A Walking Tour of Sawtelle Japantown
Shop pop-culture boutiques, nosh on delicious global fare and more
The neighborhood of Sawtelle Japantown (formerly known as Little Osaka) is a true gem of West Los Angeles. The historic area is home to a sizable Japanese American population and is known for the trendy shops and restaurants centered on Sawtelle Boulevard. During World War II, the community was disrupted and lives were uprooted because of the Japanese American internment, one of the darkest chapters in American history. A large number of them resettled in Little Osaka as they reintegrated into society. Today, Sawtelle Japantown is represented not only by its Japanese American postwar settlers and their descendants, but by a diverse set of Asians and other ethnicities and backgrounds. Take a stroll through the neighborhood and shop kitschy boutiques, nosh on delicious multicultural fare and more.
Start your morning with a house-roasted coffee, honey butter bread, and specialty pretzel from the Korean-Japanese inspired Coffee Tomo. Their intricate knots are baked fresh daily, which you can enjoy with a drip coffee in the clean, warm ambiance informed by the owner’s background as a landscape architect. The honey butter bread comes dusted with cinnamon and topped with whipped cream, while your oven-hot pretel might be filled with sweet potato or Asian red beans and mozzarella. Now you’re ready for the rest of your day.
Janss Family House
Work off your morning joe by taking a short walk a couple of blocks west to the Janss Family House on Purdue. The architectural gem was built by the late Edwin Janss Jr. and is the first individual residential design by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. Janss Jr. was an enthusiast of Pop Art, and this residence was expressly designed to show off his impressive collection. He was the chairman of Janss Investment Corp Over and the third generation of L.A. real estate developers. Over the years, the Janss family developed communities such as Westwood Village, Holmby Hills, East Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks and out-of-state ski resorts. UCLA was built on land donated by Janss Jr.’s father, Edwin Janss Sr. and his uncle Harold.
After your morning of custom coffee, architecture appreciation and book browsing, head to Sushi Tsujita, the latest from the team behind the wildly popular Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle. Sit at a table or at the bar for an authentic sushi experience in a sleek setting. The edomae-style sushi can be ordered a la carte, in sets or you can indulge in the $80 lunch omakase for an all-out affair. The best deal at lunch is the $15 Bara-Chirashi bowl, featuring warm rice, a variety of sashimi and a bowl of miso soup. The Bara-Chirashi special is available in very limited quantities - only 15 servings are offered a day. There’s also a $25 sashimi bowl, which adds more sashimi and an appetizer.
After lunch, it's time to try a little retail therapy on Sawtelle. But don’t expect any ordinary shopping at the little lifestyle boutique known as BlackMarketLA, located across the street from Sushi Tsujita. For the friend who has everything, that perfect gift might be one of several kitschy graphic tees from the racks, and you'll have plenty of cards to choose from to accompany your gift. You can also shop for yourself by picking up a pair of stylish sunglasses for your daily wear.
Continue on Sawtelle to the shop that helped to jumpstart today’s Sawtelle Japantown scene. What began as an Asian pop culture magazine became an online store and then a brick and mortar retailer in 2001. Giant Robot sells original Asian and Asian American art, prints, toys, t-shirts and books in a style that has spawned many imitators. Peruse the art and perhaps walk away with a piece created by one of many rotating underground artists. Whether it's something you can wear or display on your wall or mantel, you’re sure to enhance your wardrobe or living space with a piece of cutting edge Asian culture.
Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe
It's about time for dinner, so head to Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe for delicious Vietnamese food at this family-owned and operated restaurant. Named after the Vietnamese word for "straw hat," the Phong family uses only the freshest ingredients, including free range chicken and cage free eggs, in traditional dishes such as pho and banh mi. Nong Lá Cafe was a welcome addition to the Sawtelle dining scene when it opened in 2012. and continues to be very committed to quality representations of your favorites.
Blockheads Shavery Co.
You'll definitely want to finish your dinner with dessert, so walk over to Blockheads Shavery Co. for Taiwanese "snow cream," better known as shaved ice. Blockheads' rendition combines the texture of Hawaiian shaved ice with the creaminess of ice cream for this extra special, unique dessert dish where you pick the flavors, toppings and "drizzles" for a sweet treat that's all your own. Look for the seasonal flavors on offer as well.
Walk off your delicious eats by visiting Daiso Japan, the Japanese version of "the dollar store," for some lightweight after-dinner shopping. Not everything is a dollar, but it’s pretty close. The selection of things you never knew you needed is enough to keep you coming back for more. Take care of your convenience needs with sake sets, bento lunch boxes, and everything else portable and pretty.
Max Karaoke Studio
Sing the night away at Max Karaoke Studio, located on the south side of Sawtelle Japantown. Enjoy their BYOB policy inside your own private room while singing as many songs that suit your fancy from their extensive selection. They continually add more pop favorites to their repertoire, so you might very well be singing something that's on the current Top 40. Come on a weekday and get an even better deal on a room rental.