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The Star Team From LA’s n/naka Open a Bento-Pushing Izakaya in Mid-City

The new n/soto features ekiben bento boxes and, soon, izakaya fare, and opens for takeaway reservations on Friday

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A pair of bento boxes shown from above in moody lighting, draped in blue cloth.
Food from n/soto
Alicia Cho

The star chefs behind one of Los Angeles’s hardest restaurant reservations are about to kick off an entirely new — and likely equally as lauded — project. Niki Nakayama and partner and sous chef Carole Iida-Nakayama are well-known for their Palms kaiseki restaurant n/naka, with its hard-to-score reservations and gorgeous Japanese food that tells a very personal tale. Now they’re moving into the Mid-City area with a brand new project called n/soto at 4566 Washington Boulevard, offering a whole new focus, and a whole new chance to try their food.

N/soto is Nakayama and Iida-Nakayama’s first new project in the roughly ten years since the two-Michlein-starred n/naka was brought to life in Palms, and is a direct representation of the pair’s journey during the ongoing global pandemic. With indoor dining down for the count for most of 2020, the restaurant quickly shifted focus to takeaway ekiben bento boxes and collaborations with other chefs like Susan Yoon around Los Angeles. The boxes were an immediate hit, so much so that the team pushed to find a dedicated space to spin them off as n/soto. They eventually locked in on the former OnDal Korean restaurant space along Washington Boulevard, just below Koreatown and above the freeway from West Adams. “We’re excited and nervous all at the same time,” Nakayama told Food & Wine about the new project this morning.

The first bento up, available by preoorder starting March 5, is called Taste of Home and will focus on Nissei cuisine, with a portion of the proceeds from each sale going to the Little Tokyo Community Council. N/soto will also work with the Japanese American National Museum to provide context for the meals, which can be preordered through Tock and will run for the first four to six weeks of the restaurant’s life, before the team switches to a new format.

The new opening comes at a moment of renewed hope for greater Los Angeles, with the possibility of broader reopenings (thanks to dramatically falling COVID-19 cases) on the horizon and restaurant workers lining up en masse for vaccination. It’s also a particularly busy time for Nakayama, the former Chef’s Table star, as she’s also about to launch her own instructional series on the platform MasterClass. And, if trends continue, Nakayama and Iida-Nakayama will even begin to work on bringing sit-down dining to the new n/soto, with an entirely different izakaya-focused menu — though, even then, the bentos will continue. That’s all to say, it’s looking to be a bright (and busy) 2021 for the n/naka team, and Los Angeles is ready.

Two chefs in black aprons and kitchen whites look over a stove.
On the MasterClass set
MasterClass

Reservations for n/soto go live every Friday at noon for the following week, and are available on Tock. First pickups will occur on March 10, with hours from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

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