The stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard often referred to as Little Osaka recently has expanded so quickly that it's bursting beyond its traditional boundaries. With so many new restaurant openings, they're popping up north of Santa Monica Boulevard and south of Olympic.
Shin Sen Gumi officially opened last month a block north of Santa Monica, and the West L.A. outpost of Daikokuya and both Sushi Stop (the second location on Sawtelle) and its shabu-shabu cousin have opened just past Olympic.
Among the chock-a-block restaurants there are not one but two kaiten (revolving) sushi bars, soba specialists and cream-pufferies, punctuated by karaoke bars and the new Daiso — the Japanese "$1.50" (or 100-yen) store that is plastic heaven, or purgatory — but either way a wonderment.
Ramen, soy milk hot pot, $2.75 sushi, soup dumplings, burgers, panko-crusted katsu pork ... here's the best of old and new on Sawtelle Boulevard:
13. Coffee Tomo
Not a restaurant per se, but Coffee Tomo serves excellent coffee and tasty pretzels in weird combinations such as sweet potato and cheese or red bean and cheese. The honey-butter bread ain't bad either. The red Diedrich roaster at the front of the shop signals the seriousness with which they take their coffee, but it's not too serious — you can have your espresso with a little foam, raw sugar and a cinnamon stick.
11309 Mississippi Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 444-9390, www.coffeetomo.com.
12. Sushi Stop South
The latest Sushi Stop location on Sawtelle, this one's got a distinct izakaya vibe, where crowds gather around the U-shaped bar checking off their $2.75-per-order sushi while Frank Ocean's "Lost" plays. They probably can't stop thinking, "This really is not bad for $2.75 sushi...." Specialty sushi (some of which costs more) include flame-seared salmon belly, crispy rice topped with spicy tuna and blue crab hand roll.
2222 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 479-1222, www.sushistopusa.com.
You won't find this place unless you know what you're looking for. Secreted away on the second floor of the Olympic Collection, it's a serene Tokyo-esque restaurant from a former Shibucho chef. Its signature dish might be the soy milk hot pot, a single serving (you might be able to share if you order other dishes) of Japanese nabe, or stew, brought to the table on a special stand equipped with its own burner. Order a side of the chicken meatball skewers.
11301 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, (310) 473-3960, www.restaurant-morinoya.com.
10. Seoul Sausage Company
Korean barbecue-influenced street food in the form of, for example, galbi poutine — braised short ribs served over twice-fried French fries with cheese, kimchi-pickled onions and avocado lime crema. The sausages are only slightly less over the top, such as the Korean BBQ beef sausage with garlic jalapeño aioli and kimchi relish. Also: Spam musubi.
11313 Mississippi Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 477-7739, www.seoulsausage.com.
Japanese katsu import Kimukatsu specializes in fried pork cutlets. The "cutlets" are actually stacks of layered thinly sliced pork, battered with panko and deep-fried. The katsu comes in varieties such as black pepper-seasoned and even cheese-filled.
2121 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, (310) 477-1129, www.kimukatsu.com.
8. ROC Kitchen
Soup dumplings on the Westside! Are they as good as Din Tai Fung's? Maybe not quite as good but still pretty delicious, with juicy pork filling and delicate dumpling skins. And other tables will gawk when you order the beef roll. Between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. the crispy pork dumplings are available, a disk of dumplings interconnected by crispy-fried flour. Your Taiwanese fix west of the 405.
2049 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 235-2089.
A Sawtelle stalwart open for more than 10 years, Yakitoriya has quirky service, but its binchotan-grilled skewers are expertly prepared one by one by the chef-owner, an alumnus of Kokekokko who also sometimes takes orders and runs food. Also: You might not have known about its very good chicken ramen, but now you do.
11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 479-5400.
Where once Sawtelle Kitchen turned out Asian-fusion entrees, Flores is now serving small plates with modern touches from husband and wife co-chefs who formerly worked at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and the Bazaar. There are deviled eggs with crispy pig's ear and pimenton; pig cheek croquetas; blistered shishito with sea salt and lemon; chicken liver toast with confit grapes; kanpachi with lime and Thai coconut; and cote de boeuf for two. Plus there's Sunday brunch, to be enjoyed on the patio.
2024 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (424) 273-6469, www.floreslosangeles.com.
5. Shin Sen Gumi
The newest Shin Sen Gumi, located in what used to be a Mexican restaurant, serves the chain's signature Hakata-style ramen with porky tonkotsu broth. The ramen here might be even better than at its other locations — with big, rich flavor and lots of body — served in a Mexican-diner-meets-ramen-shop atmosphere.
1601 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (424) 208-3293, www.shinsengumiusa.com.
4. Plan Check
Plan Check brought gourmet burgers and cocktails to the Sawtelle strip when it opened last year — burgers with ketchup "leather," dashi cheese and schmaltz onions. For beers and burgers, along with smoky fried chicken and short rib pot roast with bone marrow turnover, its patioed corner spot draws crowds. There's also an extensive Japanese whiskey list.
1800 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 288 6500, www.plancheck.com.
Expect the line to be only somewhat shorter at this Daikokuya location than at the Little Tokyo original. Stepping inside is somewhat surreal, with a host's stand that looks like a border-crossing station, guarded by a mannequin dressed as a security guard. Yet its lost-in-translation, lantern-strewn atmosphere is inviting and its kotteri (pork fat)-fortified ramen worth the wait.
2208 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 575-4999, www.dkramen.com.
Sushi chef Ken Namba founded Kiriko in 1999, with a philosophy of creating classic sushi with modern touches. His signature house-smoked salmon sushi is a shining example. And the sushi here has long been considered a good value for top-notch fish.
11301 W. Olympic Blvd., No. 102, Los Angeles, (310) 478-7769, www.kirikosushi.com.
1. Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle/Tsujita Annex
Tsujita LA's tsukemen has become an iconic Sawtelle dish; served only at lunch, it draws droves of fans who line up for the "dip" ramen — its noodles and über-concentrated broth served separately, with toppings such as succulent roasted pork chashu. Its across-the-street annex serves both ramen and tsukemen at a 12-seat bar, along with spare, elegant rice bowls and slightly weird vegetable juices.
2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 231-7373, www.tsujita-la.com.
2050 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 231-0222.