You’ve done the research, you’ve seen the hundreds—maybe thousands even—of good reviews, you wait on the excessively long line to get seated, and when the food comes… you’re disappointed. Or maybe worse: you and your honey, or friend, or hard-to-please family member, or hoping-to-impress coworker, or hoping-to-get-a-second-chance date…are both disappointed. Go ahead. Vent. Snarl. Shake that fist!
This has been you. This has been me. This has been me at hotspots of local pride, places with up to two hour wait times, even a reservation-only popup with the actual celebrity chef visibly working in the kitchen. It’s not just disappointing, it’s frustrating. Is it just hype? Is it fake reviews? Is it the wrong audience giving the reviews? Or maybe, is your palate really just that much more expert at distinguishing quality from the rest?
Well, for those who trust me and my food recommendations, I’ve compiled a list of food stops as a walking tour in one of my favorite LA neighborhoods: Little Tokyo. This food tour is meant for 2 to 4 people, sharing everything along the way. It deliberately skips some of the most popular or famous places to give you a glimpse of hidden gems of the neighborhood while providing some variety and maybe a little something unfamiliar. To me, a good food tour isn’t about trying what everyone else says is the most popular, but what gives you a taste of something a little different from what you expected while being delicious at the same time. It’s the journey of tasting the stories behind the food. It’s the treasure hunt feeling you get like when you’re thrift shopping and happen upon serendipity. The find just feels that much more special and personal. The extra bonus here is that you don’t need to typically wait on super long waiting lists to get seated, and you’ll feel like a foodie guru who doesn’t waste time or stomach space on the hyped up popular spots all the tourists want to check out. You can always go back to those super long lines another day when you have 2 hours to spare.
If you have a whole day and you’re up for it, I challenge you to take in the whole itinerary. Everything is within walking distance; plus, walking will help build your appetite for all the delicious things you’ll be trying! Or, pick and choose along the list to your group’s needs and preferences for a custom experience.
Taste of Little Tokyo Walking Tour
1. Pasta e Pasta by Allegro:
Just a block north along Alameda Street in the Honda Plaza is a little Japanese Italian restaurant. Japanese style pastas are their specialty, where Japanese ingredients like uni and mentaiko share the menu with more familiar Italian dishes like puttanesca and carbonara. Still, the flavors of many of the pastas here have a distinctly Japanese profile, where for example, their tomato based sauces will be slightly sweeter than their traditional Italian dishes due to the inclusion of common vegetables used in Japanese cooking in their recipe.
If there was one dish to try, I would suggest the mentaiko spaghetti. The creaminess of the sauce is nicely flavored with the sea saltiness of the mentaiko and roasted seaweed.
For fans of the sweet butteriness of sea urchin, Pasta e Pasta makes an uni pasta popular with the locals. Its buttery creaminess is milder than the mentaiko pasta, so if ordering both, I would start with the uni before tasting the mentaiko. Dishes here are also on the larger side, so keep that in mind when you order and save space for the rest of your tasting tour!
2. Men Oh Tokushima:
Across the parking lot is this little unassuming ramen shop. Their signature tokushima ramen is a regional specialty from Tokushima, Japan, and builds off of their tonkotsu soup base that is cooked for 16 hours using Berkshire Kurobuta pork bones. Their noodles are the restaurant’s own recipe, and made in their own noodle making facility to best simulate the noodles used in their flagship shop in Tokushima, Japan.
3. Chinchikurin Hiroshima Okonomiyaki:
At the 1st Street entrance to the Japanese Village shops is this okonomiyaki and takoyaki restaurant. They have tables with built in hibachi grills where you can continue keeping your okonomiyaki warm and crispy as you eat.
They also have a variety of different style takoyaki, small ball-shaped snacks made with a wheat based batter and traditionally filled with octopus, pickled ginger and green onion.
Try the traditional sauces and toppings or be adventurous and go for the wasabi or truffle parmesan.
4. Fuga Izakaya:
For an evening of Japanese shareable tapas, sushi and drinks, try Fuga Izakaya. Their menu includes a 16-hour braised beef tongue in a sweet reduction that goes well with the brown rice risotto that they mix inside a parmesan wheel tableside.
The chef takes pride in his dishes, from the cooked ankimo scallop dish to the kabocha squash bread pudding a la mode. Even something simple like bar fries is cooked to perfection.
5. Far Bar:
If you’re into whiskey, head on over to Far Bar on 1st Street, where they have an extensive (and well priced) whiskey list, including a scotch flight and great happy hour for drinks and finger foods. Even if you’re not into whiskey, they’ve got a great outdoor area lined with lanterns that make for an awesome insta backdrop. Personally, my favorite bars are the ones that serve good food options that can serve as pairings or chasers, so essentially you can enjoy your drink even more.
The short rib or braised pork tacos, Ming’s wings, and deviled duck eggs are popular happy hour items, but we also love their Far Bar Ramen, sushi rolls, and Maneki tots!
6. Sushi Enya:
The sushi here is a local favorite, with expertly crafted sushi and a reservations-only high end omakase. Presentation and garnishes make the sushi here really shine, so be adventurous in trying new flavors on traditional nigiri.
The seafood is premium and the chefs pay attention to details, from the perfectly sliced fish to the freshly grated wasabi.
7. Inko Nito:
One of my favorite Izakaya style restaurants is the off-the-beaten path Inko Nito, serving what they call unconventional Japanese food. With great cocktails to go with their creative dishes, the menu is sure to please and inspire.
Try their perfectly charcoal grilled Angus steak that melts in your mouth or their special “nigaki” – we got the OTT nigaki, which has spicy tuna, yuzu mayo, chives & Petrossian classic shassetra caviar – uber fancypants and delicious.
Before you leave, you must order the charred coconut soft serve dessert with sweet soy, pocky and Japanese granola. The combination of sweet and savory is pure genius. Inko Nito will be a dinner you won’t easily forget.
8. Taiyaki Deli:
Right outside the Little Tokyo Central Market, a little food cart makes taiyaki fresh to order, and you can choose from a variety of fillings, from the traditional red bean or custard, to something a little less typical like sweet potato or mango apple.
Their crispy chewy shell is made from tapioca flour. They also make a traditional Korean pancake drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon. If you prefer something savory, try their new crispy cheese pancake, made from a similar pancake batter to the street vendor Korean honey cinnamon pancake. Ooey gooey on the inside and warm and crispy on the outside, the pancake has this perfect chew that can make it dangerously craveable. Either one makes a great snack while perusing the Japanese Korean market inside, maybe stocking up on snacks for tomorrow.
9. Cafe Dulce:
This local favorite in the Japanese Village Plaza specializes in homemade donuts in a variety of traditional and creative flavors, including bacon, cinnamon toast crunch, and maple macadamia nut.
These Japanese style donuts are made daily and are lighter, airier, and less sweet compared to the traditional American franchises.
This cafe specializes in soft serve ice creams and is best known for their activated charcoal pineapple flavor soft serve, Bae also provides a long list of fun toppings like fruity pebbles, cornflakes or dark chocolate drizzle. Or if you’re feeling a bit
extra fancy, get the gold flakes topping for a bit of sparkle for that Insta photo that pretty much every other customer is taking of their own cones. The ambience of Bae is sophisticated and the soft serve is smooth and flavorful.
Little Tokyo is definitely a hotspot for all things good eats, but if you’re here for a limited time, we definitely recommend trying out these 10 restaurants and eateries. You won’t be sorry!
Aimee & the WAI SIK team, @waisikmommy