Like cursive or sending a hand-written note to a loved one, the traditional Japanese breakfast set is becoming a lost art. Well, in Los Angeles, anyway. In the past year, over half of the restaurants that used to offer the savory, balanced dish have erased it from their menu, from Echo Park’s sando shop and bakery Konbi to the upscale Italian-Japanese restaurant Orsa and Winston to Gatsu Gatsu, a pop-up run by Todd Chang and Pearl River Deli’s Johnny Lee that was exclusively dedicated to the traditional set. So we scoured the internet, leaving no Yelp review, Google page, or Subreddit untouched, texted every in-the-know friend in our contact list, and even listened to Michelle Zauner on repeat, before finally coming up with this: a list of the three remaining LA restaurants still practicing the lost art of the Japanese breakfast.
Why is that list so short? Is it because it’s so labor-intensive to make? Each meal does come with four-to-six total dishes, and includes at least one soup, two sides, one protein, plus a few pickles. Or maybe it’s because it’s too subtle of a dish - unsuitable for a world that increasingly favors flavors that resemble a Daft Punk song (harder, better, saltier, sweeter, etc.).
So whenever we find Japanese breakfast on the menu, it sort of feels like a personal win - it’s the perfect meal to start the day with, even if that day happens to begin at 2pm. So here it is: an exhaustive, entirely thorough guide to traditional Japanese breakfast sets in LA.
Azay is a half-French, half-Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo where you’ll find the only Japanese breakfast being served in LA proper. It’s run by a tight-knit family that’s been in the community for decades, and eating here feels like watching a motivational TikTok or finding out about the Swedish sport known as kaninhoppning - or professional bunny hopping. In other words, you’ll be completely charmed. Their rendition on the Japanese breakfast is quite understated - nothing but a tray of broiled fish, tamago, tofu, miso soup, a side of rice, plus a few pickles. The broiled fish comes with a flakey top and charred bottom, but completely moist meat in the middle. Bright yellow eggs taste slightly sweet, and resemble the shape and size of an elementary school kid’s eraser. Plus, the portions are perfect - not too big, not too small, and you can walk away feeling full, without needing to undo a button on your pants.
Fukagawa Soba & Udon
On the rare occasion we wake up at an “acceptable time” for breakfast, there’s only one choice for us: Fukugawa. Tucked away in a hidden corner of Gardena’s sprawling Pacific Square Garden shopping center, you’ll find this peaceful, 30-year-old restaurant filled with families and friends getting lunch, and twenty-somethings either on their phones or potentially pondering whether or not they should get back on Accutane. There are four versions of the breakfast tray, but go with set D. The hunk of broiled fish is hefty, and surprisingly smoky (watch out for the bones), the miso soup is properly creamy, there’s a side of rice, and even natto - sticky, fermented soybeans that you’ll either love or never want to see again.
The newest name on this list by far is Yang’s Kitchen. The Alhambra restaurant returned in April 2021 after a year-long hiatus, and with a new addition to their menu - the Yang’s Set Meal. While it’s not the most traditional version of the Japanese breakfast, (it is made by a Taiwanese restaurant, after all), if we’ve learned anything from the unique episode construction on Midnight Diner, it’s that “untraditional” doesn’t always mean “lesser in quality.” It’s still a Japanese breakfast, in essence, but with a few personal touches - the rice is made with an organic blend of purple and forbidden rice, the miso soup tastes earthy, slightly porky, and comes with a very nice soy egg. All of which can be enjoyed on their new, spacious back patio, the perfect place for a quiet, solo meal or getting updates from your best friend on her latest crush.