Sawtelle Boulevard is what I consider one of the food paradises of Los Angeles.
This stretch has gained a trendy reputation because of its many Japanese influenced lunch/dining options. In addition, its location is excellent. It is a popular stop for UCLA students, Santa Monica beachgoers and young professionals working in the Culver City area.
This is one of my favorite areas in the big city and I am eager to share my eating and drinking recommendations.
The ‘neighborhood’ comprises the portion of Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard.
This area is located very close to the most popular beaches in Los Angeles County. Santa Monica and Venice Beach are within a 7 miles distance (15-20 minutes’ drive). This is an ideal lunch stop for those touring Los Angeles and moving from the beach to Beverly Hills or Hollywood.
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 (in Downtown Los Angeles). 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.
Here are some of my favorite restaurants on Sawtelle Boulevard (I know they are a lot):
Tatsu serves amazing Tonkotsu broth ramen. And this assertion comes from somebody who doesn’t like soups.
Tonkotsu broth is made by simmering pork marrow or pork bones. Tatsu’s Japan-trained chefs prepare the broth daily from scratch. Their broth simmers for 14 hours.
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.
Most of the options come with pork chasu, soft-boiled egg, and noodles. But, you do not have to feel constrained. This is the land of customization and you can have your bowl the way you want (spicy, sweet, vegan, etc). Toppings such as corn, garlic, and seaweed are free.
People rave about the ramen at Tsujita LA. If you do not believe me, just take a look at the lines outside the restaurant.
As Tatsu, Tsujita serves Tonkotsu ramen. Their recipe was developed by a ramen master from Tokyo. The broth simmers for 60 hours (oh, yes!).
In addition, they serve Tsukumen, a dish where the noodles and the soup are served separately. The noodles are dipped in the soup before consumption. This is one of those “only in Los Angeles” dishes. This preparation is not that popular in other cities in the United States.
Daikokuya, a branch of the popular Little Tokyo noodle shop, serves highly regarded ramen too.
Their Daikoku Ramen is one of the most requested dishes. It consists of Tonkotsu broth infused with a special soy sauce, pork belly chasu, boiled egg (marinated overnight), bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions.
They have spicy miso ramen and Tsukumen available as well. The place is known for ramen but you can rice bowls, yakisoba, chicken teriyaki, and other appetizers/sides.
Get ready to wait since this place is known for its long lines.
This different concept, by Tsujita, offers ramen featuring spicy and numbing characteristics. You can customize the spiciness level.
They serve three main styles: Tokyo, Downtown, and Original. In addition, they sell mabo, char siu, and pork rice bowls.
I recommend taking it slowly on your first visit. My husband says these are some of the spiciest soups he has ever tried (and he had some crazy stuff in Thailand).
This Sawtelle restaurant is part of a chain with 900 stores in Japan and 400 overseas. Their specialty is Udon, the thick and chewy noodles prepared from wheat flour.
You have plenty of options at this restaurant. Just have a look at what you can get.
Kake Udon – the most basic way to have udon, stock (dashi, soy sauce, and mirin) and noodles
Zaru Udon – noodles served with a cold dipping sauce
Bukkake Udon – noodles served on a cold broth, the broth used on the bukkake version is more flavorful than the kake version
Mentai kamatama Udon – a raw egg is placed over very hot udon, no soup
Kitsune Udon – topped with a thin slice of deep-fried tofu
Curry Udon – also called kare udon. As the name implies, noodles are served with a thick curry sauce
Thai Spicy Udon – flavored with Thai spices and topped with chicken breast
Nikutama Udon – a raw egg is cracked over very hot noodles
Tonkotsu Udon – served ramen style (but with udon noodles)
To accompany the udon, the restaurant sells a wide variety of tempura chicken, seafood, and vegetables.
Manpuku Tokyo BBQ
This chain, with restaurants in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Costa Mesa (Orange County), provides customers with a premier Japanese BBQ experience.
You get to select your favorites from a long list of beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and offal. Then, it is time to cook on a grill built into the table.
Vegetables such as bell peppers, carrots onions, and cabbage are available for grilling in order to complement the meal.
Manpuku signature dish is the salted tongue topped with chopped tokyo negi (known as Welsh onion).
This is a really fun place to visit with friends and family.
This family-owned business prides itself on serving the highest fish quality at the lowest price possible. Because of this, it has become a popular lunch spot for those who frequent the area. Moreover, they prepare all their sauces in-house.
Their sushi pieces and rolls go from $4 to $15. They have interesting stuff like jellyfish, conger eel, and monkfish eel. Those who are not sushi lovers can opt for a teriyaki and tempura combination plates.
Many consider Kiriko one of the best sushi restaurants in Los Angeles. Even the ones who do not agree with that assessment will recognize that dinning in here is not an ordinary experience.
The restaurant is known for its omakase or allowing the chef to serve you what he thinks is best. The price for this ranges between $80 and $120 per person. That price does not include drinks or items containing high-prized ingredients. Yes, it is not cheap but, oh, so worth it.
If you want to save some bucks, choose to stop during lunch hours. They offer a set lunch and a sushi omakase (10 pieces chose by the chef). In that way, you can taste some of the awesomeness.
Hurry Curry of Tokyo
To me, this place serves the Japanese version of comfort food. They specialize in Japanese curry. In some dishes, the protein (or vegetable) is incorporated on the curry sauce while in others it is served on the side (you mix it the way you want).
I love their Chicken Cutlet Curry. I am even sighting as I write these. I love the thinness and crispiness of the cutlet and the richness of the curry. I have also tried the pork and fish cutlet versions and like them too.
Do you think I was going to leave fried chicken off the list? No way!
On Anzu, you can get Karagee Chicken (Japanese fried chicken) by itself, on a rice bowl or combo. You can add dipping sauces such as mayo, sriracha aioli or ponzu. I promise this chicken is finger-licking delicious.
They serve burgers, hot dogs, curry, loco moco, and ginger pork too. I have not tried those dishes but I have heard people raving about them.
Mizu 212 Degrees
I need to include this Sawtelle restaurant because, first, it is a style we have not discuss and second, it is so exquisite!
This is Shabu-Shabu restaurants is known for serving prime beef, free-range chicken, and organic vegetables. If you are not familiar with the concept, you order several plates of raw ingredients, cook them by boiling them on a flavorful broth and dip it in a ponzu sauce before eating it. You can add garlic, scallions or yuzu to the sauce to enhance the flavor.
The Prix price for lunch is around $25.
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 Sawtelle’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 users give the place four stars).
Kura is a revolving sushi bar (it is a chain with other locations). At about $3 each plate, it is a good place to try several things (they have 30+ options). The other cool thing is that you can order sides such as chicken wings, ramen and teriyaki from a screen and the item will arrive in a capsule to your seat.
If you are craving ice cream, you have to visit Blockheads. Now, this is not your ordinary ice cream or frozen yogurt parlor. What they serve can be described as a mix of 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.
I am totally obsessed with this place!
B Sweet Dessert Bar
This is a killer place to get a sweet tooth fixing!
They stand out by baking over 50+ flavors of bread pudding and changing the menus weekly. The week I visited they had banana chocolate, donut, red velvet, salted caramel and speculoos (shortcrust biscuit popular in the Netherland and Belgium) flavors in stock.
You can also try their halo halo, bananas foster cheesecake and coffee. There is no way to go wrong once you enter this place.
This place sells macarons, chocolates, and coffee. And, of course, they specialize in crepes. However, the kick is that they can add a creme brulee on top of your crepe (they form a cone with the crepe and add the creme brulee on top).
As a creme brulee lover, I thought the combination was good. I kept things simple by getting a strawberry and Nutella crepe. It may be too much if you get tons of ingredients inside the crepe. I feel like it is a thing dessert lovers should try.
Brian’s Shave Ice
Everybody seems to love this place. You choose a size, a filling (dole whip, adzuki beans, mochi balls or ice cream), 3 or more flavor for the ice (50+ options) and a topping (condensed milk, chocolate, caramel, li hing mui powder). This is the perfect way to cool down on a blazing hot day.
Every time I pass by a Honeymee, I stop and get in. If my stomach is beyond full, I stop too. There is no way I would pass the opportunity to have a Sweetie, soft serve ice cream drizzled with honey. Sounds simple but it is completely delectable. I scrape every bit of honey from the cup.
They have other flavors but the Sweetie is by far my favorite. I encourage you to try one.
Coffee and Tea Shops
An Asian enclave cannot be complete without tea shops. Sawtelle 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 is 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 combination 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.
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 Southern food, try Flores + Sons.
For Sonora style tacos, try Sonoritas Prime Tacos.
For modern American food, try Plan Check Kitchen.
As you can see, there are a lot of Japanese options on the Sawtelle Restaurants. I am sure you will find something interesting and delicious to eat. Hope you get the area try.
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Have you tried one of these Sawtelle Restaurants? What are your recommendations?