The Dining and Drinking Guide to Little Tokyo

Discover 12 of the best restaurants and bars in Little Tokyo

Sushi platter at Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo

Sushi Gen

 |  Photo:  Joshua Lurie

When Japanese people started settling Little Tokyo in 1885, a restaurant called Kame became the neighborhood’s first business. Immigration due to agricultural work and mass relocation following San Francisco’s legendary 1906 earthquake led to L.A. becoming the largest Japanese-American community in the U.S., which grew to 35,000 people by 1942. A dark period in U.S. history forced Japanese-Americans to live in internment camps during World War II. It took until the 1970s for Japanese-Americans to spark a Little Tokyo revival (including food and beverages) that still continues to thrive and diversify. Discover a dozen of the neighborhood’s best places to eat and drink.

Strawberry Chamomile Latte at Café Demitasse in Little Tokyo

Strawberry Chamomile Latte at Café Demitasse

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Café Demitasse



Bobby Roshan launched his small Café Demitasse chain in Little Tokyo in 2011. At this triangular space in a diagonal plaza, an umbrella-shaded patio gives way to a three-sided bar with a sleek La Marzocco espresso machine, Kyoto-style cold brew towers, eye-catching vacuum pots, and some of L.A.’s most creative signature beverages. Specific drinks rotate frequently based on barista inspiration, but representative offerings include a strawberry chamomile latte made with chamomile syrup that’s showered with dehydrated strawberry powder. Demitasse crafts their Black Mamba latte, named for Laker great Kobe Bryant, with ginger and Okinawan black sugar. Interesting coffee alternatives include sparkling sour cherry iced tea. Chef Derrick de Jesus recently upgraded the breakfast- and lunch-minded menu to include toast slathered with honey lavender butter and seasonal jam; a rice bowl with hen of the woods mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and soft-sliced egg; and egg salad sando with yuzu kosho on Japanese white bread.

Beer on the patio at Far Bar in Little Tokyo

Beer on the patio at Far Bar

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Far Bar



A neon sign touting Chop Suey greets visitors to Far Bar, a historic building that dates to 1935 and started as Far East Café. Don Tahara, Mike Gin and Enrique Ramirez revived the space in 2006, which now features one of L.A.’s best hangout friendly patios, strung with lights and set between high brick walls. The lounge and patio each have 16 rotating beer taps, both with variation. Japanese bottles are also a priority, whether it’s Kujyukuri Ocean Stout from Chiba prefecture or Hitachino Nest Anbai Ale with Kiuchi Brewery’s signature owl logo and savory hits from ume (sour plum) and moshio (Japanese sea salt). Beer is the focus, though Far Bar does serve Japanese fusion fare as well, including ramen, wasabi fries, and a brick-shaped, sushi-inspired “stack” with three fish.

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The Golden State - Little Tokyo



The Golden State has been a Fairfax Village mainstay for a decade. Jason Bernstein, James Starr, and brother Nick Starr expanded the Cali-centric concept to the base of a mixed-use Little Tokyo building in December 2018. A patio with yellow furniture gives way to a dining room with twin counters and a “California” pennant behind the bar. The partners serve other dishes, but burgers have been the primary fuel for The Golden State. Their signature version combines beautifully seared patty crafted with Harris Ranch chuck, short rib and trimmed rib-eye fat. Fiscalini Farms cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon strips, arugula, aioli and ketchup join the fray in a soft brioche bun. The legendary Minneapolis-inspired Juicy Lucy is available for weekday happy hour and stars a 6.5-ounce patty filled with emulsified American cheese and pickled jalapeño topped with pickles and ketchup on a squishy Martin’s potato roll. Pair with exemplary fried sweet potato wedges and punchy garlic aioli. They also have Cofax burritos on weekends.

Yuzu Pepper Chicken at Izakaya Fu-Ga in Little Tokyo

Yuzu Pepper Chicken at Izakaya Fu-Ga | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Izakaya Fu-Ga



Izakaya Fu-Ga is a subterranean izakaya that debuted in 2010 and features a look and feel reminiscent of Tokyo. The moody setting features black banquettes, a pink marble-like bar, and branches painted on walls. Fu means wind in Japanese, and ga translates to elegant, which informs a compelling menu of bold, share-friendly small plates. Broiled yuzu pepper chicken is of particular interest, starring boneless, charbroiled, skin-on thigh seasoned with tangy yuzu and teriyaki sauce. Sautéed ankimo (monkfish liver) and Hokkaido scallop arrive stacked with teriyaki sauce and microgreens. After 2 p.m., brown rice cheese risotto is available with creamy dashi broth mixed tableside in a block of Parmesan cheese, served with shiso and crispy Japanese anchovies.

Chashu Hash Skillet at JiST Café in Little Tokyo

Chashu Hash Skillet at JiST Café

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

JiST Cafe



Chef Glen Ishii’s family has been serving food in Little Tokyo for over seven decades. In 2013, he teamed with Caroline Shin to transform the space into a creative breakfast and lunch hub called JiST Café. A sunburst logo greets diners at the base of a tan brick building. The space houses a dining room with 3D wooden walls that resemble a Tetris board and features a shaded patio that overlooks the East West Players theatre courtyard. Caramelized pork belly chunks highlight a signature chashu hash skillet that co-stars potatoes, red pepper strips, and a pair of six-minute eggs that ooze yolk when sliced. “Porky” omurice features Prime Smoked Meats hickory ham, pea and ketchup rice topped with rich demi glace sauce and a runny omelet with sides that unfurl upon slicing. Keep a lookout for JiST Café’s special Lucky Ducky, teaming two sunny-side-up eggs and duck confit atop Chinese scallion pancakes, garnished with citrus slices and served with mixed greens. Crème fraîche enlightens fluffy pancakes that arrive chock full of Guittard dark chocolate chips and bananas. Stumptown coffee is a caffeinated draw.

Shabu Shabu Combo A at KaGaYa in Little Tokyo

Shabu Shabu Combo A at KaGaYa

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

KaGaYa



KaGaYa is a higher-end shabu shabu bar from Masa Kagaya that’s thrived in Little Tokyo’s Honda Plaza since 1995. A tasseled doorway leads to 11 stools at a curved counter overlooking an open kitchen, and five tables with tabletop burners and copper hoods. Their tight menu starts with USDA Prime rib and rises to Japanese Grade A5 Wagyu beef. Seafood includes Alaskan King crab, oysters, and clams. Surf and turf combos are also available. No matter what, meals come with two seasonal appetizers and a daily “wanmori” soup. During our dinner, that meant a crunchy salmon cartilage bowl with cucumber vinegar sauce, kelp and radish; ocean trout soup with sudachi; and deep-fried Japanese sea eel with shiitake mushroom and daikon radish sauce. Bubbling chicken broth also comes with raw shiitake mushrooms; Napa cabbage, glass noodles, tofu cubes, scallion shavings, and frilly chrysanthemum leaves. Boil everything according to Chef Kagaya’s instructions and dip results in nutty sesame sauce or tangy ponzu. Finish with a choice of udon noodles or rice soup crafted with residual broth, scrambled egg, soy sauce, tart pickled plum, bracing mitsuba (Japanese watercress) and ginger juice. Pickled cucumber and radish lead to a choice of five house-made desserts. Green tea mousse hosts cascading cream, red bean and mint. A cup of green tea provides a finishing touch.

Pepes Ikan Cod at Kasih in Little Tokyo

Pepes Ikan Cod at Kasih

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Kasih



Kasih is a modern Indonesian restaurant located at the base of AVA mixed-use development, with a name that translates to English as “love.” In an open kitchen, beneath a box lantern sea, Chef de Cuisine Zachary Hamel executes a menu he created with revered Jakarta-based chef Vindex Tengker that doesn’t skimp on spice or funk. Their sambal tasting is a great way to sample bold flavors. Five different spicy dips appear on a platter in a row, ranging from tame to intense. Sambal nanas combines pineapple, chile, garlic, and lime juice. Bright sambal tomat teams tomato, chile, shallots, lemon basil, and lime juice. Sambal hijau blends tangy tomatillo, green chile, shallots, and Makrut lime leaf. Sambal terasi dials up the umami with roasted shrimp paste, roasted Fresno chile, and roasted tomato. Sambal dabu dabu invigorates heirloom tomatoes with shallots, lemon basil, and bird’s eye chiles. Sambals come with punchy turmeric pickles, dip-ready Indonesian crackers (shrimp, garlic, tempeh and poppy seed) and the chef’s signature “Zach snack,” a crave worthy mix of peanuts, spiced cashew brittle, lime leaf, and fried shallots. Bold plates include pepes ikan cod, with flaky Santa Barbara lingcod marinated in red curry paste and lemon basil grilled in a banana leaf. Nasi goreng is another highlight, featuring fried rice emboldened with sambal terasi, plated with seasonal vegetables and crispy egg noodles.

Grilled Thick-Cut Beef Tongue at Kinjiro in Little Tokyo

Grilled Thick-Cut Beef Tongue at Kinjiro

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Kinjiro



Jun Isogai runs Kinjiro in Honda Plaza with Yoshizaku Kondo. The restaurant’s name honors Ninomiya Kinjiro, who in the 1800s, “rose from humble origins and became one of the most beloved statesmen in Japan, bringing food and joy to the people during hard times via agricultural reform.”  The glass-fronted kitchen in this tiny izakaya produces thoughtful izakaya fare, often using higher end ingredients. Menu mainstays include grilled, thick-cut beef tongue. Rich slices of Prime beef tout rosy centers, winning sears, a sprinkling of sea salt, and shaved scallions. Simmered beef tendon, tongue, and sinew are off-cuts that shine in miso stew that’s spoonable on garlic toasts. Bouncy udon incorporates two types of squid ink and cherry tomatoes. They also treat cool, creamy oysters to tangy house ponzu. Specials of the day also warrant attention, particularly seared Santa Barbara sea urchin torched and served on wakame with nori wrappers.

Vongole Udon at Marugame Monzo

Vongole Udon at Marugame Monzo

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Marugame Monzo



Marugame Monzo makes thick, beautifully chewy udon noodles for hot and cool preparations in their showcase kitchen. The Kyushu-born owner trained with an udon master in Marugame, Japan, and coaxes maximum impact from a seemingly simple mix of flour, salt, and water, taking care to adjust for factors like temperature and humidity. Vongole udon is a signature pasta and clam dish that’s only available at dinner. Large, plump Manila clams join udon in an umami-rich dashi broth crafted with iriko (baby sardine), Kombu, bonito, and shiitake mushrooms. Butter, sake, white wine, and chiles round out the bowl, along with nori and scallion garnishes. Other notable preparations include gooey, golden-crusted udon gratin starring shrimp and bay scallops submerged in cream sauce with onion and Parmesan cheese, baked and served in a sizzling pan with an oregano dusting. Plum shiso bukkake udon is one of Marugame Monzo’s better cold variations, teaming cool noodles with tart plum paste, shiso leaf, scallions, and bonito shavings, served with raw grated ginger and a tiny pitcher of cold broth, fish-based dashi.

Sushi platter at Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo

Sushi Gen

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Sushi Gen Restaurant



Sushi Gen has become a legendary Little Tokyo destination thanks to Toshiaki Toyoshima, who opened the restaurant in 1981 and developed a reputation for having some of the neighborhood’s freshest market seafood. The restaurant certainly provides luxurious opportunities, whether that means sushi starring sweet shrimp, sea urchin, or unctuous toro (bluefin tuna belly). People also line up for a sashimi lunch that costs just $19 and features an array of sea creatures – possibly including albacore in soy sauce, tuna tartare, and raw snapper - along with rice, miso soup and pickles. Chirashi, a rice bowl starring market-driven cuts, is another popular option that features rotating seafood.

Soft cream in taiyaki at Uji Time Dessert in Little Tokyo

Soft cream in taiyaki at Uji Time Dessert

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Uji Time Dessert



Uji Time Dessert is a Japanese-style soft serve ice cream shop that started in Berkeley and now has four Bay Area locations. In 2019, they launched inside Little Tokyo Galleria. The smell of waffles wafts through the air, enticing passersby on the ground floor. They serve four flavors: matcha, black sesame, tofu and purin (crème brûlée). They’re best known for soft cream in taiyaki (fish-shaped waffles) with a choice of filling, various toppings and protruding Pocky sticks. For variety’s sake, get a swirl. Our visit involved earthy matcha and nutty black sesame soft cream swirl in taiyaki with red bean filling and poppy seed and matcha powder toppings. Uji Time also sells supple mochi filled with ice cream flavors like mango Thai basil, red bean, and lychee colada.

 Shibuya Crossing cocktail at Wolf & Crane in Little Tokyo

 Shibuya Crossing cocktail at Wolf & Crane

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Wolf & Crane



Longtime DTLA residents Michael Francesconi and Matthew Glaser debuted Wolf & Crane in Little Tokyo in December 2013, combining an artistic Japanese aesthetic with a Japanese whisky focus. The bamboo fronted bar features a neon wolf and crane logo that references Aesop’s fable of the same name. A light-strung patio gives way to an L-shaped bar and high top communal tables. A lounge houses low-slung wood banquette with red hexagon tables and walls featuring Wakana Kimura Studio’s wolf and crane murals and Kuni aka’s calligraphy. Their cocktail menu changes every four months and touts 10 well-curated choices that may incorporate tequila, gin, and vodka, not just Japanese whisky. Basic drinkers will appreciate the simple joys of a Wolf & Crane - a can of Asahi and shot of Japanese whisky. They also have an Old Fashioned with Japanese bitters and offer a Highball with Suntory Toki Japanese whisky and yuzu soda. Gozen is a recent aromatic, stirred original co-starring Iwai Japanese whisky, Lo-Fi amaro and Lo-Fi vermouth. Shibuya Crossing is by far their bestselling cocktail, with Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, apricot, kumquat, and lemon juice, served over ice in a Collins glass and finished with a splash of Campari and Aperol. They also rotate 10 beer taps.