LAReview

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Food and drinks at Budonoki.
8.0

Budonoki

JapaneseThai

Virgil Village

$$$$Perfect For:Drinks & A Light BiteBig GroupsFirst/Early in the Game DatesEating At The Bar

Included In

The phrase “party restaurant” seems like a back-handed compliment. It might make you think of fishbowl cocktails, selfie walls, neon signs, and strangers who offer to “read your chart” while in line for the bathroom. These sorts of places can be fun under the right circumstances (divorce, youth, etc.), but rarely do they serve the kind of food you hunger for regularly.

But not Budonoki. This Japanese izakaya in Virgil Village delivers an uncommon combination of strong drinks, spicy playlists, and tremendous food. Which makes it the kind of party you should find an excuse to show up to as often as possible.

Budonoki started out as a roving pop-up, landing a permanent space on the ground floor of a newly constructed condo complex at the end of 2023. You'd be forgiven, though, if you thought the grungy space had been around for decades. And that’s a compliment. Black walls make it feel like you accidentally stumbled into a sticky K-town basement, while a fluorescent Orion beer sign casts a pink glow over booths filled with friends ripping sake bombs. Dates at the bar sip from cute penguin mugs filled with rice milk and plum sake, or blood orange shochu slushies. Don’t be surprised after a few rounds when you and surrounding tables start gyrating in your seats to old-school Missy and 90’s Kylie. (The music here is so good we once asked our server for the playlist. They had it ready.) Any debauchery you partake in here is the furthest thing from manufactured. The fun happens naturally, like at an after-after wedding party when everybody’s just happy not to be dancing to “Twist And Shout” anymore.

The interior at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cocktails at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Booth seating at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Exterior of Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The bar at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The interior at Budonoki.
Cocktails at Budonoki.
Booth seating at Budonoki.
Exterior of Budonoki.
The bar at Budonoki.

The fairly straightforward menu at Budonoki doesn't veer much from the traditional izakaya formula. There are a dozen or so "snacks" designed to go well with drinks, plus two kinds of oshisuzhi (pressed sushi) meant to be shared, plus some very good soft serve. The term “snack” isn’t quite accurate though, as these plates are designed to be passed around the table. A few dishes lean Thai as much as they do Japanese, none more so than the naem, a sour-savory fermented pork sausage with crispy rice and slaw that’s easily the best thing on the menu. Most plates fall in the $12 to $18 range, so if you’re with a big group, it’s wise to load the table with things like juicy chicken oyster skewers, yakisoba noodles, and a charred sweet potato with miso butter that tastes like warming your feet by the fireplace. Even the pressed sushi—the least exciting thing on the menu—has its place. And by that, we mean in the middle of your table so all your increasingly drunk friends can grab bites of decadent, sauce-smothered rolls throughout the night.

Unlike your typical clubstaurant, a night at Budonoki isn’t weighed down by the performative act of “going out.” You don’t have to put on uncomfortable clothes, consider bottle service, or stand outside while someone carrying a ring light gets in before you. The most high-stakes decision of the evening will be whether you want another order of pan-fried noodles, chicken wings, or both. And that’s the kind of party restaurant we'll happily celebrate.

Food Rundown

The naem at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Naem

If there’s an essential dish at Budonoki, it’s this one. Fermented Thai sausage, crispy rice balls, and a snappy cabbage slaw come separate on the plate, so the best way to put it all together is to cut each rice ball in half and stack a little bit of sausage and slaw in the middle like a bite-size sandwich at high tea.
The chicken oyster skewer at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Negima

The second dish on your to-eat list? These grilled chicken skewers made with the tender “oyster” section of the thigh. We’d eat the juicy, smoky chicken by itself, but this dish especially pops because of the spicy galangal sauce pooled at the bottom. And we mean spicy—keep a pint of beer close.
The chef's salad at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Chef's Salad

When this baby arrives towering a good seven inches off the plate, you’ll realize this isn’t any chef’s salad from the local deli. A thick layer of shaved pecorino clings to the lettuce like tinsel on a Christmas tree and tiny bits of country ham accent each bite like salty ornaments. That’s called committing to the metaphor.
The seafood pancake at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Seafood Pancake

Stuffed with shrimp, scallops, and mussels, this plate-sized crepe is one of the most easily shareable dishes on the menu. It’s light and airy and, topped with a crunchy bean sprout salad and sriracha drizzle for added heat. Our one complaint is the fried batter isn’t able to hold it all together, so prepare for it to crumble slightly in your chopsticks.
The pressed sushi at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Aburi Salmon Oshizushi

Here’s the thing about the pressed sushi at Budonoki: It’s solid. And if you’re at a table full of moderately intoxicated people, it’s really solid. But when lined up against the more unique dishes here, it’s closer to a nice plate of rolls you’d find at a fusion-y sushi spot.
The yakisoba noodles at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Yakisoba

Every time we’ve eaten at Budonoki with friends, this has been the runaway hit of the night. And how could it not be? Thick, pan-fried noodles, pickled ginger, and tender pieces of wagyu are tossed in a savory, umami-rich bulldog sauce, then squiggled with kewpie mayo and sprinkled with nori flakes. We’re breathless just writing that.
The soft serve at Budonoki.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Soft Serve

We’ve said it before: If you’re planning to skip the soft serve at the end of a meal, don’t bother inviting us. Especially when it’s as silky as a neck scarf. There's usually two flavors here—black sesame and pandan-coconut, recently—but you can also order a swirl of both (yes, obviously).

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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