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One of LA’s Buzziest Pop-Ups Is Opening an Izakaya in East Hollywood

The two-year-old pop-up Budonoki is set to open this September in Virgil Village

Pressed sushi pressed with chopped and sliced Ora King salmon and soy-marinated serrano chiles at Budonoki.
Pressed sushi with chopped and sliced Ora King salmon and soy-marinated serrano chiles.
Cathy Chaplin is a senior editor at Eater LA, a James Beard Award–nominated journalist, and the author of Food Lovers’ Guide to Los Angeles.

Budonoki, the two-year-old izakaya pop-up originally founded by a trio of restaurant industry veterans, is permanently settling into Virgil Village this fall at 654 N. Virgil Avenue on the ground floor of the Cha Cha Cha condominiums. Previously, Budonoki popped up at Melody Wine Bar, Ototo, and Thunderbolt, among others.

Spanning 1,700 square feet on the corner of Virgil and Melrose avenues, the restaurant sits in the same location as the now-demolished Cha Cha Cha, from which the housing complex took its name. (Developers purchased the property and evicted the three-decade-old Caribbean restaurant in 2016 to build 24 market-rate condos.) The corner space was most recently occupied by Bolt coffee shop. The forthcoming iteration of Budonoki will serve bar food with strong Japanese influences, its focus primarily on pressed sushi, along with beer, sake, and cocktails.

Chef and partner Dan Rabilwongse of Budonoki.
Chef and partner Dan Rabilwongse.

Like many neighborhoods across Los Angeles, Virgil Village is undergoing rapid gentrification. With the rise in speculation from developers and the influx of new businesses catering to a more-affluent clientele in recent years, the neighborhood’s tenants and legacy businesses are increasingly priced out and displaced. “We’ve worked really hard to think about value and to deliver the type of experience that enables our neighborhood and community to join us on a regular basis,” says partner Josh Hartley (formerly of Jon & Vinny’s). To that end, Budonoki plans to serve a set meal on Mondays priced under $12 as a more affordable option for the community. Prices on the regular menu are yet to be determined.

Behind the stoves is chef and partner Dan Rabilwongse, who grew up a half mile from the restaurant in Silver Lake and led the kitchen at Tartine Sycamore before devoting his time to Budonoki. “When I think of Virgil, I think of driving past the neon lights of Cha Cha Cha on my way to Sapp,” he tells Eater in an email. “I think, for us, what we can control at the end of the day is being responsible business operators and offering something of value to the community — I owe that to my family, my neighbors, and everyone that’s helped put me in a position to have this opportunity.”

Rabilwongse’s resume includes stints at local Japanese powerhouses Urasawa, Hayato, and Tsubaki, experiences that have shaped some of his approach to Budonoki. A number of the pop-up’s greatest hits, including a flame-seared pressed sushi roll with chopped and sliced salmon and soy-marinated serrano chiles, will serve as the foundation for the restaurant’s menu. Rabilwongse’s mother’s locally famous Thai fermented pork sausage will also make an appearance. The lineup of sake and shochu cocktails includes a spritz, swizzle, and frozen slushies, while soft-serve ice cream will headline the dessert menu.

“The food will be based on simple izakaya fare but will draw on flavors and techniques from all over the world,” he says. “We will also showcase oshizushi as a focal point of our menu.”

For now, the plan is to open the “dark” and “moody” 40-seat dining room in September and then gradually introduce service on the 700-square-foot patio that seats another 30 to 40 diners. Eric Bedroussian, another partner in the restaurant and former manager at Hillstone Restaurant Group and Majordomo, grew up in Vancouver, Canada, where izakayas were abundant. He hopes to recreate that sense of place at Budonoki. “Our collective goal is to curate an experience for our guests, peers, and community that is fun, communal, accessible, honest, and, above all, delicious,” he says.