Little Tokyo started out as the hub of L.A.’s early-1900s Japanese immigrant community, complete with temples, movie theaters and traditional restaurants. Japanese-Americans have mostly spread across L.A. or moved to the Torrance area, but this neighborhood has retained its roots while adding energy from residents of new lofts. Although many Downtown streets are sparsely populated at night, Little Tokyo—also called J-Town by some Angelenos—is jumping, especially on weekends.
Starting at the Japanese American National Museum, walk west on 1st Street, the area’s most historic block. The Chinatown-era neon Chop Suey Café sign is a landmark for generations who celebrated family occasions there. Have a drink at the adjacent FAR BAR lounge, but eat somewhere else. SUEHIRO CAFÉ serves Japanese diner food until 3 a.m. on weekends, including sturdy bowls of nabeyaki udon and bargain combination dinners. Nearby, DAIKOKUYA draws raves and crowds for deeply flavored pork-broth ramen.
Japanese Village Plaza is a short car-free block full of unique flavors. MITSURU CAFE’s well-worn imagawayaki molds have been turning out crispy, lightly sweetened red bean cakes for several generations. Also in the Plaza, MIKA WAYA invented the ice cream–filled mochi that are found all over now, but there are more flavors here. Try the red bean, coffee and peanut butter flavors, or the Italian gelato with a light Japanese touch. Next door, the compact NIJIYA MARKET is jam-packed with Japanese items and even a Hawaiian products department.
Near San Pedro and 1st Street, Weller Court is a modern office plaza full of restaurants. Spice lovers will appreciate OROCHON RAMEN, where steamy bowls of noodles come in seven levels of heat, with the bravest diners opting for the “hyper” and “extreme” levels.
Japanese restaurants are usually categorized by their specialties, and 2nd Street is home to top-quality sushi, shabu-shabu and izakaya—small plates of cooked food that go well with beer. HARU ULALA is a fun izakaya where diners watch the chef grill fish and vegetables. Had enough sushi? SPITZ features Turkish doner kebabs and a carefully selected beer and wine list. And the ultra-hot LAZY OX CANTEEN mixes a pub vibe with seriously good modern American cooking. A bit farther east on 2nd Street, Honda Plaza is home to SUSHI GEN, one of the area’s most beloved, and crowded, sushi bars. If you continue east on 2nd to Alameda, you’ll find the Little Tokyo Shopping Center, housing the Korean-owned LITTLE TOKYO GALLERIA supermarket, which stocks a wide selection of Asian ingredients; the bento boxes make a quick and tasty lunch. Other worthy spots in the indoor mall include SUSHI GO 55 and an outlet of the Beard Papa cream-puff empire.
Across Alameda Street on 3rd Street is WURSTKUCHE, which is packed with young customers sampling Belgian brews in a dimly lit, high-style beer hall that serves a wacky array of sausages, including alligator and rattlesnake. To recover from your sausage and beer, you can caffeinate a couple of doors down at the NOVEL CAFÉ, the coffeehouse that’s become the hub for this increasingly inhabited loft neighborhood.
— Pat Saperstein
327 E. 1st St., 213.626.1680
347 E. 1st. St., 213.617.9990
368 E. 2nd St., 213.620.0977
Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S. San Pedro St., 213.626.5299
Little Tokyo Galleria
333 S. Alameda St., 213.617.0030
333 S. Alameda St., 213.613.0611
117 Japanese Village Plaza, at 1st St. and Central Ave., 213.613.1028
124 Japanese Village Plaza, at 1st St. and Central Ave., 213.680.3280
811 E. Traction Ave., 213.621.2240
123 S. Onizuka St., 213.617.1766
371 E. 2nd St., 213.613.0101
337 E. 1st St., 213.626.9132
422 E. 2nd St., 213.617.0552
Sushi Go 55
333 S. Alameda St., 213.687.0777
800 E. 3rd St., 213.687.4444