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.

Lattes and pretzels at Coffee Tomo in Sawtelle Japantown
Lattes and pretzels at Coffee Tomo | Instagram: @foodpiggerz

Coffee Tomo

Start your walking tour of Sawtelle Japantown with a house-roasted coffee, honey butter bread, and a 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 that's 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 pretzel 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
Photo: Janss Family House

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.

Giant Robot Post It Show
The yearly Post It Show at Giant Robot's GR2 gallery | Photo: Giant Robot

Giant Robot

From the Janss House, walk east on La Grange back to Sawtelle, go right and you'll arrive at Giant Robot, the shop that helped 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. More than 20 years since its opening, GR continues to be on the cutting edge of cool with its eclectic collection of t-shirts, toys, graphic novels and more.

GR2 Art Gallery opened down the street two years after the original Giant Robot, and has become well-known for its rotating exhibits of up-and-coming underground artists.

Primary image for Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle
Tsukemen at Tsujita LA in Sawtelle Japantown  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle

After your morning of custom coffee, architecture appreciation and Asian pop culture, it's time for lunch at the neighborhood's most popular restaurant, Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle.

As a sign of the respect garnered by Takehiro Tsujita, ramen wasn’t offered for months after he opened his eponymous restaurant on Sawtelle in August 2011. But as soon as Tsujita started serving tsukemen (dipping ramen), ramen fanatics immediately flocked to Sawtelle Japantown in droves. The lunch-only limited availability added to the mystique. The tonkotsu (pork bone) broth is simmered for 60 hours before bonito is added for additional depth of flavor. Thick, chewy noodles are dipped into the dense, syrupy broth and slurped for maximum umami enjoyment.

The Tsujita tsukemen experience is a three-step process. First, enjoy one third of the noodles dipped in the broth. Next, squeeze lime juice over the noodles for a much different flavor profile. Customize the ramen with condiments like sesame, karashi takana (spicy pickled mustard greens) and beni shoga (red pickled ginger). Finally, when you’ve finished the noodles, a server adds hot water to the broth so you can enjoy it like a soup. Besides the basic tsukemen, optional toppings include char siu (barbecued pork), ajitama (seasoned soft boiled egg), nori (seaweed) and men-ma (bamboo shoot).

In April 2013, Tsujita Annex opened across the street, featuring an even porkier version of the signature ramen. This broth is simmered not only with pork bones but also fat, and the results are not for the light-hearted. A mountain of bean sprouts, thick-cut char siu and optional heaps of chopped garlic and/or onikasu (red spice) also differentiate the Annex from the original.

Dishes at Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe in Sawtelle Japantown
Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe | Instagram: @nonglacafe

Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe

A welcome addition to the Sawtelle dining scene when it opened in 2012, the family-owned and operated Nong Lá Vietnamese Cafe is a neighborhood favorite known for its delicious Vietnamese comfort food. Named after the Vietnamese word for "straw hat," Nong Lá uses only the freshest ingredients - including free range chicken, cage-free eggs, prime cuts of hormone-free beef - in traditional dishes such as hearty bowls of pho, refreshing bun noodle salads, and banh mi (available 8"/12"). Worth a visit in its own right, Nong Lá's location next door to Tsujita is convenient for those who don't want to wait in the inevitable lines.

BlackMarketLA | Photo: Black Market, Facebook


After lunch, it's time for some retail therapy. But don’t expect any ordinary shopping at the little lifestyle boutique known as BlackMarketLA, located next door to Tsujita Annex. 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.

Daiso Japan
Daiso Japan | Photo: Daiso Japan, Facebook

Daiso Japan

Walk a couple of blocks south on Sawtelle and shop Daiso, the Japanese version of "the dollar store." (Not everything is a dollar, but it’s pretty close.) The selection of things you never knew you needed is more than 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.

Nijiya Market is conveniently located in the same shopping center, so you can pick up produce, meat, dry goods and oh-so-yummy Japanese snacks.

Cocktails at Bar Hermanito
Cockails at Bar Hermanito | Instagram: @barhermanito


Shopping is thirsty work, so head back up Sawtelle to Hermanito, the bar-forward Mexican restaurant that boasts one of West LA's best patios. Unwind with a classic Margarita or signature cocktails like the Hermanito Milkshake (rye, coconut, spices), Mezcalero (mezcal, Aperol, Vermouth Royal Blanc), Japanese Old Fashioned, and the Little Osaka Manhattan, made with rye, sweet vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse and bitters.

Snack on Tajin Kale Chips, Avocado Fries, "Fish Stix" (fried smelt) and the Mushroom Mulita - an elevated quesadilla with foraged Japanese mushrooms sandwiched between two handmade blue tortillas; avocado crema, Oaxacan and Chihuahua cheeses.

Cocktails can easily segue into dinner, which could include Hamachi Tempura, Miso Cod, Hangar Steak Rice Bowl (great for sharing), or their most popular dish, Birria Tacos with Guerrero-style braised beef.

Primary image for Killer Noodle Tsujita
Downtown Style with soup (Spice Level 4) at Killer Noodle Tsujita | Photo: @tiffany871028_foodie, Instagram

Killer Noodle Tsujita

The Tsujita group opened Killer Noodle in October 2017, serving up customizable bowls of Tantanmen, the Japanese version of fiery Sichuan Dan Dan Mian. Start by selecting one of three styles, available with or without soup: Tokyo (peanut and sesame flavor, rich/creamy), Downtown (vinegar and chili oil, tangy/acidic), and Original (white mabo topped with Thai chili and black pepper).

The heat levels range from zero to six. In his 2018 LA Times review, beloved food critic Jonathan Gold described accepting the Level 6 challenge: "Servers hover around you, making sure that you are not in too much physical distress, offering you towels, refilling the ice water. And then you are done, floating on a sea of endorphins, feeling perhaps the level of distress that you might after a Guisados chiles toreados taco or two but no worse for the experience. Still, the next time around you are thinking you’ll go back to three."

Extinguish the fire with the Killer Noodle Blood Wheat, an exclusive collab with Covina's Nova Brewing Co.

Omakase at Sushi Tsujita
Sushi Tsujita Omakase | Photo: N K, Yelp

Sushi Tsujita

Opened by the ubiquitous Tsujita group in August 2014, Sushi Tsujita announced in June 2023 that it had reopened under new management, with a new head chef and entirely new menu.

The omakase menu now starts at just $49 - the Osaka includes a seasonal appetizer, 9 pieces nigiri (Catch of the Day), chef's choice hand roll and Tsujita Signature Dessert. Priced at $69, the Kyoto adds two pieces of fish from Japan; the nigiri in the Tokyo ($89) is entirely from Japan, including Wagyu sushi. The Unagi Set ($59) includes seasonal appetizer, unaju (eel over rice), Japanese pickles, suimono soup and Tsujita Signature Dessert.

Currently open for dinner from 6-10pm Thursday through Monday, with lunch service expected soon.

Dishes at Tuk Tuk Thai on Sawtelle
Photo: Tuk Tuk Thai

Tuk Tuk Thai

Located on the northern end of Sawtelle, Tuk Tuk Thai is a vibrant and inviting restaurant that explores the culinary traditions of Thailand, with a focus on Thai street food. Led by sisters Katy Noochlaor and Chef Amanda Maneesilassan, the restaurant's contemporary and stylish decor combines traditional Thai elements with modern touches, and a large mural inspired by Bangkok is painted over the rose-colored walls. After 23 years on Pico Boulevard, Tuk Tuk relocated to its current home on Sawtelle in 2022, making it one of the only Thai restaurants on the street known for its many Japanese establishments.

Upside down ah-boong at SomiSomi in Sawtelle Japantown
SomiSomi in Sawtelle Japantown | Instagram: @synthstomach

SomiSomi - Sawtelle

Of course you'll want dessert after dinner, and SomiSomi (housed in the former Blockheads space) will hit the spot. Founded in 2016 by Matt Kim, the Koreatown hotspot quickly gained a cult following for its ah-boong - an ornate goldfish waffle cone with your choice of soft serve and filling. The cone (taiyaki) tastes like a pancake with a chewy texture.

Start your order with a soft serve selection, such as milk, matcha, ube, Thai tea or a swirl. Next, pick a style - the signature ah-boong, upside down ah-boong, or soft serve in a cup. Finally, choose a filling like red bean, taro, custard or Nutella.

The cone (taiyaki) tastes like a pancake with a chewy texture. You can opt to order the taiyaki stuffed with just fillings (2 for $4.25, 5 for $8.95).