Little Osaka is what I consider one of the food paradises of Los Angeles.
The ‘neighborhood’ comprises the portion of Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard (the area is sometimes plainly called Sawtelle).
Historians assure this area has been a satellite Japanese quarter since the 30s. At that time, Japanese men involved in gardening and landscaping professions moved to the area from Little Tokyo. Since the land was cheap and the weather benign, they opened nurseries (botanical).
With time the nurseries were replaced by Japanese fast food joints, supermarkets, sushi bars, tea shops, markets, anime stores and temples. Little Osaka has gained a trendy reputation because of its location (close to UCLA, Santa Monica and Culver City) and numerous lunch / dining options.
This is one of my favorite areas in the big city (and it is located very close to my apartment ;0).
Here are some recommendations in terms of where to eat and drink.
Tatsu serves amazing Tonkotshu broth ramen. And this assertion comes from somebody who doesn’t like soups.
The fun starts by customizing your ramen using an iPad ordering system (a la Tokyo style). Then, you proceed to sit down while the chefs prepare the food in front of you.
I ordered the Soul Ramen which includes the broth, black garlic oil, umami sauce, green onions, wood-ear mushroom and pork. My husband ordered the Black Ramen with a stronger version of the black garlic oil, pork, green onions and mushrooms.
They have three more ramen options and a zero broth option. I highly recommend this place.
People also rave about the ramen at Tsujita LA (they also serve maguro and spicy tuna don). Daikokuya, a branch of the popular Little Tokyo noodle shop, serves highly regarded ramen too (it also serves rice bowls and other items).
Since the neighborhood is known as Little Osaka, a specialty from this Japanese city has to be served in at least one restaurant. Gottsui specializes in okonomiyaki (a sort of savory pancake or omelete) which some have called Osaka’s soul food.
When I visited I ordered the original version which consists of a cabbage and dough base topped with red ginger, potatoes, calamari, pork belly, shrimp, egg, green onions, bonito flakes, mayo and a sauce made with 20 different spices, fruits and vegetables. I enjoyed the dish and can see myself eating in here over and over again.
They also serve the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and yakisoba.
Coffee and Tea Shops
An Asian enclave cannot be complete without tea shops. Little Osaka is not the exception. My mouth waters when I think off all the possibilities in this category.
Coco Fresh Tea and Juice serves fresh, milk and fruit teas. The number of combinations available are difficult to count since you can add boba, grass jelly, pudding, coconut jelly, salty cream or fresh fruit (or more than one topping) to your tea (the topping depends on the type of tea). I have tried the grapefruit juice and the milk tea with boba and pudding.
Lollicup has a similar concept where milk teas and lattes, fruit teas and juices and smoothies are served. The add-ons include boba (in two sizes), green / red beans, pudding and flavored jellies (almond, coconut, mango, lychee, coffee, etc.). They also serve snacks and combinations plates. I have tried the brown sugar latter and the black tea with fresh mango and strawberries.
Volcano Tea House is also popular among the people who frequent the area. The menu includes flavored teas, specialty drinks, shaved-ice and snacks.
My pick for this category is Blockheads. Now, this is not your ordinary ice cream or frozen yogurt parlor. What they serve can be described as a mix between ice cream and shave ice. When you select one of the flavors (vanilla, strawberry, green tea, black sesame), they take out the corresponding cylindrical ice cream block from a freezer. The block is inserted into a machine for ‘shaving.’ You end up with layers (or flakes) on a plate or cup. You can add a wide variety of toppings and drizzling sauces.
Sushi purists, you will have to forgive me. I enjoy the Americanized version of sushi. You know what I am talking about: rolls topped with heavy creams or made with a base of fried rice (maybe that is too much).
Anyway, some of Little Osaka’s sushi joints cater to college students or late night owls. That can only mean one thing: sushi rolls and other popular Japanese dishes at dirt cheap prices.
For example, Sushi Stop sells most of its items for less than three dollars. There is a good selection of specialty rolls, mini bowls, udon, salads and appetizers. For the price, there is not a lot of room for complaining (Yelp user sgive the place four stars).
Kula is a new revolving sushi bar in the area (it is a chain with other locations). At $2 each plate, I had a few items before moving on to another restaurant (why I had to admit that).
Better Quality Sushi
If you are looking for more quality in your fish (and are willing to pay higher prices), make sure to stop by Hide Sushi, Kiriko or Daichan Kaiten.
Don’t forget to visit Nijiya before leaving the area. This market carries all sorts of Asian specialties. My husband and I love to stock on fish for sushi, seafood for soups and sauces / condiments for stir-fry recipes.
For Vietnamese, try Nong La.
For Korean, try Seoul House of Tofu.
For food truck business turned brick and mortar, try Seoul Sausage Company.
For a Hawaiian specialty, try Brian’s Shave Ice.
Eater LA has a comprehensive guide to dining in the area.
Have you been to Little Osaka? What are your recommendations?