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Japanese Village Plaza Mall in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo.
Japanese Village Plaza Mall in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo.
Shutterstock

15 Essential Food Destinations on a Tour of LA’s Little Tokyo

Shabu shabu, bento boxes, sweet mochi, and Japanese-Italian pasta

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Japanese Village Plaza Mall in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo.
| Shutterstock

With nearly 140 years of history, it’s no surprise that Little Tokyo is a must-visit on any Los Angeles bucket list, drawing both native Angelenos and tourists to its streets. The neighborhood is one of three historic Japantowns left in the nation, surviving its time as a ghost town during the Japanese American incarceration in World War II, as well as attempts at redevelopment and gentrification in the decades that followed.

Today, Little Tokyo doubles as both a commercial and cultural center for the vibrant Japanese American community. Here now are 15 culinary gems, both well-established community favorites and new arrivals to the area, to experience in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Downtown LA.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Chef Akira Hirose brings a mix of French training and Japanese roots to the menu at Azay, with items like a traditional Japanese breakfast and boeuf bourguignon sharing space on the daily menu. Follow the restaurant on Instagram for the most up-to-date hours and dinner menu, as the selection rotates weekly.

Daily bento at Azay in Little Tokyo.
Daily bento at Azay in Little Tokyo.
Meghan McCarron

Jist Cafe

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Look no further than Jist Cafe for a brunch spot in Little Tokyo. Open Thursday to Sunday, Jist serves up comfort foods like porky omurice and chashu hash. The real star is the cafe’s pancake, a thick and fluffy piece of heaven on a plate. Get one on the side with creme fraiche and syrup, or the more decadent tres leches version.

Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop

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No guide to Little Tokyo would be complete without Fugetsu-Do, the beloved Japanese manju and mochi confectionery shop. Fugetsu-Do has been family-owned and operated since 1903, serving up sweet morsels made fresh every day. If you’re new to traditional Japanese sweets, opt for a pre-packed 6-piece tray; the rainbow dango and chocolate mochi are good entry points. Visit early in the day to avoid the line that snakes out the door and bring cash if you don’t plan on reaching the $15 minimum for credit cards.

Marukai Market

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When you’re short on time, pick up a pre-made bento at Marukai Market. The variety is wide and portions are generous, with most bentos priced under $10. The market has a microwave near the registers for easy reheating, too. Don’t overlook the small fridge between the bentos and the drinks. The purin, or Japanese custard pudding, lives there, and you can get the sweet, silky, and creamy dessert for a steal at just $1.

Torigoya

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Head to Torigoya to unwind and drink with friends after work. Specializing in charbroiled chicken skewers grilled over imported charcoal, Torigoya serves each skewer as it comes off the grill. Get the 10-skewer course and don’t forget to order the yuzu special sauce on the side to enhance your experience. Call ahead to make a reservation as walk-ins are very limited.

Marugame Monzo

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Stop by Marugame Monzo to sample handmade udon noodles — rolled out and cut to bouncy perfection in plain view of the dining area. For first-timers, the kake or beef udon is a good place to start, but for those well into their udon explorations, the signature miso carbonara or sea urchin cream udon are must-try bowls.

Strands of udon noodles freshly made.
Freshly made udon noodles at Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo.
Cathy Chaplin

Rakkan Ramen

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The first Rakkan Ramen opened in 2011 as a four-seat ramen bar in Tokyo and expanded to the U.S. in 2017 with a branch in Little Tokyo. The broth is packed with umami and is completely plant-based. With vegan and gluten-free options, the menu easily meets any dietary restrictions while still serving up a delicious bowl of ramen. The Garnet, the shop’s miso-based ramen, is rich and satisfying; for a nice kick, get it spicy.

Shabu-Shabu House

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For the past 30 years, Shabu Shabu House has provided the best hot pot experience with high quality meat, a housemade ponzu sauce, and at a price that won’t make your wallet cry. The owner, affectionately referred to as “Yoshi” by diners, has a no cellphone policy inside the restaurant, so enjoy your meal disconnected from the world for as long as there is meat to swish into your hot pot. Come early to put your name down as the waitlist grows quickly. This spot is cash-only.

Mitsuru Cafe

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Mitsuru is another shop with a decades-long presence in the community. This no-frills cafe offers Japanese comfort dishes like oyakodon, and teriyaki and tempura sets at affordable prices. What it’s best known for, however, is the window where you can get freshly made imagawayaki, a red bean cake straight from the pan. It’s pleasantly warm to hold in your hands as you roam the plaza. Bring cash if you’re just stopping by the window, as the credit card minimum is $10. 

Yamazaki Bakery

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Find a loaf to match any of your bread needs or grab a quick breakfast at this Japanese-style western bakery. You can’t go wrong with the melon pan (a fluffy sweet bun with a crunchy cookie crust scored to resemble a melon) or the steamed cheese cake (a Japanese-style cheesecake that is lighter than its New York-style counterpart but just as rich). For one-handed, on-the-go snacking purposes, pick-up a steamed bun; the nikuman is a classic choice, but there’s also a vegetarian option with mushrooms.

Hama Sushi

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The menu at Hama Sushi is straightforward — “no tempura, no teriyaki, no noodles, no rice alone” — just sushi and sashimi. Combination C, which includes a mix of popular sashimi and rolls, is a great and inexpensive option to try. Sit at the counter for a firsthand look at the care put into each piece of sushi. The wait can be long during weekends, especially for dinner service, so try to stop by during the week or for lunch instead. 

Mackerel nigiri at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.
Mackerel nigiri at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.
Cathy Chaplin

Champion’s Curry

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This latest overseas transplant started off as a pop-up in Long Beach and opened its first location in Little Tokyo in 2020, filling the curry void left behind after the much-loved Curry House in Weller Court closed permanently. The katsu here is crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and most importantly, the Kanazawa-style curry is thick, rich, and flavorful. For heat seekers, order the curry spicy for a burn that builds with every spoonful.

For Japanese curry served by a winner: Champion’s Curry.
Japanese curry at Champion’s Curry in Little Tokyo.
Farley Elliott

Tea Master Matcha Cafe and Green Tea Shop

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Tea Master has been selling high-quality green teas and ceremonial-grade matcha in Honda Plaza for over a decade, and opened its cafe in 2014. For a cold treat that’s not too sweet, get a cup of the best-selling matcha soft serve. For something slightly left of the usual matcha latte, ask for the hakko-cha oat latte; the green tea is aged and develops a nutty flavor profile, falling somewhere between a black tea and an oolong in taste.

Aloha Cafe

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Aloha Cafe is a mom-and-pop style diner serving up Hawaiian classics like loco moco and Spam musubi, as well as other specialities like gabli beef and chicken. Portions are big, so come hungry.

Pasta e Pasta by Allegro

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Pasta e Pasta by Allegro is a Japanese take on Italian food. Regular customers here are divided into two camps: those who swear allegiance to the mentai Japanese cream pasta and those who preach uni pasta superiority. With the bold and creamy flavors in both dishes, however, neither side is mistaken and everyone wins.

Azay

Daily bento at Azay in Little Tokyo.
Daily bento at Azay in Little Tokyo.
Meghan McCarron

Chef Akira Hirose brings a mix of French training and Japanese roots to the menu at Azay, with items like a traditional Japanese breakfast and boeuf bourguignon sharing space on the daily menu. Follow the restaurant on Instagram for the most up-to-date hours and dinner menu, as the selection rotates weekly.

Daily bento at Azay in Little Tokyo.
Daily bento at Azay in Little Tokyo.
Meghan McCarron

Jist Cafe

Look no further than Jist Cafe for a brunch spot in Little Tokyo. Open Thursday to Sunday, Jist serves up comfort foods like porky omurice and chashu hash. The real star is the cafe’s pancake, a thick and fluffy piece of heaven on a plate. Get one on the side with creme fraiche and syrup, or the more decadent tres leches version.

Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop

No guide to Little Tokyo would be complete without Fugetsu-Do, the beloved Japanese manju and mochi confectionery shop. Fugetsu-Do has been family-owned and operated since 1903, serving up sweet morsels made fresh every day. If you’re new to traditional Japanese sweets, opt for a pre-packed 6-piece tray; the rainbow dango and chocolate mochi are good entry points. Visit early in the day to avoid the line that snakes out the door and bring cash if you don’t plan on reaching the $15 minimum for credit cards.

Marukai Market

When you’re short on time, pick up a pre-made bento at Marukai Market. The variety is wide and portions are generous, with most bentos priced under $10. The market has a microwave near the registers for easy reheating, too. Don’t overlook the small fridge between the bentos and the drinks. The purin, or Japanese custard pudding, lives there, and you can get the sweet, silky, and creamy dessert for a steal at just $1.

Torigoya

Head to Torigoya to unwind and drink with friends after work. Specializing in charbroiled chicken skewers grilled over imported charcoal, Torigoya serves each skewer as it comes off the grill. Get the 10-skewer course and don’t forget to order the yuzu special sauce on the side to enhance your experience. Call ahead to make a reservation as walk-ins are very limited.

Marugame Monzo

Strands of udon noodles freshly made.
Freshly made udon noodles at Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo.
Cathy Chaplin

Stop by Marugame Monzo to sample handmade udon noodles — rolled out and cut to bouncy perfection in plain view of the dining area. For first-timers, the kake or beef udon is a good place to start, but for those well into their udon explorations, the signature miso carbonara or sea urchin cream udon are must-try bowls.

Strands of udon noodles freshly made.
Freshly made udon noodles at Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo.
Cathy Chaplin

Rakkan Ramen

The first Rakkan Ramen opened in 2011 as a four-seat ramen bar in Tokyo and expanded to the U.S. in 2017 with a branch in Little Tokyo. The broth is packed with umami and is completely plant-based. With vegan and gluten-free options, the menu easily meets any dietary restrictions while still serving up a delicious bowl of ramen. The Garnet, the shop’s miso-based ramen, is rich and satisfying; for a nice kick, get it spicy.

Shabu-Shabu House

For the past 30 years, Shabu Shabu House has provided the best hot pot experience with high quality meat, a housemade ponzu sauce, and at a price that won’t make your wallet cry. The owner, affectionately referred to as “Yoshi” by diners, has a no cellphone policy inside the restaurant, so enjoy your meal disconnected from the world for as long as there is meat to swish into your hot pot. Come early to put your name down as the waitlist grows quickly. This spot is cash-only.

Mitsuru Cafe

Mitsuru is another shop with a decades-long presence in the community. This no-frills cafe offers Japanese comfort dishes like oyakodon, and teriyaki and tempura sets at affordable prices. What it’s best known for, however, is the window where you can get freshly made imagawayaki, a red bean cake straight from the pan. It’s pleasantly warm to hold in your hands as you roam the plaza. Bring cash if you’re just stopping by the window, as the credit card minimum is $10. 

Yamazaki Bakery

Find a loaf to match any of your bread needs or grab a quick breakfast at this Japanese-style western bakery. You can’t go wrong with the melon pan (a fluffy sweet bun with a crunchy cookie crust scored to resemble a melon) or the steamed cheese cake (a Japanese-style cheesecake that is lighter than its New York-style counterpart but just as rich). For one-handed, on-the-go snacking purposes, pick-up a steamed bun; the nikuman is a classic choice, but there’s also a vegetarian option with mushrooms.

Hama Sushi

Mackerel nigiri at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.
Mackerel nigiri at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.
Cathy Chaplin

The menu at Hama Sushi is straightforward — “no tempura, no teriyaki, no noodles, no rice alone” — just sushi and sashimi. Combination C, which includes a mix of popular sashimi and rolls, is a great and inexpensive option to try. Sit at the counter for a firsthand look at the care put into each piece of sushi. The wait can be long during weekends, especially for dinner service, so try to stop by during the week or for lunch instead. 

Mackerel nigiri at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.
Mackerel nigiri at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo.
Cathy Chaplin

Champion’s Curry

For Japanese curry served by a winner: Champion’s Curry.
Japanese curry at Champion’s Curry in Little Tokyo.
Farley Elliott

This latest overseas transplant started off as a pop-up in Long Beach and opened its first location in Little Tokyo in 2020, filling the curry void left behind after the much-loved Curry House in Weller Court closed permanently. The katsu here is crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and most importantly, the Kanazawa-style curry is thick, rich, and flavorful. For heat seekers, order the curry spicy for a burn that builds with every spoonful.

For Japanese curry served by a winner: Champion’s Curry.
Japanese curry at Champion’s Curry in Little Tokyo.
Farley Elliott

Tea Master Matcha Cafe and Green Tea Shop

Tea Master has been selling high-quality green teas and ceremonial-grade matcha in Honda Plaza for over a decade, and opened its cafe in 2014. For a cold treat that’s not too sweet, get a cup of the best-selling matcha soft serve. For something slightly left of the usual matcha latte, ask for the hakko-cha oat latte; the green tea is aged and develops a nutty flavor profile, falling somewhere between a black tea and an oolong in taste.

Aloha Cafe

Aloha Cafe is a mom-and-pop style diner serving up Hawaiian classics like loco moco and Spam musubi, as well as other specialities like gabli beef and chicken. Portions are big, so come hungry.

Pasta e Pasta by Allegro

Pasta e Pasta by Allegro is a Japanese take on Italian food. Regular customers here are divided into two camps: those who swear allegiance to the mentai Japanese cream pasta and those who preach uni pasta superiority. With the bold and creamy flavors in both dishes, however, neither side is mistaken and everyone wins.

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