Teens flock to Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Olympic for the streetwear and karaoke, their parents for traditional household goods, and everyone else for the food. When it comes to Japanese culture, Little Tokyo gets more attention (and tourists), but Sawtelle is the local favorite. Settled by immigrant farming families at the beginning of the 20th century, its residents were forcibly uprooted during WWII. Strong ties drew the internees back to start up businesses; these days the grandkids are staking their own claim.
Photography by Mindee Choi
1 Satsuma Oriental Imports
The shop has been a fixture for so long, co-owner Don Sakai is known as “the mayor.” He handpicks just about everything, including Shigara-Yaki vases, vintage kimonos, and Shiseido products (the store was among the first in North America to stock the skin care line). » 2029 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-473-3946.
2 Happy Six
If Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls designed a retail store, this bubblegum-pink shop might be the cheery result. Asian-influenced characters in psychedelic colors adorn backpacks and hats, skate-boards and watches, with lines such as tokidoki and Hello Kitty punctuating the mix. Prices are aimed squarely at the Forever 21 demographic. » 2115 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-479-5363.
Sushi restaurants aren’t exactly sparse in these parts. While Hide Sushi up the street is consistently jammed, what elevates this smaller, quieter establishment is the quality of the seasonal rolls and sashimi (we’re suckers for the smoky salmon). Entrées such as the Ecuadoran-style ceviche take their cues from Southeast Asia and South America. » 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., 310-478-7769.
Photography by Mindee Choi
4 Tokyo Japanese Lifestyle
From individually wrapped cotton swabs to Hello Kitty bath chammies to pink eyebrow razors, every inch of this store is crammed with household goods one might file under the category “Things You Didn’t Know You Needed But Now Can’t Live Without.” Browsing the tchotchkes can be a dizzying exercise; relax with a boba tea next door. » 2109 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-914-5320.
While this seven-table restaurant is known for its skewered chicken, assembled from different parts of the bird, it also offers vegetable and other meat varieties. Skewers are cooked over aromatic bincho charcoal and delivered one by one, to be savored without distraction. » 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 101, 310-479-5400; dinner only.
6 Asahiya Bookstores
Magazine junkies, rejoice: The glossies assembled at this airy Japanese bookstore, including the Tokyo street fashion bible Vivi and Japanese versions of titles like Elle and Bazaar, frequently hit shelves the same day they do overseas. You’ll find books, CDs, and DVDs, too, though prices can be steep; consult the charts along the aisles to check the conversions from yen. » 2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Ste. 207A, 310-575-3303.
7 Asahi Ramen
Follow the trail of doggie bags to this popular restaurant, where about $8 buys a colossal portion of steaming ramen soup full of shredded chicken, tempura, and vegetables—enough to sustain for at least two meals (or three, in our case). If you share our dumpling obsession, order the wonton ramen; it arrives with nearly a half-dozen pork-stuffed gyoza floating in the hearty broth. » 2027 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-479-2231.
8 Black Market LA
The T-shirt gets prominent placement at this sizable boutique, where you’ll find rows of neatly folded graphic cotton numbers from dozens of streetwear labels. We love the Kanye-approved sneakers from cult brand Creative Recreation. » 2023 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-966-1555.
Photograph by Mindee Choi
9 Nijiya Market
This outfit carries Japanese foodstuffs of all kinds, many of them organic. Pick up the basics for staging a classic meal, from soy sauce and sticky rice to sake and fresh salmon roe. For the less ambitious, dozens of to-go meals, like spicy tuna rolls and teriyaki chicken bowls, are made on-site, and many are under $7 (take that, Whole Foods). » 2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Ste. 105, 310-575-3300.
10 Max Karaoke Studio
There are several karaoke stops on this strip, but they all try a little too hard. This bare-bones place is not a bar yet maintains late hours (it’s open until 3 a.m.) and a BYO policy. Pick up a six-pack of Asahi from the minimall’s liquor store and settle into one of 12 rooms, each decked out with a big-screen TV and mics. » 2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Ste. 101, 310-479-1477.
11 Massage Therapy Center
The petite day spa—a 2001 Best of L.A. winner—has many comforts (eucalyptus steam room, robes, skin treatments) but not the frenetic vibe of larger venues. » 2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Ste. 207, 310-444-8989.
12 Hashimoto Nursery
The 82-year-old family-run nursery is the area’s oldest. Once a wholesale garden supply specializing in fuchsias, it thrives thanks to the high-maintenance gardens of nearby Bel-Air, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills. » 1935 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-473-6232.
Photograph by Mindee Choi
13 Bar Hayama
Locals mourned the loss of Sushi Sasabune, which occupied this space for ten years. It’s a good thing, then, that the replacement, run by chef Toshi Sugiura, turns out consistently excellent small plates (kozara), sushi, and macrobiotic dishes. Food is served at one of three intimate bars or outside in one of the city’s prettiest spaces, a quiet courtyard complete with fire pit. » 1803 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-235-2000.
Just the facts: Date established: 1853. Local landmark: West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple, around the corner on Corinth Avenue. Who knew? Mike Naoe of Bob’s Sporting Goods creates top-tier deep-sea fishing rods that feature intricate custom-threading, a dying technique. Finger food: The tebasaki chicken wings at Furaibo are dusted with savory-sweet spices. Best place to smoke shisha: Café Dahab, near Santa Monica Boulevard, also serves authentic Egyptian cooking, including koshari and kabobs.
Teens flock to Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Olympic for the streetwear and karaoke, their parents for traditional household goods, and everyone else for the food. When it comes to Japanese culture, Little Tokyo gets more attention (and tourists), but Sawtelle is the local favorite.