Downtown Los Angeles has a new modern Japanese bento restaurant that is mixing Southern California ingredients with both traditional and nontraditional preparations. Located across from the former LA Times building at 1102 Lawrence Street, the newly opened Guzzu Bento-Ya comes from brothers Anthony and Len Hayashi, along with managing partner David Chen, and will officially open for service on August 24.
The trio, who are also partners of the popular shabu-shabu and sukiyaki MoMo Paradise restaurant chain (with more than 70 locations across Asia and the U.S.), are opening Guzzu Bento-Ya in hopes of recreating the convenient yet high-quality bento experience found while traveling on Japan’s state-of-the-art railway system. Guzzu, which translates to “goods” in Japanese, occupies a 2,772 square-foot space that has a minimalist, modern Japanese aesthetic. It’s part quick-service takeaway, part sit-down restaurant, and part marketplace for authentic snacks and merchandise from Japan.
Co-founder and chef Anthony Hayashi, who is the mastermind behind all the recipes for MoMo Paradise, including its broths, condiments, curry, udon salad, and cocktails, is overseeing the menu. The Hayashi brothers, who come from a long line of restaurateurs in Japan, wanted Guzzu Bento-Ya to be an ode to and reflection of their travels and childhood in Japan.
While Guzzu aims to meld the group’s Japanese and Angeleno heritage, another main focus is on sourcing locally. Although the restaurant does ship in some products from Japan, the kitchen is using Jidori chicken, SRF Kurobuta Pork, and seafood from Yamamoto Fish Company. Lemons come from either Cycle Brands or Pearson Farms, kabocha is sourced from Baloian Farms in Fresno, and daikon is from El Monte based Alvin Farms. Even the honey is from the Hive, in Woodland.
The brothers are open to weaving in some nontraditional flavors, as well. The dry rub chili for the signature spicy karaage, for example, is greatly influenced by Middle Eastern flavors.
“Since we are in California, we naturally have a lot of influence from Mediterranean and Latin cuisines when it comes to ingredients, due to our climate and environment,” says Len Hayashi. “We are creating a modernized version of the Japanese bentos by using both traditional and new preparation techniques. We are working with local farms and focusing on seasonality to showcase California while still staying true to that art of Japanese convenience and attention to detail.”
Although some of the dishes will change depending on what’s in season, the most popular bentos so far have been the Jidori chicken karaage and the kurobuta miso tonkatsu. The signature chicken karaage bento is made with ginger and garlic-marinated fried Jidori chicken thigh served with Anthony’s housemade shichimi togarashi spice blend, which he makes with 14 spices instead of the usual seven.
All of the bentos except for the vegetarian curry are topped with a jammy ajitsuke tamago, or Japanese soft-boiled egg. Since it is extremely difficult to get real saikyo miso in the U.S., Anthony is making his own version in-house to cure the egg yolks. The sweet and umami-rich flavors of the miso make for an amazing candied egg yolk that’s thick, sticky, and perfect for rice.
Vegetarian menu options, meanwhile, include a salad with seasonal vegetables and quinoa, an Impossible Menchi Katsu (an Impossible hamburger steak topped with truffle demi-glace), and a grilled seasonal vegetable curry served with a tomato and red wine curry.
“Our vegetarian curry starts with a roasted vegetable broth and we add tomato and red wine to balance out the smokiness from the charred vegetables. It is a very substantial curry that can stand against any meat based curry,” Anthony explains.
Guzzu Bento-Ya hopes to become a community space for the Japanese food enthusiasts, but also a quick, easy meal destination for the local Downtown community who live and work in the nearby area. The owners hope to bring in local artists in the community to decorate the venue with their artwork, and they’re also planning to add a beer and wine license, so as to sell unique Japanese canned alcoholic beverages.
Guzzu Bento-Ya is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m.to 3 p.m. at 1102 Lawrence Street, and plans to expand to longer hours soon.