It is hard to use TripAdvisor or Yelp if you do not have the big picture of your choices. Along with a Google search of “Japanese restaurants Los Angeles” will not list and sort real Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles (LA) from your Americanized versions.
“Do I feel like sushi, ramen, yakitori, yakiniku, or curry today?” The struggle is real for me when deciding on an authentic Japanese restaurant because there are so many spots to choose from in Los Angeles. Fortunately for anybody who has only had Americanized Japanese food, your only options are sushi or ramen to choose from. Well, my homie, if you want to experience an authentic Japanese restaurant, I am about to complicate your life with options.
If you only know of sushi and ramen, you have been missing out on these 17 other types of Japanese restaurants/dishes. Also, it is more like 29 in total to give you major FOMO.Fear no longer my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) brethren, read on.
The TLDR (Too Long Did Not Read) For My Attention Deficit Types
I hate scrolling, so scroll no more my Adderall deficient homies:
- Kare-raisu (Japanese curry)
- Wagashi (Japanese desserts)
- Izakaya (a Japanese pub)
- Kaiten sushi (revolving sushi)
- Kappo ryori (multi-course)
- Nabe (Japanese hot pot)
- Okonomiyaki (Japanese frittata)
- Onigiri (rice ball)
- Ramen (noodle soup)
- Shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot)
- Sushi (Edomae, Tokyo style sushi)
- Soba (buckwheat noodles)
- Takoyaki (Octopus balls)
- Temaki (sushi hand rolls)
- Tempura (deep-fried goodness)
- Tonkatsu (it is not ramen)
- Udon (thick wheat noodles)
- Yakiniku (grilled meat)
- Yakitori (grilled chicken)
If you are visiting Los Angeles, or if you live here, these are the 19 types of Japanese restaurants that you will only find in LA (real Japanese food), other than in Japan.
The abundance of some of the top Japanese restaurants in the country can partially be attributed to the Toyopet Crown sedan which was one of the first cars Toyota Motor Company sold in the U.S. in the late 50’s. The success of Toyopet (“pet,” hilarious) led to Toyota moving their U.S. headquarters to Torrance, California, and several other Japanese companies followed suit.
Many of the rural “Japanese” restaurants throughout the US are typically not Japanese owned or operated (also, not all Asians are Japanese), so they are often an Americanized version like Taco Bell is to Mexican food and Pizza Hut is to Italian food.If you are in Los Angeles, you have a great opportunity to try not only the food, but the Japanese culture and hospitality (omotenashi).
That move contributed to LA having the 2nd largest population of hungry, sushi-loving, Kirin beer-drinking, noodle slurping Japanese/Japanese Americans in the U.S., right behind those slippers wearing and Spam musubi lovin’ Hawaiians.
On another note, Toyota recently had their grand opening on July 6th, 2017 of their new headquarters in Plano, TX, ‘k den brah, Texas will now be the spot for y’all.
My Top 5 Types of Real and Authentic Japanese Food if I Only Had the Weekend to Eat
Oh, but what a glorious and gluttonous weekend it would be.
- Yakiniku (dinner): Manpuku
- Ramen (lunch): Santouka, Tsukemen Tao, or Tsujita
- Yakitori (dinner): Shin Sen Gumi
- Gyutan (lunch), Gyutan Tsukasa
- Izakaya (dinner): Izakaya Hachi (Torrance is my favorite location)
KARE-RAISU (JAPANESE CURRY)
The British Royal Navy introduced curry to the Japanese, and the Japanese never looked back. Now it is so distinctively Japanese it is an emoji (Japanese invented emojis) and is considered a national dish.Kare-raisu emoji 🍛.
Curry was introduced to Japan in the 1800’s by them wig wearing, tea drinking Brit’s, so it has had some time to steep which is why Japanese curry has a distinctively Japanese take on it, and it is not a direct clone of Indian or Thai curry.
Nowadays, it is such a popular dish in Japan, many of the Japanese curry chains could not leave their fellow countrymen hanging without curry in SoCal. So, not only does LA have House Foods (.com) operating in the city, but they also have their Coco Ichibanya restaurants which has 1,400 locations worldwide with four locations in CA.
WAGASHI (JAPANESE DESSERTS)
Mochi ice cream to desserts made with green tea to red beans. Yup, Asians managed to make beans into a dessert.Aye way, no mames, even my latino homies did not go there, well except for horchata.
If you are out hunting for some traditional Japanese desserts, you will find dango (the “J” is silent, ok I joke, it is not spelled “Django”) and imagawayaki at Mitsuru Cafe in Little Tokyo, the originator of mochi ice cream which was invented right here in the city of Angels by Japanese American Frances Hashimoto (the Venture Capitalist that now owns the brand recently shut it down, and they are trying to develop a brand with no pesky ethnic ties, “MyMo”).
If rice-based desserts are not your thing, one of the best things to come out of LA, or South of LA, in Tustin, is the popular Japanese bakery Cream Pan in the El Camino Plaza. They are notorious for their strawberry croissants which may not be a traditional Japanese dessert, but they are tasty AF.
A distinctively Japanese thing is tea flavored soft serve and at Tea Master Matcha Cafe in Little Tokyo, they are one very popular spot Los Angeles. In Orange County, Costa Mesa, the once popular Matcha Love was a popular spot before COVID hit, but they are now closed. Although, I mention them because you will want to seek out and find not only matcha, but hojicha (roasted green tea), and kurogoma (black sesame) soft-serve.
IZAKAYA (JAPANESE PUB)
Food and drinks just like any British pub minus the bloody darts to name one major difference off the top.On another note, most American pubs do not call their Shepard’s pie a cottage pie when they use beef versus ground lamb.
An izakaya is the Japanese version of a pub (public house) to get some food and have a drink or three after work. If that sounds like your kind of place, you will also like the fact that you can eat a variety of food “tapas style.”
The types of dishes at an izakaya like Izakaya Hachi in Torrance (I highly recommend this location out of the two, and you can see my review of it here) and Costa Mesa range from yakiniku/yakitori (various grilled cuts of chicken), sashimi (slices of raw seafood), to tempura (battered and deep-fried veggies to seafood).
Noodles, stews, salads, or other deep fried dishes round out the offerings for everybody who likes to get sloppy drunk with you. The best part is that you and your homies will be in good company here because at an authentic izakaya, drinking (beer, shochu, sake, and wine) and eating go hand-in-hand here, so it is a fun place to be.
KAITEN SUSHI (REVOLVING SUSHI)
Watch your sushi get delivered directly to you on a boat, conveyor belt, or a bullet train.Human servers are so 2000’s.
Kaiten or conveyor belt or rotating sushi has become a spectacle throughout the U.S. for quite some time for good reason because it is fun while also being somewhat affordable for sushi. Many of the dishes at a kaiten sushi restaurant, like the Japan based chain, Kula/Kura Sushi (click for locations or my in-depth visit here) has plates as low as a couple of bucks to upwards of five dollars per plate.
If that is not enticing enough, being able to watch your food as it leisurely parades around the restaurant on a belt can be quite mesmerizing. Although if you are the impatient type, Genki Sushi (click for locations or an in-depth visit here) offers a bullet train to run your order right out to you. Now, if only LA’s mass transit system was this good, except we have the 405 and the Metro.
KAPPO STYLE CUISINE (MULTI-COURSE MEAL)
Steamed, fried, simmered, grilled, and raw dishes all served in a diner like setting, minus the dude in the wife beater and anchor tattoo.My list of the 3 standout kappo style restaurants in Los Angeles.
This listing is not a specific restaurant or a dish, but a style of restaurant that serves up several kinds of dishes. Unlike an izakaya, a Kappo style restaurant is traditional Japanese cuisine that originated out of Osaka.
The meals consist of steamed, fried, simmered, grilled, and raw dishes which are all served up like in an American diner with the kitchen on one side, the counter, and you on the opposite side. You can cozy up to the bar at Shibumi in DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles) or Kappo Sui in Costa Mesa who has been around for decades.
NABE/NABEMONO (HOT POT)
One pot cooking from sukiyaki to (torinabe) and pig intestines (motsunabe, where are my Latinos at?) are some of my favorites.I love nabe and especially motsunabe.
One pot cooking includes sukiyaki (yes, they named a song after a Japanese food dish), motsunabe (intestines), to chankonabe (a protein-rich vegetable stew that sumo wrestlers notoriously eat).
Nabe is one of the types of food where you will have a hard time finding a dedicated restaurant in LA because most families or individuals usually prepare it at home.
There are specialized restaurants or yakitori and nabe combo restaurants like Shin Sen Gumi in Gardena (click for directions). There are more, but is one one more specialized spot well worth the visit before seeking out random izakayas that also serve nabe.
OKONOMIYAKI (JAPANESE FRITTATA)
A Japanese “pancake” with pork belly, shredded cabbage, to noodles topped with various sauces that you get to have it your way.Or you can rely on the Burger King for your diet of meat and veggies.
You may or may not heard of okonomiyaki, but if you have not, it is a Japanese pancake of sorts that you can compare to a frittata (….yea, like a frittata).
There are regional styles like the one from Hiroshima which you can try at Chinchikurin (trying saying that after some drinks or without an ounce of Asian’ness in you) in Sawtelle Japantown or in Little Tokyo.
What can you expect from a Japanese frittata, how about a mixture of flour, eggs, cabbage, and meat (like pork belly) and seafood. All topped off with a sweet sauce, Japanese mayo, to seaweed flakes. If seaweed flakes are not your jam, you will be happy to know that “okonomi” means “how you like it,” so just like Burger King’s old-school slogan, you get to have it your way.
ONIGIRI (RICE BALLS)
Yea, rice balls, but with a number of different fillings from salmon, pickled plums (ume), to veggies. This is the Japanese equivalent of a portable food like a burrito to a sandwich.oh-knee-gi-ree (Japanese is a mora-timed language with equal emphasis on each syllable).
Musubi, onigiri, or straight out “rice ball” shops have been popping up throughout LA like Sunny Blue Inc(.com).
The increased popularity is because musubi can make for a cheap “on the go” tasty meal. Although this being LA, you might attribute it to the vegan and pescatarian menu items that are not an after thought in Japanese cuisine because unlike American vegans, the Japanese were vegan for upwards of 1,200 years.
Since Japan has a large population of Buddhists, Japan has a long history of vegetable centric dishes that are great when paired with either white or brown rice. The veggies are usually fillings or as a topping from ume (pickled plum), takana (pickled mustard leaf), kinpira (sautéed gobo root), hijiki (seaweed), to a pescatarian option, salmon or skipjack tuna aka bonito flakes to name a few.
RAMEN (NOODLE SOUP)
Japanese noodle soup with a soup base of either chicken or pork flavored with salt, soy sauce, or miso. If you want to try ramen, Los Angeles has set the bar, and the rest of the U.S. has nothing like it in terms of quality and variety.The bulk of the “ramen” throughout the US is Americanized instant ramen sold by big Japanese food distributors.
If you think ramen is the cheap “instant” stuff that college students or jailhouse inmates eat, welcome to LA where you will experience the legit version because the former two, do love it, although it is nothing like the instant kind. If it were, it would be worth a lot for inmates, and they would be set for life, literally.
Outside of Japan, and in North America, and more importantly in LA, it is one of the few places where you will find an ever-growing number of authentic ramen restaurants from Kotoya (directions), Kai (website), Daikokuya (website), Santouka (website), Tsujita (Artisan directions, annex is across the street), to Ikkousha (website) to name a few.
Ramen, with stocks that require several hours of preparation with a variety of ingredients from seafood, vegetables, pork, to chicken that is paired off with an endless number of ramen noodle styles. By the way, ramen does not mean “instant noodles,” it is a type of Japanese noodle.
To top that bowl off, a common and traditional grouping of complementary toppings include the usual suspects. The star players include a hanjuku tamago (ooey gooey molten lava egg), negi (green onions), nori (seaweed), naruto (fish cake), menma (bamboo shoots), to chashu (a juicy slab of pork belly), ton toro (pork cheek), or if you are Americanized ramen, anything Asiany sounding.
SHABU SHABU (HOT POT)
“Swish, swish,” vegetables and thinly sliced meat quickly cooked in a pot of hot water and konbu. Not to be confused with Chinese hot pot which many business owners often market their Chinese hot pot as Japanese shabu shabu.Here is the difference between the two.
If you are the type that loves the natural taste of meat, seafood, and vegetables without the heavy use of butter or having it drowned in sauces, authentic shabu shabu just might be your thing.
In LA, there has been a growth of Americanized and quasi “shabu shabu” places to appeal to American diners who want flavored broths which are being promoted by Chinese hot-pot restauranteurs.
Although you can still find legit shabu shabu at Kagaya in LA’s Japantown (click for directions). At Kagaya you can have an experience like you would have in Japan, but you will need reservations otherwise you will end up across the street in the Arts District on a liquid diet playing Street Fighter at EightyTwo “barcade” (click for directions) to get your aggressions (hadouken) out for not calling in advance.
SUSHI (EDOMAE SUSHI)
Traditional and authentic Tokyo style Japanese sushi with vinegared rice and raw fish and other toppings (no Jessica Albacore rolls here).If you eat the fish off of the rice, do not come here, stick with Jessica and your AYCE.
Dining out in LA has an abundance of sushi restaurants that range from places that are about exclusivity to your casual neighborhood sushi bar.
Whether you are looking for a place to be seen, not to be seen, or you want to do some celebrity spotting, LA has a spot to match what you are looking for. So if you are selfie obsessed or have to take a pic of all your food before you eat, I will hopefully provide a list that will help you find the sushi bar that you vibe with.
If you are visiting versus a resident, you just might want to consider trying traditional Edomae sushi which focuses on quality ingredients not buried under a ton of mayo or spicy sauces. Outside of Japan, LA is one of the few cities you will get a similar experience at Tsujita Sushi (directions), Shunji (directions), Mori (directions), Zo (website/West/DTLA (directions), Q (directions), Urasawa (directions), and Murasaki in Santa Ana (directions) to name a few. For a full list of Michelin sushi bars in Los Angeles, here you go.
Oh, and in case this is a Disneyland trip for you, here are the top sushi restaurants in Orange County.
SOBA (BUCKWHEAT NOODLES)
Buckwheat (no Alfalfa and gang) to wheat flour blended noodles with a smokey fish and soy sauce dip/broth. Served either hot or cold, it’s the perfect noodle dish when you are not feeling ramen.While the rest of the US is caught up with ramen, in LA, we be eating our soba.
Health conscious Californians are always on the lookout for healthy super foods which is why soba noodles have become more prominent in supermarkets, restaurants, to recipes amongst the health food conscious. What that is, who knows because the US has a food culture only 247 years old versus millennia old food cultures like the Middle East, Japan, China, or the Mediterranean.
The reasoning as to why soba is popular might be that soba noodles can be made strictly from buckwheat flour which would make them gluten-free although many places use a blend of wheat flour and buckwheat (nihachi, 20/80 blend).
Fukada in Irvine (directions) serves hand-made soba, and once popular Aburiya Raku in W. LA does a matcha soba although you will have to go to Vegas for it because they closed their LA location post COVID.
Typically soba is served either hot or cold for all the yoga pants clad clientele who are looking for a lower calorie, more protein, and a higher fiber alternative to pasta #carbocide.
TAKOYAKI (OCTOPUS BALLS, not those balls)
Wheat flour-based batter shaped into balls with bits of octopus topped off with Japanese toppings and everything under the sun.My homie, Karl, in New York has some tasty balls.
In Japan, you will find takoyaki stands (yatai) or small shops where you can watch them cook up takoyaki in their half-domed cooking pans as they skillfully rotate the battered mixture with a piece of octopus at the center (typically their arms. Not their balls/testicles if you are wondering that).
If the preparation is not amusing enough, the number of toppings you can dump on a tasty little battered octopus ball is endless. The toppings can be traditional like Japanese mayo, seaweed, bonito flakes, to a sweet sauce, but spicy cod roe and jalapenos are also on the menu at Takoyaki Tanota in Little Tokyo (located next to Chichinkurin).
Unfortunately, out of all the types of food on this list, takoyaki vendors are usually only found at outdoor festivals, or occasionally in front of some Japanese markets (or private events).
Sushi in a cone to a hand roll starts at $11 (a great first date spot without the financial commitment).If you want an even cheaper date, kaiten sushi or supermarket sushi is your best bet.
It feels like there’s a race going on to see who best can serve up raw fish to the masses. Leading the way are the million and one quasi “poke” places opening up on every block, but staying true to tradition, KazuNori is opening a number of “temaki” or hand-roll restaurants throughout LA. Currently, they have locations in DTLA, WestWood, and Santa Monica, and they’re meant to be fast casual or “on the go” type of places for a quick beer and a couple of rolls (3 starts at $11 to $23 for 6).
TEMPURA (BATTERED AND DEEP-FRIED)
Thanks to the Portuguese for the introduction of peixinhos da horta, but the Japanese have taken deep-fried veggies and seafood to the next level and nothing is coming out of a freezer bag here.Beyond the sushi bar experience is the tempura bar experience.
Almost every Japanese restaurant here in the United States seems to offer tempura although non Japanese owned or Americanized Japanese restaurants tend to use freezer bag tempura or they produce a lackluster version where the frying oil is the color of coffee.
Fortunately for Angeleno’s, we have the Kyoto based, Tempura Endo which opened up recently in Beverly Hills. The very Japanese 8-seat tempura bar allows you to watch the chef prepare your food directly in front of you which is an experience although if you want private, they offer a couple of tables/rooms. This level of tempura unfortunately doesn’t come cheap because it will set you back at least a couple hundred for the omakase and they only do a late night a la carte menu after 9 pm.
TONKATSU (PORK CUTLET, THIS IS NOT RAMEN)
If you like German schnitzel, try the Japanese pork version (the association I just made here was like adding the word “bistro” to an Asian restaurant name to market it in a Eurocentric approach).For you “you people.”
“Pork cutlet” is typically pork loins (there are either iterations like menchikatsu) that are deep-fried with a panko (bread crumbs) coating that gives this dish a nice crunchy texture.
Tonkatsu is often served with pickled vegetables (tsukemono), miso soup, a side of rice, and a good ole bed of raw shredded cabbage which is not like a slaw with a ton of mayo (leave that to the Colonel to do).
The only spot you will find in LA that can do tonkatsu any justice is Kimukatsu in Sawtelle Japantown or Kagura in Torrance. Except, out of the two, Kagura specializes in a mille-feuille which is multi-layers of thinly sliced pork that you can opt to have cheese added to it *yes please* (unless you are lactose intolerant, I am talking to my Asian brethren).
UDON (THICK NOODLES)
Some like their noodles skinny while others like them thick, like udon (Murica skinny vs. Asian skinny).I like my noodles in all shapes and sizes.
In the world of Japanese noodle dishes, you have varying thicknesses of noodles from skinny to fat that also comes in various types which vary in colors from yellow (ramen), white (udon and somen), clear (konjac), and brown (soba) much like the diversity of Angeleno’s.
The variety and availability of Japanese noodles restaurants is growing in LA, but big ole whitey aka udon (thick wheat flour noodles) is starting to come up because it had not gotten as much attention as its homies soba and ramen.
The increased popularity for udon is in large part because of places like Marugame Monzo in LA Little Tokyo (click for directions) which typically has a line out front for people waiting to try out the creamy uni udon, the seafood laden udon pasta, to the traditional soy sauce and dashi broth based udon dishes with a multitude of toppings.
YAKINIKU (GRILLED MEAT)
American steakhouses have a 4-5 main cuts, but with yakiniku you can find a dozen other cuts served tapas style. You know, those cuts only Latinos and the rest of the world like to eat, like tongue to short rib.Latino’s know what’s up because tripas, lengua, cabeza, ojo’s, sesos, and buche are a few beyond carne asada.
Next, to yakitori, this is a carnivores paradise and where unwavering vegans will not be found here although they do not just do meat or large 32 oz slabs of beef here. Instead, you will find small “tapas” style plates of a variety of cuts of meats here from pork cheek, pork belly, beef skirt steak, filet mignon, beef tongue, rib roast, chicken breast, intestines, to even seafood and vegetables, not just the decorative parsley.
The highlight of it all for those who are not afraid of highly marbled cuts is the Wagyu beef that melts in your mouth like buttah.
The recommended places are Manpuku website (multiple locations), Yazawa website (bougie life), Tamaen website (Snake River Farms wagyu), Seikoen in Torrance (old school and respected), Anjin in Costa Mesa (basic and casual), and Tsuruhashi in Fountain Valley (named after one of the infamous areas of Japan for yakiniku). If you want to more specialized place for only beef tongue, Gyutan Tsukasa is your spot (one of my favorite spots).
YAKITORI (GRILLED CHICKEN)
If you love to drink and eat, yakitori is grilled chicken beyond just wings served tapas style (breast, thigh, gizzard, heart, oyster, skin, tail, and more).A chicken has more than a wing bro.
Skewers/kushiyaki of various cuts of chicken, beef, seafood, pork to vegetables are grilled up and served “tapa’s” style which is often only seasoned with either a “tare” (a soy based sauce) or “shio” (salt).
The best part of a yakitori-ya is that beer and drinks go hand-in-hand here, and if that sounds like what you are looking for, there are several of them in the LA area.
The recommended spots are Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori (they also do ramen, so make sure you look up and go to the right location, and if you if you want to see pics from visits to SSG, click here), Torihei in Torrance, be sure to call ahead to check on wait times: (310) 781-9407, Nanbankan on Sawtelle.
If you live in Los Angeles, you can start to take it for granted that we have all these choices for Japanese food. In fact, you may even start to demand why don’t we have more, but in other regions of the U.S., they haven’t gotten beyond teppanyaki.
EDIT (9/8/2017, 1/14/22, and 7/8/22): More of LA’s Japanese Food
Yes, there’s more because I overlooked “20. shojin ryori” (thanks David Takeda, my suggestion is Shojin with two locations in LA), 21. tebasaki (Furaibo), and 22. Chuka ryori (Kouraku and Eboshi in Lomita). For those, I’d like to thank Wandos7@Reddit and NutellaFreaky@Reddit for (‘). Adding again to this list, this is a major one in which I wish I did not miss, but it would be 23. teishoku (Fukagawa represents it best with honorable mention Echizen in Fountain Valley and Otomisan in LA), thank you ReezyRice@Reddit.
There are 29 types of Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, and you will not find this anywhere but in LA (not in Hawaii, San Francisco, or New York).In Colorado it is even worse.
I initially passed on or overlooked highlighting several types that did not make the cut but there they are: 24. gyudon, come on Yoshinoya USA, you’re nothing like your Japan self, 25. gyutan, only one significant or legit spot, so I should have included it (I love this place inside of Mitsuwa marketplace in Costa Mesa), 26. kaiseki, yea, it’s usually a sushi/kaiseki sort of thing, so it will fall under “sushi” even though I have temaki separate, 27. kushiage/kushikatsu (nope, not big in LA), and then there’s 28. teppanyaki, primarily only old school Americanized joints like Benihana, 29. I cannot believe I did not include Mayumi’san till now, July 8th, 2022, Okinawan cuisine, Ryūkyūan ryori, Habuya in Tustin is the only legit spot I know of in the entire United States.
Drop me a comment if you got any others, and I’ll be sure to cite you.