8 great Japanese restaurants from The Times’ 101
[It’s here: The Los Angeles Times’ 101 restaurants, dishes, people and ideas that define how we eat in 2020.]
L.A.’s Japanese restaurants have adapted to these pandemic times and continue to offer the dishes we’ve all come to love, from extravagant bento boxes to grab-and-go sandos. Here are eight Japanese restaurants from the 2020 101 restaurants guide to satisfy your craving.
The Brothers Sushi
Woodland Hills Japanese $$
Mark Okuda tailored an on-point $50 chirashi as a lunch splurge, a pristine rainbow of seafood that included sweet shrimp and uni. (If you’re avoiding bluefin tuna, be sure to let the restaurant know.) Okuda, a longtime chef at Studio City’s Asanebo, took over this Woodland Hills sushi staple in 2018. He kept the name but made the menu entirely his own. He’s forged ahead through the cataclysm, serving patio-side omakase, assembling color wheels of sushi for takeout and devising ways to show off sashimi (one favorite: tai snapper blazed in a triple blast of yuzu). His ambition is bolstering.
Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
In a year when many Japanese chefs shifted to elaborate boxed meals to feed their customers, Brandon Hayato Go had already set an impossible standard: His $52 bentos, arranged with 16 bite-size components and enough rice to leave you full but not overstuffed, distill his gifts for beauty and concentration. You taste the sweetness of ground white shrimp in the spheres called shinjo; inhale the smoke off grilled scallops; wince with pleasure at the tart sudachi juice spritzing the chrysanthemum greens; and generally marvel at the detail and contrast and balance packed into a simple blond-wood container. Ordering Hayato’s bento is a competitive sport. Reservations go live at 10 a.m. on the first day of every month; Go makes about 70 bentos a week to be picked up on Saturdays or Sundays. They sell out in minutes.
Pork katsu is the foundational sando, built (as are all the sandwiches) on honey milk bread, baked in-house. The clincher, though, is the honey walnut shrimp variant, a witty feat of architecture that fuses battered nobashi shrimp with shrimp tartare emulsion. Its crunch and creaminess winks at the Panda Express favorite but is ultimately far, far superior. Order it with a side of the curry cheese crinkle fries. If you’re passing by in a hurry, grab a cold sando from the fridge.
Echo Park Japanese $
| 2019 | #58
What I’ve missed most about eating at Konbi’s 10-seat counter in Echo Park is watching Nick Montgomery attend to cooking dashimaki tamago, a rolled omelet that fills a Japanese-inspired sando, with devotion akin to prayer. Using chopsticks, he would turn a mixture of beaten eggs and dashi until it was canary golden and barely firm. Setting the omelet between toasted slices of milk bread, he used a wooden press to level the sando into even rectangles and divided it into thirds. Watching his care made every shift in texture and rush of umami taste more lucid. Happily, the omelet holds up beautifully in takeout form — and there’s a recent omelet variation with frilly Jonah crab sheathed in nori that might be even more compelling. Complete breakfast or lunch with reviving vegetable salads and, if you manage to snag one, papery chocolate croissants sold hot.
Palms Japanese $$$$
| 2019 | #4
Even in a wildly uncertain time, this was inevitable: The city’s toughest reservation became its most-sought-after takeout obsession. Niki Nakayama and her wife, Carole Iida-Nakayama, took the core elements of their quietly rebellious kaiseki menus and edited them down to bento form. Orders go live every Saturday at 10 a.m. on Tock, and they sell out in seconds. The physical style of the bentos (each order usually includes two) have changed over the months, in large part because of swings in the supply chain, and the array of sashimi and mini-dishes inside continuously shifts with the micro-seasons. Soft-shell crab tempura came and went; uni replaced lobster in the chawanmushi. A soup of udon noodles and clams has become a winning staple.
Orsa & Winston
Downtown L.A. Italian $$
| 2019 | #7
At Orsa & Winston, Josef Centeno’s approach to feeding customers is manifold. Casual takeout? The cheeseburger sando and a grain bowl brightly dressed in ever-changing greens bring elemental cheer. Something more elaborate? His weekly “cibo e vino” tasting menus designed to eat at home revel in the market bounty and, in centerpieces such as lobster diavolo with shiso and yuzu kosho, keep the restaurant’s Italian-meets-Japanese sensibility alive with possibility. Looking for a special-occasion meal out?
Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$
David Schlosser’s downtown L.A. restaurant is a shrine to salt-cured fish, house-aged miso, Japanese whisky and the rigors of Kappo-style cuisine. Roughly translated, kappo refers to the cutting and preparing of food for a small audience, a traditional Japanese format that today runs counter to COVID safety regulations. Schlosser and his team have been channeling the spirit of Shibumi into remarkable bento boxes that evince the same degree of meticulous, technique-driven cooking. The menchi katsu set is furnished with two meaty pork-beef cutlets coated in an impossibly light and prickly panko crust. Chicken katsu is alternately chewy and crisp, served with a superb potato salad and spinach in a light dashi soy. Grilled unagi tastes wonderful over koshihikari rice, and marinated black cod with a pumpkin croquette and marinated shiitake mushroom is a moody, delicate tableau that startles with its precise and clean flavors.
Sawtelle Japanese $$$$
Shunji Nakao’s premium sushi box is a still-life of luxurious and immaculately prepared raw fish — buttery mackerel; firm, sweet kanpachi; the hard-to-find and beguilingly fatty blackthroat seaperch; springy sweet shrimp; sea urchin with the briny smack of the ocean; and medium-fatty tuna followed by even glossier, fattier, richer tuna. Most pieces are lightly daubed with freshly grated wasabi to enhance the fish’s natural flavor. The chef also offers an omakase-inspired bento box that features a daily-changing array of sashimi; Miyazaki A5 Wagyu beef, richer even than Kobe; and a tidy constellation of chirashi.
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