of Buddhism. Since opening in 2011, her acclaimed restaurant, n/naka, has found transcendence by translating one of Japan’s most cherished culinary formats with a voice that is unmistakably Californian.
The Prodigal Son
Go shaped his first piece of sushi at 15, working at the Seal Beach Japanese restaurant his father opened in the 1980s. Decades later, after apprenticing at Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo, he’s behind the cedar bar at Hayato, his tiny-but-ambitious restaurant in the Arts District, cooking seafood- focused kaiseki dinners for 12 guests per night. “In Japan there’s a culture of shokunin, or craftsman. That cooking inspires me,” he says.
Charles Namba & Courtney Kaplan
The twin pillars behind Echo Park’s Tsubaki first met at New York’s EN Japanese Brasserie. Namba, a Beverly Hills kid with Japanese roots, and Kaplan, a sommelier with a love for sake, bonded over Japan’s rustic tavern cooking. Relaxed but exacting, Tsubaki offers perspective on the modern L.A. izakaya—Santa Barbara rock cod tempura, local tofu with back garden tomatoes, and sake harmonizing alongside wines from Jura.
The Old-World Revivalist
“Ninety percent of American Japanese restaurants serve sushi,” observes Shibumi’s obsessive chef. “But sushi isn’t found at 90 percent of restaurants in Japan.” His point: We’ve barely scratched the surface of an immense food culture. Having helped open the staunchly traditional Urasawa, and after a stint as chef for the Japanese ambassador, Schlosser now draws on centuries-old techniques at his intimate kappo restaurant inside a downtown parking garage, melding the seasonal sophistication of kaiseki cuisine with the casual vibe of an izakaya.
The California Dreamer
In her previous life as an overworked Tokyo banker, Kuniko Yagi relished weekly visits from a woman who would deliver bento boxes to her office. “It was food that made me feel alive,” she says. After a disorienting move to L.A., she decided to pursue cooking full-time, a path that led to an appearance on Top Chef and an executive chef title at Hinoki & the Bird. Her next project—a DTLA Japanese fried chicken shop called Pikunico—pays tribute to the homespun food she remembers from her childhood.
Six years ago the head chef of West Hollywood’s Aburiya Raku was cooking on the Vegas Strip, the extent of his Japanese expertise measured in California rolls. But after he landed a job at Mitsuo Endo’s Raku in Vegas, lightning struck. Despite being the only non-Japanese cook on staff, Weaver emerged as a precocious apprentice—enough so that he was tapped to open Raku in L.A. You’ll find him behind the counter daily, slicing intricate sashimi platters worthy of being framed.
What to Buy at a Japanese Market
Whether you’re searching for electric rice cookers, Hello Kitty socks, or sushi-grade tuna, L.A.’s best Japanese grocery stores have you covered. The big chains—Marukai, Mitsuwa, and Nijiya—offer the widest selections, but there’s even more to discover. Consider this a shopping list for your next trip.
Steamer, braiser, and rice cooker in one, the sturdy clay vessel is the ancient equivalent of the Instapot.
2. The “Five Essentials”
L.A.-based cooking teacher Yoko Isassi tells her students to keep these staples handy (from left): hon-mirin (sweet rice wine), komezu (rice vinegar), sake (dry rice wine), shoyu (soy sauce), and miso (soybean paste).
3. Schimini Togarashi
You’ll often see this seven-spice blend on restaurant tables. Use a dash for a complex kick of chile heat.
Named for the “crunch” sound they make, Japan’s favorite snack sticks come in a rainbow of colors.
It’s time to upgrade beyond instant ramen. Earthy soba noodles (made with buckwheat flour) are packed with nutrients and protein, plus they’re delicious served (hot or cold) in a basic dashi broth.
6. Meiji Tofu
The Gardena operation is the only producer of Japanese artisanal tofu in L.A. One bite will ruin the cheap stuff for you.
7. Kasugai Gummies
Colorful, chewy, and made with real juice, these candies are gold. Best flavors: lychee, melon, and kiwi.
8. Hamanako Unagi
If canned seafood makes you squeamish, the sweet, saucy broiled eels (unagi), sourced from Japan’s tenth-largest lake, will change your mind. Serve with white rice and chopped scallions to create a game-changingly simple donburi (rice bowl).
Long a staple of convenience stores and supermarkets, humble handheld rice balls filled with pickles and proteins have been elevated by a few specialists around town. Our favorites are sold at Mama Musubi, a fixture at local farmers’ markets.
Want to look razor-sharp? Pick up Japanese Knife Imports’ Gesshin stainless 210 mm Wa-Gyuto ($125), a durable entry-level chef’s knife for home cooks and anyone keen on precision cutlery.
11. Kewpie Mayo
It’s hard to go back to Best Foods once you’ve tasted this adorable Japanese mayonnaise, which is richer and creamier than its stateside sibling. Echo Park’s Button Mash sneaks it into cheese corn for extra decadence.
A blend of seaweed, sesame, dried bonito, and other umami-rich bits, furikake is the ultimate savory seasoning. Sprinkle on rice, fish, or veggies.
13. Koda Farms Kokuho Rose Rice
This organic heirloom variety from California’s oldest family rice farm is favored by chefs like Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow.
14. Yuzo Kosho
Josef Centeno likes to pair this zesty fermented chile-and-citrus peel condiment with sea trout at Orsa & Winston.
Japan is home to the world’s highest concentration of vending machines, so it’s no surprise that its soft drinks are on point. Most popular is this fruity soda, sealed with a unique glass marble stopper.
Explore Japan’s vast green tea culture at the small tea shops inside most markets, which offer sencha (whole leaf) and matcha (powdered) teas as well as green tea-flavored treats like soft-serve.
Tangy, crunchy pickles are a crucial part of the Japanese meal. Find everything from preserved cucumbers to salted plums in the refrigerated section.
How to Find Your Favorite Sake
We know, staring down a sake list can be intimidating. Basic terms like junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo—which mostly denote how much the rice grains were milled—are the tip of the iceberg in capturing the diversity of Japan’s rice wine. That’s why we asked sommelier Courtney Kaplan of Echo Park’s Tsubaki to share some handy comparisons (right). Most of her picks can be found at the wineshop Domaine L.A.
If you like West Coast IPAs:
Chiyonosono ‘Kumamoto Shinriki’ Junmai Ginjo
Brewed with a prized heirloom rice strain called Shinriki, which produces a big powerful style. Slightly tropical, brightly acidic, with a hint of bitterness.
If you like floral white wines:
Kaiun Junmai Ginjo
Brewed in Shizuoka along Japan’s southern coast. Aromatics are a dead ringer for ripe tropical fruits, almost like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Soft and round in texture with lots of juiciness.
If you like gin martinis:
Eiko Fuji ‘Honkara’ Honjozo Karakuchi
A dry, crisp, snow- fresh style from a prefecture famous for its mountain hot springs. Smells like juniper and botanicals. Drink extra-chilled for an even more martini-like experience.
If you like savory red wines:
Shichida ‘75’ Junmai
Rice grains used to make this sake are less polished-down than most varieties, lending a rustic, full-bodied quality. Chewy texture with woodsy, earthy flavors. Excellent with grilled stuff.
Explore L.A.’s Most Unique and Unusual Japanese Restaurants
18202 S. Western Ave, Gardena
Can-Do Attitude: The shelves at fusiony tapas bar Can-Zo are stocked with colorful Japanese canned foods, from squid to scallops to Spam. Pick a tin and watch the kitchen transform it into a dish like peppery baked sardines.
5239 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood
Sake Bombers: North Hollywood’s famed Tokyo Delve’s is as fun as it is inauthentic—a neon party hall where Sapporo flows, sushi is smothered in sauce, and ’80s dance shows are nonstop.
3. Miyabi Uni
1231 Cabrillo Ave. Suite 101, Torrance
All Urchin Everything: Are your dreams filled with sweet, briny lobes of sea urchin? Try Miyabi Uni, a shellfish specialist that serves more than 20 uni-related dishes (custard, pasta, rice bowls).
900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Nigiri with a View: Spicy tuna on the 69th floor: That’s the appeal of Sora, a sleek conveyor-belt sushi bar at the top of L.A.’s tallest sky-scraper. Be sure to request a window seat.