The westside’s “Little Osaka,” along a three-block stretch of Sawtelle west of the 405, throbs with nightlife and the sort of restaurants you’re likely to see in modern Tokyo. This enclave between Olympic and Santa Monica boulevards was once farmland for immigrants and later drew Japanese-Americans returning from internment camps. Today, apart from a few extant bonsai nurseries, Sawtelle is all about anime shops, izakaya and noodle bars.
At the southern end in the Olympic Collection complex sits ultracasual YAKITORI-YA , serving nothing but skewered chicken parts grilled over imported hardwood charcoal. Its neighbor is KIRIKO SUSHI, where the house-smoked salmon salad with mango lures a devoted clientele, who also rave about the house-made ice creams.
Across the street, the Sawtelle Place Mall holds many delights. NIJIYA, a small supermarket, carries goods that seem plucked from the Tokyo suburbs: fresh cut sashimi, bento meals to go, Japanese cookware and Pocky sticks. A few doors down, two delightful bakeries are shoehorned into a single shop: international cream-puff chain BEARD PAPA and MOUSSE FANTASY, which turns out elegant cakes and light takes on French pastries. The Sawtelle Centre strip mall across the street holds MANPUKU , a yakiniku house (the Japanese version of a cook-at-your-table Korean barbecue). Walk north to BLUE MARLIN, where the walls shimmer with an underwater seascape and the menus offer youshoku, popular “foreign” dishes tailored to Japanese palates. The pastas are al dente, the chicken free-range and the curries sing with flavor. A few steps more get you to 2117 RESTAURANT a small, pleasant space where Japan’s love affair with French food is aptly demonstrated with light modern fare emphasizing organic ingredients: elegant pastas, duck confit and soft-shell crab—and a pretty good wine list, too.
Across the street is the casual izakaya FURAIBO, whose jocular style attracts young families and college kids for pub-style small dishes and tebasaki chicken fried to a crackling crispiness and washed down with shochu. Nearby is the venerable HIDE SUSHI, the bar that introduced many boomers to sushi; its bargain prices and pristinely fresh fish ensure a wait.
Further north, chef Hideo Yamashiro (of Shiro in South Pasadena) offers sophisticated renditions of izakaya at the sleekly minimalist ORRIS, where you can order a platter of charcuterie along with tempura with housemade curry powder and choose from a beautifully edited wine selection. In the same complex, Mako Tanaka, former Chinois chef and proprietor of Mako in Beverly Hills, brings his modern take on Japan’s traditional grill houses at ROBATA YA . The small, casual space emphasizes pristine ingredients; grilled skewers include several cuts of wagyu (Kobe-style) beef, along with hot and cold small plates. In the next space is MIZU 212, a modern shabu-shabu bar, where you poach your meal of thinly sliced beef, pork or chicken to dip in the kitchen’s outstanding sauce of freshly ground sesame seeds.
Cross the street and walk toward Santa Monica Boulevard to find BAR HAYAMA in a converted cottage with a bamboo shaded patio, fire pit and two sake bars. Here graduates of the California Sushi Academy turn out lovely kozara (equivalent of tapas) that go beyond standard sushi and sashimi to the likes of beef tartare with quail egg and yellowtail sashimi with myoga.
— Linda Burum
2117 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.477.1617
1803 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.235.2000
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.479.6665
2121 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.445.2522
2068 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.444.1432
2040 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.477.7242
11301 Olympic Blvd., 310.478.7769
2125 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.473.0580
2000 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.478.8979
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.479.6665
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.575.3300
2006 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.268.2212
2004 Sawtelle Blvd., 310.481.1418
11301 Olympic Blvd., 310.479.5400