LAGuide

Where To Eat & Drink On Sawtelle

Just off the 405, Sawtelle is one of the best streets for eating in Los Angeles.

Remember when Sawtelle Blvd. was just an optional service road for you and your crippling stress spikes on the 405 during rush hour? While certain stretches of Sawtelle might still only serve that purpose, the handful of blocks sitting between Olympic Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. have evolved into something else entirely in the past decade.

“Sawtelle Japantown” goes far beyond outstanding Japanese food—some of the city’s best Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Taiwanese, and Chinese restaurants also call Sawtelle home, along with a few American spots too. Sure, you’ll probably have a showdown over a parking spot and are guaranteed to stand in a line at some point, but that’s just part of the fun. Here’s our guide to one of LA’s best eating streets.


THE SPOTS

Chinchikurin review image
8.2

Chinchikurin

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Chichikurin is a prime example of what makes Sawtelle so special—a highly specific restaurant, serving just one, highly specific thing: Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. The dish is often translated to  “savory pancake,” but it’s so much more than that—wheat flour batter is combined with cabbage, meat, and seafood over a teppan grill to create a huge, fluffy mound. In the Southern Japanese city, grilled yakisoba noodles and an egg are added on top. Although there are multiple, smoky stalls serving okonomiyaki per block in Hiroshima, it’s a version you don’t see much in LA. Get the traditional-style one here (the others are kind of doing too much) and a cup of barley tea.

Sawtelle is home to some of the biggest power players in LA ramen where daily wait times are counted by the hour. Our advice? Skip all the hype and go to Menya Tigre instead. This tiny noodle shop rarely has a wait and also specializes in something you can’t find anywhere else on Sawtelle—Japanese curry ramen. The broth is a rich blend of curry and salty chicken stock that’s topped with a slice of braised pork chashu and fresh, crunchy bean sprouts and green onions. When it all comes together with the chewy noodles down below, it’s a delicious, expertly made bowl of soup that hits the spot when those random cloudy days threaten to ruin your energy. Be sure to also try the equally flavorful Keema, a dry curry noodle that comes topped with pico de gallo, corn, and shredded chili peppers.

Like using a third-party authenticator app, a meal at Mogu Mogu requires a bit of effort. But unlike trying to type in a ten-digit code in under half a minute while a random clock keeps flashing lights at you, you’ll actually enjoy it. The specialty here is mazemen, a type of ramen that’s served brothless and comes with chili peppers, soy sauce, and extremely specific eating instructions. To create their signature sauce, you first combine the noodles with a variety of toppings (like poached eggs, chives, and spicy minced pork) for “about 30 seconds,” then add their Umami Vinegar midway through (and not before). Is it a lot of work, bordering on meticulous? Sure. But when you’re working your way through a bowl of thick noodles, each evenly coated with sauce, you’ll have no one to thank but yourself. Well, and the chef who actually, you know, made it. It’s a collaboration

Tsujita is the undisputed king of Sawtelle, and those perpetually long lines are waiting for one thing: Tsukemen. This “dip” style ramen means cold noodles and dense broth are served separately and it’s up to you to combine them. The good news: the line is absolutely worth it. Although, they also have another location, Tsujita Annex, right across the street, which serves a version with a richer broth. Both are great, so we’d just opt for whichever has the shortest wait.

​​Hide does not have the best sushi in LA, but this traditional spot offers a calm, serene environment and affordable prices. The menu is filled with several different sashimi and sushi platters under $20—all of which are a much better bet than the mediocre conveyor belt sushi options nearby. The fish will be higher quality, and it won’t be much more expensive. Stop at the ATM on your way in though, they’re cash only.

Big Boi is only concerned with two things: Filipino comfort food and lots of it. Pancit noodles spill off the plate, mounds of sisig are drizzled in spicy mayonnaise, and lumpia is sold by the bucket (which includes 35 pieces if you were wondering). The order-at-the-counter shop is run by Barb Batiste, the chef behind neighboring B Sweet, and if you’re looking for even more flavor, Big Boi also offers an epic Kamayan feast which comes with all the traditional favorites, plus additions like lobster tail, soft shell crab, crab legs, and bone marrow.

Rex Bakery on Sawtelle is a tiny, family-run bakery with excellent homemade desserts and baked goods. Their signature items are cream puffs, which come out flakey and fluffy, and the kind of pastry you’re required to eat at least three of in one sitting. And yes, we have hard personal data on that last part. All that said, our favorite thing behind the case is the Shirini Napelini. Layers of flaky pastry are filled with a tart homemade cream and topped with a slightly sweet whipped cream. It’s crunchy, sour, and exceptionally well-balanced. Grab a box of nan-e nokhodchi, bite-size chickpea cookies with cardamom, and you’ve got yourself an excellent dessert haul. Cash only.

Even in a neighborhood famous for its Japanese restaurants, Nanbankan stands out. Their dining room feels like a portal straight to Tokyo—everyone is sipping sake, kabuki art hangs from the walls, and at the center are two giant yakitori grills enveloped in smoke. The traditional yakitoriya serves almost anything on a skewer, from pork loin delicately wrapped in shiso leaves to salty quail eggs, plus other options like sunomono and grilled onigiri. But the real action is on the chalkboard, where you’ll find a rotating list of specials like live scallops, black cod, and Wagyu beef so wonderful and tender, you’d think it were a budding romance in a rom-com. Try to snag a seat at the bar. 

There are a few options for Korean food in West LA, but Tofu Ya will always be Old Faithful. Stop in for a sundubu combo, and see for yourself. The “spicy” tofu soup here is more like a “medium” when compared to Koreatown spice levels. It comes loaded with soft, jiggly tofu that sucks up the piping hot beef broth, and all of the funk from the kimchi—perfect for a gloomy night in LA. For the other half of your combo, we suggest the bulgogi or galbi. The sweet-leaning meat comes sizzling on a skillet of onions, and passersby will probably rubberneck to see the source of the mouthwatering smell. For just over $20, this sundubu, bulgogi, barchan combo can’t be beat in this part of town, just know the space has brutal lighting and no alcohol.

Sawtelle has never lacked in exciting openings, but unfortunately, the old-school staples are starting to dwindle. Consider Furaibo one of the last remaining hold-outs. This izakaya is just like you’d find in Japan—a dark space with some separate tatami rooms, beer and sake glasses that will never be empty, and bite-sized food to make sure the beer doesn’t go straight to your head. It’s big and full of tables, so gather the crew, order multiple rounds of sweet and crunchy tebasaki-style chicken wings, and come get a bit rowdy.

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Kaz The Soba Place

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Kaz is the only soba specialist on Sawtelle. Next time you’re quoted an hour at Tsujita, consider fulfilling that ramen craving with buckwheat noodles instead. The soba here is expert level—springy and hand-cut, the noodles absorb whatever sauce or broth you decide to pair with them. We like the hearty Osaka, with sukiyaki beef and comforting broth. But on a warmer day, you can always go for dip soba (The Tokyo) which comes with cold broth and some fresh vegetable garnishes. And at $4 an order, the chicken karaage appetizer is practically impossible to skip—especially since it's some of the best we’ve had on the street. 

Between chorizo burgers, pork belly bánh mì, and slow-roasted pork shank, this Filipino restaurant (originally from Silver Lake) goes the whole hog on, well, hog. The decadent protein shines differently in every dish, like lechon kawali fried to a crisp, or pork adobo cooked slowly with soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic. The star of the show, and Spoon & Pork’s signature dish, is the deep-fried patita, a massive hunk of meat doused in garlic vinegar and served over jasmine rice. It’s big enough for two—even if that “two” is just you and yourself.

Located on the second floor of a U-shaped plaza—home to Nijiya Market, Daiso, and a forgotten Hurry Curry sign—is Midoh, a casual Japanese restaurant that specializes in home-style cooking. Much like an under-budget indie film, the set-up here is pretty low-frills: you sit at wooden tables, eat under fluorescent lighting, and try to decide whether or not that globe painting on the ceiling is intentional, or left over from a previous store. There’s a lot going on with the menu, from hamburger steaks smothered in cheese to ketchup-covered “neapolitan” udon, but we prefer the simpler dishes, like omurice or a surprisingly soul-nourishing corn soup. The omurice comes wrapped in a layer of fluffy egg and drizzled in demi-glace (curry’s also an option), a warm, soothing dish that feels like being swaddled in a giant comforter from the inside.

Standing in line to eat is a fact of life on Sawtelle, and Marugame Udon is one of the newest places where you’ll do just that. This noodle spot is set up cafeteria-style—stand in the theme park-like line out front before choosing your bowl of udon (we like the beef-tsuke) and then rolling your tray down the counter and grabbing some tempura to top your noodles with. If you’re in a rush, it’s best to hit it outside prime lunch hours.

On a chilly 72-degree day in LA, few things beat a bowl of Nong La pho by your lonesome. With locations on both Sawtelle and La Brea, the modern Vietnamese cafe has built a large following around its efficient service and excellent Vietnamese comfort food. The sesame steak banh mi and pork noodle salad are other must-orders for when you come back by yourself tomorrow.

Volcano Tea House

$$$$3104455326
Hours:FRI
11AM-2AM

There are too many boba places to count in the Sawtelle area now, but Volcano Tea will always have our hearts. This strip mall establishment has been here for as long as we can remember, and the quality of the boba itself is notably high—always freshly cooked with just the right balance between squishy and firm. While they have small boba, tons of jellies and flavors, and other toppings, we like to stick with a class jade or oolong milk tea here—or if it's summer, a fresh watermelon slushy. 

Just off Sawtelle, around the corner on LA Grange behind Mizu 212—is a tiny window where you can order some very good Japanese fried chicken. Get it with rice and your choice of dipping sauce (the sriracha aioli is the way to go) and grab one of the few seats out front for a quick and easy lunch. Not in the mood for chicken? The loco moco is also good, which comes covered in a dark, molasses-like gravy.

If you’ve had a bad day, or the weather has dropped below 70 degrees, it’s time for Mizu 212. This shabu shabu spot is our healthy comfort food go-to in the area. It’s ideal for rolling up to in your sweatpants on a Tuesday night, cooking some meats and vegetables in a big bowl of soup, and feeling mostly good about your life choices. Especially if you add their special sauce to everything.

Seoul - House of Tofu

If you’re looking for Korean food in a slightly more upscale setting than Tofu Ya, head to Seoul Garden. They also excel in the sundubu combo department, but the prices are slightly higher and the banchan aren’t quite as exciting. Head here instead of Tofu Ya for a sit-down meal with friends where you’ll drink plenty of beer and soju while inhaling tofu stew and sweet, salty meat. 

Killer Noodle is another ramen spot from the noodle experts at Tsujita, but here they serve a Japanese version of dan dan noodles. It’s called tantanmen, and at Killer Noodle it comes at six different spice levels and in a couple of different styles. Once you’ve conquered the (often significant) wait, we’d recommend the sesame-based Tokyo style (at a still-spicy-enough level 3).

Kiriko is Sawtelle Blvd.’s sushi middle ground—not a cheap conveyor belt place, but not somewhere you have to sacrifice a car payment for either. They do several lunch and dinner combinations, or you can order your sushi a la carte, but omakase is really the way to go. For $50 you’ll get nine or so pieces of sushi, plus miso soup, salad and a hand roll. The fish is fantastic quality, and they don’t just serve the greatest hits—expect things like Japanese barracuda, house-smoked salmon, and your toro to come out seared.

Yakitoriya is one of our favorite low-key date spots in all of the city. It's a husband-and-wife-run skewer spot where you'll get about seven skwewers per person, ranging from simple things like eggplant and chicken thigh to more fun stuff, like gizzards, hearts, and skin. Their gyoza and other appetizers are great as well. Just know, you'll leave reeking of smoky meats.

The ramen place you wait 45 minutes for also has a fantastic sushi spot just up the block. And though dinner tends to run well over $100 per person, lunch is much more affordable. They have an excellent chirashi bowl and if you do want to go for the omakase, it’s a slightly more reasonable $80. Certainly not the best deal in town, but the quality at Tsujita is undisputed.

This social media celebrity is one of the rare ones that actually tastes as good as it looks. In fact, it might even taste better. This soft serve shop has a few menu items to choose from, but your obvious move is the Sweetie—vanilla milk ice cream with all-natural honey swirled in. Add the extra honeycomb on top.

The line at the Sawtelle Daikokuya is only slightly shorter than at the Little Tokyo original, but the good news is that it’s still worth the wait. The pork-fat infused ramen is always fantastic (because it’s pork-fat infused) and as a bonus you can pretend you’re Scarlett Johansson thanks to the Sofia-Coppola-Tokyo-Fever-Dream aesthetic inside.

One word: Halo. This pressed ice cream sandwich is essentially an ice cream scoop of your choosing stuffed inside a hot donut. And though they give you flavor choices, the only one you should concern yourself with is Ube, a.k.a. purple yam. Also, roll up in the morning for an excellent cup of coffee.

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