A new star has arrived in Virgil Village, promising a blend of Japanese food, Thai flavors, and French technique paired with a modern LA sensibility. Budonoki, the longtime pop-up run by a trio of industry veterans, opens Thursday, September 28 at the ground floor of the Cha Cha Cha condominium development on the corner of Melrose and Virgil Avenue. The opening makes for yet another dinnertime option on what must be one of the busiest three-block restaurant stretches anywhere outside of Koreatown.
Silver Lake, Virgil Village, and East Hollywood locals will soon be able to snack across nearly the entire compact izakaya menu, with options like chicken skewers, a naem crispy rice and Thai pork sausage dish, Peads & Barnetts pork jowl char siu, seafood pancake, and shrimp and scallop katsu with a heat-delivering habanero chili sauce. Budonoki will also serve traditional Japanese pressed sushi (oshizushi) with kanpachi, salmon, and a rotation of other fish. The opening menus are below.
Perhaps equally important are the drinks, a boisterous mix of draft beers like Asahi, Sapporo, and Orion, plus sakes and lighter non-booze cocktails using shochu, sake, and aperitifs. It’s all meant to make the place feel like a snacky, unserious party spread across a 40-seat dining room filled with pop art, neon touches, and traditional Japanese curtains and lanterns. That energy is on par with some of the other more recent openings along Virgil, from the always-energetic Melody wine bar to Voodoo Vin and Courage Bagels with its long line of eager customers.
That’s not to say that the team behind Budonoki is unserious about the food and drink that end up at the table. The restaurant is a heavy-hitting three-way partnership between friends Eric Bedroussian, Dan Rabilwongse, and Josh Hartley, each with their own long resumes. Rabilwongse, the restaurant’s executive chef, previously worked at Urasawa, Bouchon, and Hayato; Bedroussian worked his way up through the Hillstone restaurant group before landing on the opening team at Majordomo; Hartley worked the business side for the Alinea Group in Chicago and Helen Johannessen wine shop Helen’s Wines at Jon & Vinny’s. Justin Vu is on as chef de cuisine, having previously worked at the Joint and Morihiro in Atwater Village.
Earlier this summer, Hartley spoke to Eater about the changes and gentrification gripping Virgil Village and greater East Hollywood of late. “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,” Hartley said at the time, noting that the restaurant would offer a $12 set meal on Mondays to keep options accessible to locals in the neighborhood. When asked to confirm that these meals were still part of the plan, ownership told Eater that the restaurant will not open with the set menu, but will aim to introduce it once it gets up and running for Monday service.
Chef Rabilwongse, who grew up a half mile away, says that his fond memories of the former Cha Cha Cha space as a child have helped impart a responsibility in him to support the neighborhood. “What we can control at the end of the day is being responsible business operators and offering something of value to the community,” he told Eater earlier this summer. “I owe that to my family, my neighbors, and everyone that’s helped put me in a position to have this opportunity.”