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.
“Sawtelle Japantown” goes far beyond outstanding Japanese food - some of the city’s best Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Taiwanese, and Chinese restaurants all call Sawtelle home, along with a few American spots too. Sure, you’ll probably have a showdown over a parking spot and you 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.
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. 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 Los Angeles. But it does have fresh sushi at affordable prices. They do an 11-piece sashimi platter for $16.50 that’s a way better bet than the mediocre conveyer 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.
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.
Tentenyu is a Japanese import that’s been making ramen in Kyoto for over 40 years. Their broth is chicken-based, not pork - so it’s still fairly rich, but not so much that you want to fall asleep at your table. Also, there’s never a line here.
Just off Sawtelle - on La Grange behind the shabu shabu spot 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.
This place used to be Seoul Sausage Co., and while it’s still run by the same people (and still has a couple of fancy hot dogs), Korean Super is now serving much more stuff. There’s a French Dip-style Korean brisket sandwich, something they call a Bibim-Banh-Mi, a couple of rice bowls (including one filled with a rainbow of fish roe), and some short rib poutine for good measure. If you’d like to pretend you’re a college student again, you can also build-your-own instant ramen - although the foie gras you can add doesn’t come at college student prices. There are a few seats out front, but this is mostly a pick up and go situation.
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 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 addictive special sauce to everything.
The importance of the arrival of soup dumplings on the Westside cannot be understated. Is ROC as good as Din Tai Fung? Probably not. But we’re still enjoying ourselves too much here to be worrying about that. This place is affordably priced and serves some of the only good dumplings east of downtown LA.
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).
Yakitoriya is a restaurant that requires a bit of determination. The first few times you go, you’ll be offered not much more than slices of chicken breasts or thighs on skewers grilled over hot coals. But come here often enough (or bring someone who’s already a regular) and things like chicken gizzards, hearts, and skin will suddenly appear.
Plan Check is one of the finest restaurant/bar combos in the city, and it also happens to be one of the best first date spots on the Westside. Make no mistake - the fried chicken sandwich here is one of the best things you can eat on Sawtelle.
Out of the Sawtelle mist has emerged a tiny strip mall all-day Korean place we can’t get enough of. Kitchen Story isn’t going to jump out amongst its better-known neighbors, but take note - they’re making some fantastic Korean bar food. Think spicy rice cakes, kimbabs (essentially Korean sushi rolls), and one of the best kimchi fried rice dishes we’ve had.
If you haven’t had Japanese curry before, it’s a little more mellow, involving a thick gravy that’s more spiced than spicy. Hurry Curry serves a big menu, but you want to focus on the chicken cutlet curry. A big piece of breaded chicken comes out pre-sliced with rice, a small cabbage salad, and a bowl of the curry sauce to spoon all over the top. It’s comforting, filling, and a good way to induce an afternoon nap.
The creme brulee crepes at Millet are a lot: crepes filled with ice cream, strawberries, and nutella, and then topped with sugary custard that gets blasted with a blowtorch for that crispy brulee top. A lot, but also really damn delicious.
Blockheads serves what they call “Snow Cream,” a mound of shaved ice cream that seemingly defies all laws of physics. From start to finish, you generally won’t have any idea what you’re eating - it tastes like ice cream, but with an unfamiliar texture - but you’ll also be OK with it. Order a base flavor (black sesame is our favorite) and then go in on all the toppings and sauces.
The Kimukatsu name is a pretty big deal in Japan, and Sawtelle has the only location in the continental U.S. What’s the hype about? The pork cutlets. And by “cutlets” we actually mean 25 layers of thinly-sliced, deep-fried pork. Skip the ramen options and go straight for one of the sets - you get your pork with rice, miso soup, cabbage, and Japanese pickles. This is an essential meal on Sawtelle.
There are a lot of decent sushi joints in LA, and Kiriko is not one of them. Kiriko is one of the better ones. While their lunchtime sushi specials are a great value, they are not why you come to Kiriko. You come for the omakase. For $48 you’ll get eight or so pieces of sushi, plus miso soup and a hand roll. The fish is fantastic quality, and they don’t just serve the greatest hits - expect Japanese barracuda, house smoked salmon, and your toro to come out seared.
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.
Coffee Tomo is the coffee shop/pretzel emporium you never knew you needed. The coffee is fantastic, and as for pretzels? There’s cinnamon sugar and jalapeno and red bean, but you’re ordering the sweet potato cheese stuffed pretzel because we told you to.
With a casual atmosphere and a well-priced menu, Nong La is one of our go-to’s for a Vietnamese lunch. Their pork belly banh mi is a must-order, but everything here is great.
If you’re looking for bar food on Sawtelle, Furaibo is your place. 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 be eaten alongside your beer and sake. It’s big and full of tables, so gather the crew, order multiple rounds of chicken wings, and get a bit rowdy.
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.