The Top 5 Dishes in Little Tokyo

Go beyond sushi and ramen

Sambal Tasting at Kasih in Little Tokyo
Sambal Tasting at Kasih  |  Photo:  Joshua Lurie

Back when people started settling Little Tokyo in 1885, the very first business was a restaurant called Kame. Immigration from Japan to work in agriculture, and mass relocation from San Francisco following the legendary 1906 earthquake, led to 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 centers during World War II. The neighborhood’s history shows that it wasn’t until the 1970s that Japanese-Americans managed to institute a Little Tokyo revival (including food) that still continues to thrive and diversify. Discover five of the neighborhood’s best dishes.

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 dates to 2010 and reminds us of Tokyo. The moody setting features black banquettes, a pink marble-like bar, branches painted on walls, and soft jazz. Fu means wind in Japanese, and ga translates to elegant. Kajino created a compelling menu of share-friendly small plates with big flavor. Broiled yuzu pepper chicken is of particular interest. A boneless, charbroiled, skin-on thigh is seasoned with tangy yuzu and teriyaki sauce, dressed with scallion shavings and crunchy panko.

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. He teamed with business partner Caroline Shin to transform the space into JiST Café, a creative breakfast and lunch destination next to the East West Players theatre. Order at the counter and enjoy your food in a dining room with reclaimed wood walls or on a shaded brick-walled patio with stone flooring. The Chashu Hash Skillet features tender chunks of pork belly marinated in a savory mother sauce, caramelized and served in a skillet with breakfast potatoes, red pepper strips, and a pair of six-minute eggs that ooze yolk when sliced, serving as sauce.

Sambal Tasting at Kasih in Little Tokyo
Sambal Tasting at Kasih  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie


Kasih is a modern Indonesian restaurant located at the base of the AVA mixed-use development, with a name that translates to English as “love.” In an open kitchen beneath a sea of box lanterns, 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 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.

Grilled Thick-Cut Beef Tongue at Kinjiro in Little Tokyo
Grilled Thick-Cut Beef Tongue at Kinjiro  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie


Jun Isogai runs Honda Plaza’s most exciting restaurant with Yoshizaku Kondo, who was Chaya Venice’s opening chef. The name Kinjiro 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. Specials of the day are a good place to start, though you should also consider menu mainstays like grilled, thick-cut beef tongue. Rich slices of Prime beef tout rosy centers, winning sears, a sprinkling of sea salt, and shaved scallions.

Vongole Udon at Marugame Monzo
Vongole Udon at Marugame Monzo  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Marugame Monzo

Marugame Monzo makes thick, beautifully chewy udon noodles in their exhibition 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. Udon stars in hot and cool preparations, dry or in broth. 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 help round out the bowl, along with nori and scallion garnishes.