The dineL.A. Guide to Little Tokyo

Brunch at Baldoria | Instagram courtesy of @baldoriadtla

Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles is one of the city's top culinary destinations. Dig deeper and you'll find that dining options in this historic district aren't limited to its acclaimed sushi and ramen spots. From an Italian-inspired lounge to Korean-style sausages, read on for the dineL.A. guide to Little Tokyo.

Far Bar

Located on 1st Street in the historic Far East Building, Far Bar features a lively main bar with numerous flatscreens, dozens of craft beers on tap, and Asian-influenced cocktails and pub fare. A second bar is discreetly located next to the bar’s patio off 1st Street, featuring a massive list of hundreds of bourbons, single malts and Japanese whiskies. Far Bar hosts a popular daily and late happy hour (Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m., Sunday-Monday 9 p.m. to close) that offers great discounts on beer, wine, sake, cocktails and bar snacks.

Hama Sushi - Little Tokyo

With its high quality sushi and only about 20 seats, a wait is pretty much a given at Hama Sushi in the Japanese Village Plaza. Signs posted throughout the cozy space inform guests that Hama is a sushi-only establishment - there’s no tempura, teriyaki or noodles. You can’t even get rice alone. The focus is on raw fish over rice, and if you're lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar, you can order expertly made sushi like the translucent amaebi (sweet shrimp), velvety salmon belly and Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin). The spicy tuna hand roll is a favorite of regulars. The sushi chefs are well known for focusing on their work - don't expect much in the way of friendly banter.

Chashu Hash Skillet | Photo courtesy of JiST Cafe

JiST Cafe

This little cafe next to East West Players has been in the Ishii family for more than 70 years. Chashu dumplings first put the original mom-and-pop joint on the map in the 1940s. Incarnations as Tokyo Gardens and Tokyo Cafe shifted the greasy spoon diner to a traditional Japanese lunch dive. Chef Glen Ishii continues his family legacy, preserving the mother chashu marinade and giving it new life through JiST Cafe's pork belly chashu. According to the JiST website, the base is added to and cooked off daily, "further deepening its flavors with each passing year." The stellar Chashu Hash Skillet features caramelized pork belly chashu topped with two six-minute eggs and served with crusty breakfast potatoes and red pepper strips. Another standout is the pancakes made with hand mixed crème fraîche batter, topped with 60% TCHO chocolate and fresh bananas. Porky Omurice is a classic ketchup fried omelet rice with Prime Smoked Meats hickory ham and demi glace sauce. The Angeleno Veg Omelette Scramble offers Brussels sprouts, garlic, mushrooms and lemon segments.

Mentai squid butter udon | Photo courtesy of Marugame Monzo, Facebook

Marugame Monzo

Adjacent to the more well known Daikokuya is Marugame Monzo, an udon specialist that features a showcase window for diners to watch the cooks roll dough and skillfully slice the strands of udon. The freshly made noodles are offered in numerous hot and cold variations, including signature dishes like the rich, creamy Mentai Squid Butter Udon, which is infused with cod roe and a little kick of spice. The hearty Miso Carbonara Udon mixes Japanese and Italian influences in a viscous broth and topped with bacon. The Plum Shiso Bukkake Udon features cold udon noodles, plum paste, shiso leaf, scallions, and bonito shavings, served with raw grated ginger and a tiny pitcher of cold fish-based dashi broth that guests can add to taste.

MEN OH Tokushima Ramen | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Men Oh Tokushima Ramen

Located in the Honda Plaza strip mall off 2nd Street, Men Oh Tokushima Ramen features a signature ramen known for its savory and umami-rich broth made from Kurobuta pork bones, cooked for 16 hours and infused with a specialty soy flavored seasoning. The hefty Tokushima ramen bowl features straight noodles of medium thickness and topped with butabara (stir-fried pork belly) for a distinctive texture and flavor. The traditional chashu is also offered, along with bamboo shoots, green onions, bean sprouts and seasoned soft-boiled egg.

Beignets | Photo courtesy of Midori Matcha & Café

Midori Matcha & Café

Opened in the beginning of 2017, Midori Matcha & Café is a sleek, modern matcha café located in the Weller Court shopping center in Little Tokyo, across from the monument dedicated to Space Shuttle Challenger astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka. The mall is also home to a slew of Japanese themed stores and eateries, including Marukai Supermarket and Kinokuniya bookstore. Founder Jason Dmitry Steinbuchel started his matcha business as a wholesaler of bottled drinks made with ceremonial grade stone-ground, organic matcha. His first brick and mortar serves up a menu of cold brewed drinks, including matcha with blueberry or coconut; limeade with fresh lime; granita ice cream shake; soft serve; lattes, and more. Pastries filled with matcha, include beignets, eclairs, and brownies come courtesy of nearby Pitchoun Bakery. Stop by for a refresher as you take in the sights, or hang out, read, or study - wifi and limited outlets are available.

Hakata ramen bowl | Photo courtesy of Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen, Facebook

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen - Little Tokyo

From the original Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori in Gardena, the restaurant group has expanded to locations across L.A., Orange County and Tokyo. The Little Tokyo branch specializes in hakata ramen, known for its thinner noodles and rich, milky tonkotsu broth. Priced at a wallet-friendly $6.95, the hakata ramen bowl is topped with sliced chashu, chopped scallions, red ginger and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Customize your ramen with additional toppings like flavored egg, spicy miso, spinach or takana (leafy pickles). Combo toppings include Stamina Toppings (garlic chips, poached egg, kimchi), Crunchy Toppings (crispy pork ear, poached egg, crispy onion), Overload Toppings (pork cutlet, spare rib, thick cut chashu) and Italian Trio (mozzarella cheese, tomato basil paste, black pepper). The extensive menu goes well beyond ramen, with a wide ranging selection that includes salads, cold dishes, rice bowls, and a deep fried section with chicken, oysters and squid legs.

Chicken katsu don at Suehiro Cafe | Photo courtesy of Ron Dollete, Flickr

Suehiro Cafe

After drinks at Wolf & Crane or jazz at the Blue Whale, you can grab a bite at Suehiro Cafe, a humble Japanese coffee shop on 1st Street. Open til 3 a.m. on the weekend, Suehiro offers a little bit of everything on its rustic menu - the house special beef udon noodle soup is not too salty and very substantial, and the combination plate with gyoza (veggie or pork), pork katsu or broiled mackerel, rice and sesame spinach is the epitome of Japanese comfort food. The basic, uncluttered ambiance is all you want after a night of imbibing or taking care of business. Suehiro even serves decent sushi and sashimi if that’s your late night craving.

Sushi Gen Restaurant

For one of the best sushi deals in L.A., head to Sushi Gen, located at Honda Plaza. Just before 11 a.m. every day, eager diners queue up for the famed sashimi lunch special, priced at just $15. The special comes with miso soup, a warm tofu dish, a big bowl of rice, and a large sashimi plate. Fish selection varies, but usually includes tuna, yellowtail, spicy tuna or toro, octopus, a mountain of kelp, and cooked fish. Note that the lunch special is only available at a table, not at the sushi bar.