A must-try izakaya in Little Tokyo

Cured Japanese red snapper sashimi at Kinjiro in Little Tokyo.
(Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)

Michelin at Coachella, a new West African spot, tea-towel fever and hard-boiled secrets. I’m Laurie Ochoa, general manager of L.A. Times Food, with this week’s Tasting Notes.

Love at first bite?

Thick-sliced beef tongue at Kinjiro in Little Tokyo.
(Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)

When we fall in love with a restaurant, it can be hard to pinpoint a single reason. Sometimes we’re drawn in by a single dish, say, the dusky-brothed boat noodles at Hollywood’s Sapp Coffee Shop, or the hand-cut, vinegar-spiked you po noodles at Chonq Qing Special Noodles in San Gabriel. Often it’s the people at a restaurant who bring us back. Jonathan Gold and I were regulars at the old Campanile restaurant (in the La Brea Avenue space that is now Republique), not only for the food but because bartender Nick Vinyaratn always made us feel at home when we’d eat at the bar, and future cult winemaker Manfred Krankl (then the restaurant’s manager) would often pop by with a bawdy joke and a taste of a new red wine he’d fallen for.


Lately, I’ve been returning to Little Tokyo’s Kinjiro as often as I can get a reservation. Every so often there is a table for walk-ins, but to be sure you get a table at the small izakaya, you should email owner Jun Isogai with two or three possible dates and times; he usually answers within a day. I like that in our app-dominated world, it’s still possible to have such a personal interaction with a restaurant before arriving.

Kinjiro is a bit of a rediscovery for me. I first ate here in 2015 when the place was lined with sake bottles, especially the distinctive Cowboy sake from Niigata, marked with a golden steer on the label. It was a favorite of Jonathan’s; he called it “a red wine drinker’s sake as massively flavored as a steakhouse Cabernet Sauvignon.”

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Since the pandemic, the place has become a bit less exuberant in its decor, more of a lovely place to share a romantic dinner or intimate meal with friends. The Cowboy may be gone, but with Isogai’s help I’ve been able to try a wider range of elegant sakes, which pair well with chef Yoshikazu Kondo‘s cuisine.

One thing that is still on the menu is Kinjiro’s thick-cut beef tongue, which is so luscious and steak-like we didn’t think twice about ordering the restaurant’s second tongue dish, this one stewed with tendon. I’ll be back for Kinjiro’s third variation on the theme, beef tongue curry rice.

Beef tongue and tendon stew at Kinjiro in Little Tokyo.
(Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, it’s not all meat at Kinjiro, where new dishes are cycled in with the seasons and with Kondo’s evolution as a chef. Earlier this week, we started with cured Japanese red snapper sashimi, then the wonderfully tart and gelatinous mozuku seaweed with tosazu vinegar, cucumber and myoga ginger, followed by cured mackerel or “saba kobujime” sashimi, plus a perfect ball of fresh, cold tofu.

One of the joys of eating at Kinjiro is sharing dishes that are a bit less mainstream with like-minded eaters. A close friend of mine has been eating at Kinjiro with me over the last few months and not only indulges my taste for tendon, tongue and saba but gets as much pleasure from the dishes as I do. When we brought food columnist Jenn Harris and this paper’s former food editor and restaurant critic Ruth Reichl to Kinjiro, we were delighted that they loved the restaurant as much as we do — so much so that they insisted we get a second order of saba. Though black sesame mousse arrived for dessert, Ruth wisely asked for pickled plum ochazuke, the rice and tea broth dish that is a wonderful way to end a special meal. At that moment, sipping the ochazuke broth, I was loving Kinjiro — for Kondo’s food, for Isogai’s hospitality and for the company of good friends.

Pickled plum ochazuke at Kinjiro in Little Tokyo.
(Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)

If you’re looking for more downtown L.A. restaurants to fall in love with, assistant food editor Danielle Dorsey went through restaurant critic Bill Addison‘s 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list and picked 15 of the best downtown restaurants to guide your eating. Dorsey has an even more up-to-the-minute mapped guide from our food writers with restaurants that have more recently opened.

Ile Bistro serves customizable bowls of rice, soups and wood-fired proteins that invoke Nigerian flavor and tradition.
Chef Tolu “Eros” Erogbogbo of Ile Bistro, which serves rice bowls, soups and wood-fired meats that invoke Nigerian flavor and tradition.
(Justyce Smith)

But for the latest restaurant news, you need to read Stephanie Breijo‘s column with details of the just-opened West African restaurant Ilé Bistro in Culver City food hall Citizen Public Market from chef Tolu “Eros” Erogbogbo — a.k.a. “the Billionaire Chef.”

“I traveled the world and realized that you couldn’t really find Nigerian food,” Erogbogbo told Breijo, “and even when you did, it wasn’t done respectfully; it didn’t demonstrate the quality of food that I grew up eating. It always felt very blasé, and I thought to myself, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Plus, notes on Dal Milanese in Los Feliz, Katsu Sando Kitchen & Mini-Mart (the San Gabriel location from the Chinatown original), Isla in Santa Monica, the Tasting Kitchen at Ghisallo in Venice and Superfine Playa “from the team behind downtown’s Rossoblu and Superfine Pizza.”

Spring action at L.A. Times Food

Tea towels, stickers, hats, T-shirts and more L.A. Times Food merchandise available at the L.A. Times store.
(Los Angeles Times)

It’s a busy time at L.A. Times Food. At the L.A. Times Festival of Books, happening April 22 and 23 at USC , we are teaming up at a booth with the great Los Angeles cookbook store Now Serving for author signings and a chance to meet some of our food writers and editors. You can also take a look at the new L.A. Times Food Collection of tea towels, stickers, hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts that just became available this week at the L.A. Times digital shop thanks to designer Brandon Ly plus Samantha Smith and Kailen Locke. And several of us will be heading to New York on May 9 for Coast to Coast, where chefs from Los Angeles and New York team up for a bicoastal tasting party sponsored by City National Bank at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. Representing L.A. will be Anajak Thai, Angry Egret Dinette, Damian, Heritage Barbecue, Mini Kabob and Pizzeria Mozza. New York will be represented by Cosme, Koloman, Lady Wong, Lafayette, Mari, Mokbar, Rezdora NYC, Rule of Thirds, Singapura and Win Son.

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More from L.A. Times Food

— Assistant food editor Danielle Dorsey has the newly released details on the chefs coming to this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival April 14 through 16 and April 21 through 23, including Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George‘s Michelin one-star restaurant Camphor.

— Food columnist Jenn Harris drove to Oceanside to try the newer location of San Juan Capistrano’s fantastic Heritage Barbecue and to Costa Mesa for bagels at Boil and Bake. Her descriptions of her meals will make you hungry.


Finally, since hard-cooked eggs are appearing on both Seder and Easter tables this week, we’re looking to former food editor Russ Parsons’ excellent advice on cooking the perfect hard-boiled egg. And if you’ve got leftovers, Julie Giuffrida has five great ways to use them.