Anybody who partied–or even observed parties–in their 20s knows the art of the pre-game. It’s an hour or so of intense revelry and everybody’s best chance to liquor up quickly before the night’s main event. It’s chaotic, wholly irresponsible, and really only benefits the person getting complimented for their playlist curation. That said, the core principles of the exercise can still be applied at any point in life.
After all, there are concerts to see, shows to attend, and a myriad of other social activities that are simply more enjoyable with a little warm-up. And when such moments arrive, go to Ototo - our favorite pre-game restaurant in LA.
The tiny Echo Park sake bar is operated by the Tsubaki team next door and is the kind of place built for people to hang out in before heading somewhere else. There are no reservations (you write your name on a clipboard when you arrive), no formal table service (you order everything at the bar), and even if you get heavily involved with food, you can still be in and out in 45 minutes.
The food menu is pretty tight, consisting of 15 or so delicious small plates that range from daikon salad with ume miso dressing to pork belly-topped yakisoba noodles. Even if you order heftier dishes like spaghetti and clams or the cheese okonomiyaki, a savory cabbage-based pancake that’s easily our favorite thing on the menu, one thing is clear—this is food meant to be eaten while you drink. And at Ototo, that means sake.
Ototo has one of the largest and most interesting sake lists in town. In fact, it’s not really a list - it’s a full encyclopedia broken into chapters based on flavor profiles. Even for experienced sake drinkers, ordering can be an overwhelming process, so we recommend taking your time reading descriptions so you know what you’re getting. Could Ototo’s waitstaff be more helpful in this department? Absolutely. But ultimately, the sake here is of a high enough standard that even if you panic-order, chances are you’re going to end up drinking something you like. And that’s something we could never say about our post-grad power hours.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
If you’re with a big group, ordering this savory cabbage pancake is a must. Filled with white corn and cheese, and topped with thick okonomi sauce, mayo, pickled ginger, and katsuobushi (fermented tuna flakes), there’s absolutely nothing subtle about this dish -and that’s exactly why we like eating it while we drink.
This bowl of pan-fried noodles with pork belly is another must-order. The meat itself is perfectly tender and not too fatty, while the noodles are a nice balance of sweet, salty, and savory. If you’re with more than three people, just order two–it’ll go quick.
Are these the absolute best wings in town? No, but they’re still good and we never go to Ototo without ordering some. They’re lightly fried and coated in a sesame tare glaze that’s slightly sweet and salty with a nice kick of garlic at the end. In our experience, we’ve yet to find a sake that doesn’t pair well with these wings.
Ode To Mos Burger
If you come to Ototo on Mondays, you’ll find this chili burger on the menu. It’s an homage to a popular fast-food burger from Japan, but outside of the fluffy bun, nothing really works here for us. Both the patty and the chili are so overly-salted you can’t really taste anything else. We’d concentrate on the regular menu items instead.