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 still only serve that purpose, the handful of blocks sitting between Olympic Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. have evolved into something else entirely.
Sawtelle Boulevard is officially the best street for ethnic food in Los Angeles. The newly minted “Sawtelle Japantown” actually goes far beyond outstanding Japanese food - some truly top notch Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Taiwanese, and Chinese restaurants all call Sawtelle home. There are even a few top-notch American establishments scattered in the mix - turns out you really can have it all. So grab a few friends and get lost on the coolest stretch of food in Los Angeles. Here’s a guide to eating your way down Sawtelle.
Tsujita is the undisputed king of Sawtelle and those perpetually long lines are waiting for one thing: Tsukemen. Served only during lunch, this “dip” style ramen means cold noodles and dense broth are served separately and it’s up to you to combine them. The hype is real. Tsujita LA is an experience unlike any other.
You’re probably asking yourself what a gourmet burger gastropub is doing on Sawtelle and the answer is it doesn’t matter. Plan Check is one of the finest restaurant/bar combos in the city and is a welcome addition to the Sawtelle strip. It also happens to be the best first date spot on the Westside.
Blockheads serves what they call “Snow Cream,” a mind-boggling mound of shaved ice cream that seemingly defies all laws of gravity. From start to finish, you generally won’t have any idea what you’re eating – be OK with it. Order a base flavor (black sesame is the way to go) and then go to town on all the toppings and sauces you can find. It’s all going to be fine.
The Kimukatsu name is a pretty big deal over in Japan, and we’re blessed to have the only location in the continental U.S. on Sawtelle Blvd. What’s the hype about? The pork cutlets. And by “cutlets” we actually mean 25 thinly stacked layers of sliced pork deep-fried with panko batter. Still breathing? Good. Because this savory treat is an essential stop on Sawtelle.
There are a lot of decent sushi joints in LA, and Kiriko is not one of them. Kiriko is one of the great ones. While their lunchtime sushi specials are an absolute steal, they are not why you come to Kiriko. You come for the omakase. It’s not cheap, but you’re paying for one of the finest chef’s-choice experiences in the city.
This Instagram celebrity of a soft serve shop one of those rare places that actually tastes as good as it looks. In fact, it might even taste better. There are a few things to choose from on the menu, but your obvious move is the Sweetie - vanilla milk ice cream with all-natural honey swirled in. Be sure to add the extra honeycomb on top.
Flores has been through several different iterations over the last few years, but the current Flores + Sons might be the best one yet. The Southern-tinged menu has been replaced by more casual California-style food – the perfect complement to this place’s relaxed interior and back patio.
Coffee Tomo is the best coffee shop/pretzel emporium you never knew you needed. The coffee here is some of the best on the Westside, and there’s an entire menu dedicated to large, soft pretzels. They have everything from cinnamon sugar to jalapeno to red bean, but you’re ordering the sweet potato cheese stuffed pretzel because we told you to.
The importance of the arrival of soup dumplings on the Westside can not be understated. Is it as good as Din Tai Fung? Probably not. But we’re still enjoying ourselves way too much at ROC to be worrying about that other place. ROC Kitchen is lively, well-priced, easy to get in and out of, and serves the best dumplings outside the San Gabriel Valley.
Okonomiyaki. At Gottui, this Tokyo street food staple is the star. For all intents and purposes, it’s a pancake. A ridiculously indulgent Japanese pancake that comes topped with everything from fried egg to seaweed. Are we having fun yet?
Yes, that ramen place you wait 45 minutes for also has a fantastic sushi shop just up the block. And though dinner tends to run well over $100 per person, the move here is lunch. They have an excellent chirashi bowl and if you’re feeling omakase today, it’s a slightly more reasonable $80. Certainly not the best deal in town, but the quality at Tsujita is undisputed.
And out of the Sawtelle mist emerges a tiny strip mall cafe 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 absolutely fantastic Korean bar food. Think spicy rice cakes, kimbabs (essentially Korean sushi rolls), and one of the best kimchi fried rices we’ve had in town.
This modern Vietnamese cafe hits on all your dining needs. With a casual atmosphere and a well-priced menu, Nong La is a lunchtime no-brainer. Their pork belly banh mi is a must but everything here is actually great.
If you’re looking for bar food on Sawtelle, FuRaibo is your place. FuRaiBo’s izakaya-style food is meant to accompany whatever beer or sake you’re drinking. This is a large party kryptonite, so gather the crew and come get a bit rowdy at FuRaibo.
Nijiya Market is zero parts restaurant and all parts Japanese grocery. And despite its rather compact size, Nijiya is one of the finest in the city. Come to Nijiya for its shockingly large array of hard-to-find Japanese snacks and spices, as well as fresh meat, fish, and produce for your at-home feast.
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 the Sofia-Coppola-Tokyo-Fever-Dream aesthetic inside will have you feeling all sorts of feelings.
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, your only one you should concern yourself with is Ube, the purple one that sort of tastes like potatoes. It’s delicious, and if you haven’t tried it, now’s the time. Also, roll up in the morning for an excellent cup of coffee.
Another day, another ramen joint makes the voyage across the Pacific to LA. This time its Tentenyu, a Japanese import who’s been dishing out the hot stuff for over 40 years in Kyoto. The biggest difference here is the broth is chicken-based, not pork - making it still fairly rich, but so much you want to fall asleep at your table. Also, you never have to wait in line.