It’s supposed to get cold eventually here in Los Angeles, and when it does, the usual cold-weather food suspects will come to mind. Pho. Ramen. Matzo ball soup. Boat noodles. But walk into the heart of Little Tokyo’s Weller Court, up the stairs and diners will find that it’s Curry House where there might be a wait, even during off-peak hours.
Japanese “karae-raisu” is as pure a low-maintenance comfort food as there is in a cuisine that’s often characterized by lofty, refined ideals and fastidious attention to detail. The base of the dish is simple: A bed of white rice, topped with a garam masala-based sauce that’s thickened with roux to the consistency of gravy. In Japanese culture, the question isn’t whether one likes karae-raisu, it’s how one likes their curry prepared. Customizing one’s curry with various toppings (corn, Vienna sausages, fried pork cutlets, cheese, etc.) is similar to the way one would top a personal pizza in the States.
Before it reached such ubiquity, the Japanese rendition of the dish originated during the Meiji period in the late 19th century, when British-trained Japanese navy physician Takaki Kanehiro hypothesized that the high incidence of beriberi (now better known as thiamine deficiency) among Navy crewmen was due to poor diet. In an effort to improve crewmen’s diets, the Japanese navy began to feed them a British recipe for curry. Takaki’s hypothesis held, the Navy crewmen’s health improved, and a couple white dudes who performed a similar nutritional study on the causes of beriberi were awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering vitamins.
But at least Japan had curry. This particular sweetened version of curry reached the growing Japanese middle class in the 1920s, where it was served in restaurants en masse. The dish really exploded in popularity with the invention of packaged curry products, first as a powder in 1926 by House Foods and later as the more popular roux “cube” released by S&B foods in 1956. A commonly cited statistic is that the average Japanese household eats curry four times a month. In the case of Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki, he actually eats his wife’s home-cooked version of the dish before each of the Major League Baseball season’s 81 home games.
Perhaps more salient to this article, House Foods (who runs the Curry House franchise) went so far as to purchase a majority stake in curry restaurant chain Coco Ichibanya to help spread the gospel of karae-raisu to the rest of the world. So, in the spirit of advancing the gospel of the House Foods Corporation: Here are the best places to get Japanese karae-raisu in Los Angeles.
Coco Ichibanya is the KFC of curry restaurant chains: It’s an able gateway drug with plenty of different ways to slice a single dish, with no one dish being more truly representative than the aggregate sum. For what it’s worth, it also might be the only place on this list with french fries topped with mince curry and cheese (it’s worth a lot). 12007 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049, USA
If curry has a platonic ideal, Curry House probably isn’t the place to find it. It is, however, aligned with the spirit of good comfort food: Plenty of rib-sticking curry topped options like fried pork cutlet, omelette rice and fried curry pan pastries make sure you never run out of ways to get wavy with the Japanese gravy. 123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
TOT definitely knows how to fry up a mean katsu, and that plays to their benefit. If they have potato croquettes on the menu, pull the trigger: An order of their curry with that perfectly, lightly-fried katsu and slightly dense croquette is definitive deep-fried comfort food bliss. 345 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Ducks Restaurant has been slinging exceptional bowls of curry for decades in the SGV, and the tradition is holding strong. Ducks’ savory gravy can be served up with ramen noodles or rice, and though the interior’s seen better days, it’s still one of the better curry spots in LA. 1381 E Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776, USA
Akane Chaya is Gardena’s holy grail of sauced-up Japanese carbs, sporting a stunning array of cod roe and clam graced seafood pastas alongside heartier sauces like demi glace and, of course, curry. It’s hard to miss on any of the proteins, but fans of Japanese “hambaga” steak will not be disappointed. The hulking masses of mince are a great complement 1610 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247, USA
Marugame Udon makes the list for having a curry udon broth that straddles the line between broth and gravy, simultaneously perfect for slurping up with udon noodles or as a dipping sauce for its croquettes and tempura. Just make sure to pick up a couple of those fried goodies in line. 2029 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025, USA
Makiko Itoh in a special to the Japan Times states that Japan’s two national foods might be curry and ramen (a little ironic given that they were derivatives from other food cultures). Kosuke serves both, including one of the more affordable chicken katsu curries on this list. 618-B W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801, USA
Isa Japanese Restaurant
Surprisingly not owned by rapper 21 Savage, Miracle Mile mainstay Isa Japanese Restaurant isn’t just about miso ramen and bento boxes. It also serves a shatteringly crispy chicken katsu to go alongside their savory curry, all at a price that’ll keep the M’s in your bank account. 916 South La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA
Hurry Curry of Tokyo
Aside from Curry House, Hurry Curry might be one of the first curry restaurants to enter the Angeleno consciousness. Hurry Curry’s panko breading never saw a protein it didn’t like, including a white fish katsu that’s surprisingly tough to find elsewhere. It’s also one of the only places doing flash-fried eggplant curry, for those so inclined. 2131 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025, USA
The only place where you might hear curry rice being referred to as Japanese “mole,” (pretty apt, by the way), this Boyle Heights O.G. puts out some of the best tempura on either side of town. It also scores extra points for making curry the way your imaginary Japanese mom would make: With the vegetables stewed in the gravy. 2506 1/2 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA