Best restaurants in Los Angeles: LA's best Japanese restaurants

From Little Tokyo to the South Bay, get your izakaya and shabu shabu on at LA's best Japanese restaurants.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: grilled kind crab leg at Takao

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: udon at Takao

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: grilled octopus salad at Takao

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Takao

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Photo Courtesy Aburiya Toranoko

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Aburiya Toranoko

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Photo Courtesy Aburiya Toranoko

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Aburiya Toranoko

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Photograph: Courtesy Robata Jinya

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Robata Jinya

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Photograph: Courtesy Izakaya Bincho

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Izakaya Bincho

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Kagaya

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Kagaya

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: uni mini tacos at Nobu Malibu

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Nobu Malibu

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: Nobu Malibu

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Photograph: Victor Leung

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: tempura set at I-naba

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Photograph: Victor Leung

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: I-naba

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Photograph: Daniel Dy of effingdericious.wordpress.com

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: beef tongue at Totoraku

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Photograph: Daniel Dy of effingdericious.wordpress.com

Best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles: filet mignon at Totoraku

LA's devotion to sushi is so extreme that you'd think it was the only Japanese cuisine in town. To get you out of your spicy tuna rut, we've rounded up LA's best Japanese restaurants, where you can sample everything from an exquisite bowl of tofu made in front of you to a cook-your-own $135 meal.

RECOMMENDED:Best Restaurants in Los Angeles

Takao

Simple and cozy, this 40-seat Brentwood joint elevates even familiar dishes such as the ubiquitous edamame; fresh pods are slightly steamed and salted at the hands owner/chef Takao Izumida, a Matsuhisa alum. Something as elementary as the Grilled King Crab leg ($18) has both sweetness and depth thanks to the high quality ingredients, while flashier dishes such as New Style Sashimi with Truffle (market price), also garnished with chive, ginger and hot olive oil, bring a whiz-bang twist to a Japanese classic. Takao is a great noodle destination—sublime udon ($9.50) is served hot in a delicate consomé or cold with dipping noodles—and one of the few LA places that offers Molokheya ($12.50), a green noodle made partially from the highly nutritious plant of the same name.

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Brentwood

Aburiya Toranoko

With its yakuza-meets-art-gallery décor, Asian-inflected specialty cocktails and lengthy list of menu options, Aburiya Toranoko is the sexy pop counterpart to its next-door sister, the Lazy Ox. You can sit at the bar or the robata grill here, but most of the Little Tokyo locals pile into the booths and order the much raved-about tsukune ($2.80), which lives up to its hype: These juicy ground chicken meatballs, and other earthy dishes like the buta kakuni($7), aka braised pork, are among your best bets here, though the more ethereal housemade uni tofu ($9) never disappoints.

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Downtown

Izakaya Bincho

A sign-less hole-in-the-wall on the Redondo Beach Pier seems like a dubious place for a great izakaya, until you consider the fact that its neighbors include two legit Korean crab destinations. Agedashi tofu ($6) is a favorite here, as are the grilled bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes ($3.50).  Some nights the vibe is Jimmy Buffet goes to Japan, where everyone seems to have a laid-back Sapporo buzz, and other nights the place seems a bit forgotten in time—there’s really no predicting the mostly-local crowd, but you can always count on a good plate of spicy fried wings ($6.50) to make you feel welcome.

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Manhattan/Hermosa/Redondo

Robata Jinya

Carved wood, glowing lights and tastefully kitsch elements—samurai armor, lights made of sake bottles, hanging demon masks—make this glass-walled storefront on West Third feel like a stylish Shinjuku den that's always packed with diners in outfits from nearby boutiques. The omakase menus are very well-constructed here—even the $25 menu gives you an overview of all the favorites like the soft-as-pudding homemade organic tofu ($5.80), little dominoes of buttery shrimp toast ($7.80) and a bracing dose of tonkotsu ramen ($8.50).

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West Hollywood

Kagaya

That same friend that always tells you to buy investment pieces instead of an armful of Forever 21 will love Kagaya, the best shabu-shabu in town. You can only order by the set here and the basic beef will run you $48. Wagyu ($138) and seafood ($65 regular, $128 live) upgrades are available, and you will be rewarded with eight to ten slices of exquisite quality, to be lightly cooked in the bubbling broth and dipped into a smooth but complex sesame sauce. The luxe, DIY meal commences with a small, lovely serving of the day’s two fish specials and one soup special, followed by beef-enriched broth turned udon or rice porridge—a couture dining experience, topped off with your choice of dessert such as ethereal crème brulée.

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Downtown

Torafuku

In Japan, entire issues of food magazines and street festivals are devoted to varieties and preparations of rice. For the North American rice fetishist, there’s Torafuku, which offers kamado rice, prepared in a special 500-pound iron pot balanced over an earthenware oven in a special, designated section of the kitchen. Dishes that take advantage of the rice include ochazuke, a light, flavorful soup with toppings such as grilled salmon, pickled plum or spicy cod roe ($6-$7).

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West L.A.

Yabu

There are two outposts of this multi-faceted Japanese gem: The original West LA eatery feels more like a bow-to-greet neighborhood walk-in, while the West Hollywood location is in a small house, complete with fireplace and bamboo-lined patio, giving it a more hushed, rarefied air. The dish to order at either place: Yabu’s signature housemade soba.  Perfect in any iteration—our favorite is the kamo nanban ($15.50) with duck and green onion—but traditionalists would insist that you try the zaru soba ($9), served cold with seaweed flakes and a dashi dipping sauce, the perfect cooldown for an especially hot day.

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West Hollywood

I-naba

If ramen is the White-Hot Noodle of the Year, then soba is the lesser-known contender for Most Refined. Soba's beauty lies in the delicate, slightly nutty flavor of buckwheat and a skilled touch in hand-making each thread. Any purist will tell you that the best way to enjoy these noodles is plain or zaru—served cold, topped with nori shreds alongside an umami-rich dipping sauce. But at this South Bay noodle destination, we prefer tensoba ($13), an upgraded version with the addition of light, crispy tempura on the side. The best way to sample an authentic taste of Nippon is a set dinner: I-naba's Kaiseki Dinner ($55) includes sunomono (pickled vegetables), grilled fish, miso soup, a mixed plate of nigiri and maki sushi, that etheral tempura, chawanmushi (egg custard) and a small bowl of soba.

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Torrance

Totoraku

Don't let the unassuming facade—the sign reads "Teriyaki House Pico"—on a nondescript block fool you. The tiny makeshift restaurant may not be much to look at, but once inside this clandestine shrine to beef, you'll be served sublime plate after sublime plate. Chef Kaz Oyama starts the kaiseki-style dinner with delicate preparations of beef from seared tataki and marbled sashimi to a daikon and pine nut-flecked tartare and an enlightened version of tongue that's impossibly tender and complex in flavor. But the main event is yakiniku—grilled preparations of tongue, rib-eye, short rib and other varying cuts over a tabletop charcoal grill. DIY-ers can dig in, and BYOB-ers can cork bottles with no fee. The night will set you back $180 per head but, of course, the real feat is scoring an invite.

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West L.A.

Nobu Malibu

While Nobu Matsuhisa's eponymous restaurant is nothing new—his Japanese-Peruvian food is now global—his recently-relocated Malibu outpost has a fresh makeover with a minimalist, zen-meets-the-Pacific space and an oceanside setting sure to land it on many "Best of" lists. Just as stunning is what's on your plate: mini tacos ($10) are filled with creamy uni, rib-eye ($40) is topped with truffle butter, and tangy Lobster Shiitake Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing ($46) all showcase elegant raw preparations that bypass the usual sushi and sashimi.

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Malibu

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