The Best Restaurants In Little Tokyo guide image


The Best Restaurants In Little Tokyo

Everywhere you need to be eating and drinking in LA’s Little Tokyo.

One of the last three remaining Japantowns in the country, Little Tokyo has been an essential Los Angeles neighborhood since the early 1900s. Originally a settling place for Japanese immigrants, it later became a refuge for families returning from World War II internment camps and is now one of the city's most restaurant-dense neighborhoods. Little Tokyo is unique, a quirky blend of tradition and the 21st century: here, you'll find 100-year-old mom-and-pop joints, Japanese bookstores, modern art museums, robot gift shops, and of course, incredible places to eat.

From curry specialists to refined sushi bars to more noodle spots than you knew existed, here are the 20 best restaurants in Little Tokyo.


Sushi Gen

Sushi Gen’s appears on almost every “Best Sushi” guide in the city (including ours, hello), but with its cozy atmosphere and a crowd of regulars, this Little Tokyo restaurant still feels like a local secret. That said, don’t expect to be seated quickly—doors open at 11:30am and lines form before that—but once inside, you’ll be wrapped up in its festive, chaotic atmosphere where nearly every table has the same thing on it: the sashimi special. For $23 ($32 at dinner), you’ll get generous cuts of tuna, yellowtail, toro, squid, three kinds of chopped fish, broiled fish, miso soup, cucumber salad, and tofu. It’s an incredible deal. One that is so popular, you can’t even order it at the sushi bar, just in a designated dining room.

Hidden away on Weller Court’s third floor is Sushi Takeda: a fairly fancy option ideal for special occasions. The full omakase goes for $280 per person, but they also offer a $140 sushi-only option and a lunch omakase for $110. Once you're seated at the serene light wood bar, the sushi chef shapes, then plops pieces of seabream, saba, and otoro onto the stone in front of you with the rhythm of a metronome. You’ll have very nice cuts of fish, as well as signature dishes like the iwashi maki, or soy paper-wrapped sardines rolls, and delicate bowls topped with ikura and uni. It's a high-class experience that doesn't completely blow out your bank account.

Focusing on one thing and mastering it, that’s what Chinchikurin does best. This small Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo serves one dish: Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Usually translated to “savory pancake,” okonomiyaki is more than that: a base of thick and chewy yakisoba noodles covered in a wonderful sweet-salty sauce with veggies, crispy pork, and a giant egg blanketing the entire thing. It’s a perfect dish we’d happily eat on any day that ends with "Y." Don't miss the creamy strawberry shaved ice for dessert.

You can't debate the best izakaya in LA without mentioning Kinjiro, a quiet little spot in Honda Plaza that feels like a private supper club. They offer two seatings nightly, which can only be booked by emailing the owner directly. The menu of high-quality sushi, noodle dishes, and grilled meats is designed to pair with their extensive drinks list. So order some hot tea or sake for the table and start with the best things here: delicate miso black cod, red snapper sashimi, tender thick-cut beef tongue, and silky agedashi tofu in mushroom broth. Although drinking is part of the fun, eating at Kinjiro is a laid-back experience best reserved for a romantic night out or an intimate meal with friends.

Azay is a half-French, half-Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo that is one of the few places to serve Japanese breakfast in the LA area. Their rendition of the meal is quite understated and entirely delicious—nothing but a tray of broiled fish, tamago, tofu, miso soup, and a side of rice, plus a few pickles. Apart from the breakfast, don’t miss out on their pork belly omurice or the Nagoya-style hitsumabushi, a grilled eel dish that’s eaten in three parts—perfect for lunch or brunch. At dinner, the menu leans more French with dishes like salmon tartare and rack of lamb with mustard sauce.

Somewhere in America’s all-out ramen frenzy, udon was seemingly left for dead. But if you ever see the line wrapped outside Marugame on any given day, you’ll understand why these thick, bouncy noodles deserve equal billing. Yes, the wait can seem here daunting, but it’s worth it. Come sit at the bar, order that outrageously delicious miso carbonara udon, and watch in awe as they cut and roll every massive noodle by hand behind the glass.

Build-your-own ramen is a concept that sounds gimmicky, but Shin-Sen-Gumi works—the ramen is great and the operation is well run. By build-your-own, we don’t just mean you get to throw a few green onions on top. From the thickness of the noodles to the richness of the broth, you can customize your bowl to any degree you want here, and that’s the kind of power that keeps people lining up.

Hama Sushi tells you everything with a sign out front: “No Tempura, No Teriyaki. No Noodle, No Rice Alone. Only Sushi, Sashimi.” It almost reads like a haiku. Needless to say, raw fish is the specialty here, where you’ll eat well at around $50 per person. Orders are taken on sheets—which you mark yourself—so try to grab a seat at the bar and get to X-ing. The sushi set meals are great, a combination of various nigiri, plus a California roll that’s silky as a Bruno Mars/Anderson Paak collab. But don’t skip out on more creative options, like the gigantic soft-shell crab roll or albacore sashimi with ponzu.

Sawa is a slightly less formal omakase experience from the chefs of Sushi Kaneyoshi (located in the same building), but reservations are just as competitive. The hushed room feels like a ten-seat sushi vault, and the chefs make you feel like a pampered poodle eating an 18-piece omakase. While the mostly traditional Edomae-style nigiri is very good, the real highlights are the cocktails, or rather, the cocktail pairing option. For $45 you can pick any three from the menu and let the masters course out toki highballs and dashi martinis alongside the omakase. Just know that, with drinks, you’ll drop close to $500 on dinner for two.

You go to Kouraku for Japanese-style comfort food, plain and simple. Come here when your favorite team loses a game, or in times when the only solution is, clearly, a big ol’ bowl of fried rice. Curries are king, served with either stewed beef, deep-fried shrimp, or the classic chicken katsu. Bowls are filled to the brim with a deep brown gravy and a glistening bed of rice. Eat this with a spoon during lunchtime and reflect on everything going on in your life (work, family, the fact that you’ve still never had a TikTok go viral, etc.)

The food of Hawaii is a complex blend of cuisines—Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, and native Hawaiian flavors—all of which are on display at Aloha Cafe, located in the plaza as Sushi Gen. This is a perfect brunch spot: a place to eat big breakfast specials (the Komai comes with Spam, two types of sausage, and corned beef hash) and saimin, a ramen-like dish with a clear broth and fresh buckwheat noodles. Our favorite is the kalua pork plate lunch, a massive combination of tender pulled pork, a bit of cabbage for crunch, white rice, and creamy mac salad.

By far the most upscale sushi option in Little Tokyo, getting into Sushi Kaneyoshi is a battle. Not only making the reservation, but physically entering the premises, which includes wandering through a hotel lobby, buzzing in, and descending downstairs into their dungeon lair. You feel like you’ve entered another world (feudal Japan, maybe?) where they’re serving a $300 omakase to 10 seats per night. A meal includes 20 courses of appetizers, sashimi, and nigiri, all prepared behind an elegant wood sushi counter. If eating some of the best sushi in LA is on your bucket list, consider Kaneyoshi a worthwhile investment.

Located inside the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, this nine-course tasting menu spot is one of the most unique dining experiences in LA. It’s a marathon of a dinner (priced at $175 per person) that begins with a tour of the property’s lush gardens followed by drinks and “LA Nikkei” small bites, a nod to the chef’s LA upbringing as a fourth-generation Japanese American. Eventually you’ll move to an interior sushi bar for the main courses—like marbled wagyu steak in teriyaki and a play on the California roll made with crab, uni, and avocado. From there, it’s to the garden for dessert—we suggest hanging around to watch the sunset while sipping green tea.

It wouldn’t be a well-rounded Japanese neighborhood without a go-to yakitori (grilled chicken skewer) spot. For Little Tokyo, that place is Torigoya. Located on Weller Court’s second floor, Torigoya is a laidback restaurant where you can order rounds of meatballs, charred gizzards, and shishito peppers. There are fewer options here than at other yakitori-yas, but you can sample what’s available by ordering the 10-skewer set menu. It’s the perfect amount of food and will let you taste your way through more parts of the bird than you thought were possible.

If you were sentient during the early aughts, you’re likely aware of Daikokuya. This ramen legend remains one of the neighborhood’s most popular spots (expect a line) and a visit to the original Little Tokyo shop is a pilgrimage every ramen disciple should take. Daikokuya’s tonkotsu packs in a ton of flavor: tender pork belly chashu, a lusciously soft-boiled egg, and the requisite vegetable toppings: bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions. You might fall asleep afterward, but it will have been worth it. 

This 47-year-old Little Tokyo diner, which was originally founded by two sisters, is a local late-night institution serving all kinds of homey Japanese dishes, like chicken katsu curry, oyakodon (stir-fried chicken and egg), and cold soba with a side of tempura. Plus, most things cost less than $15 here—which might be even more comforting than the food itself. They also stay open until 3am on weekends.

JiST Cafe is one of those places you walk into and wonder why it took you so long to get here. It might be hard to tell from its current modern digs, but this bright little cafe has been around for over 70 years (albeit under a different name). Open for breakfast and lunch only, this spot serves a chashu hash skillet worth driving across the city for. But if you happen to be in the area, it’s also just a nice place to stop in, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the excellent side patio in peace.

One of Little Tokyo’s many allures is the relative affordability of its dining options. Kagaya does not fall under that category. This is high-end Shabu Shabu and some of the best in the city at that. It's a DIY-style cooking set-up with raw platters of premium meats and seafood and a big hot pot of broth and sauces to dip it all in. Kagaya is small and refined, but if you’re looking for that go-big experience in Little Tokyo, Kagaya is where it’s at.

If the crew’s rolling deep and no one can decide what they feel like, Honda-Ya Izakaya is the answer to all your problems. This Japanese pub (on the second floor of a shopping mall) has a menu with everything from yellowtail sashimi to miso udon to vegetable tempura, and it’s all pretty delicious. And with the large group tables, excellent party vibes, and the never-ending bottles of Kirin, good luck getting the group to ever leave.

In need of a quick snack? There’s not much better than Rice & Nori, a tiny onigiri shop on the ground floor of Weller Court. Perfect, triangular-shaped rice balls are coated in furikake and filled with shiitake kombu, Spam, or a spicy tuna mayo that’s creamy without overdoing it. There’s also a collection of fun little housemade pickles, too: Napa cabbage with carrots, shiso-flavored daikon, and burnt-orange mountain burdock root. Hand rolls here aren’t bad but will get soggy if ordering for takeout. Eat ‘em fresh.

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photo credit: Jakob Layman

The Best Restaurants In Little Tokyo guide image