LA city guide: Eating and drinking in Little Tokyo

Check out the best eating and drinking in Little Tokyo with our LA city guide to the the area's old-school and new wave of restaurants.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Spam and eggs at Aloha Café

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Macarons at Lette Macarons

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Tokushima ramen at Men Oh Tokushima Ramen

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Cheeseburger at the Spice Table

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Photograph: Victor Leung

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Imagawayaki at Mitsuru Cafe

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Photograph: Victor Leung

LA city guide: Yakitori at Honda-Ya Izakaya

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Gyoza at Daikokuya

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Photograph: Victor Leung

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Okonomiyaki at Restaurant Aoi

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Green tea roti at Café Dulce

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Photograph: Amparo Rios

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Cold-brew coffee at Demitasse

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Hakata Ramen at Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Chashu hash skillet with six-minute egg at Jist Café

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Mochi ice cream at Mikawaya

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Loco moco at Aloha Café

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Photograph: Victor Leung

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Tenshin chahan at Kouraku

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Mochi at Fugetsu-Do

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Photograph: Katherine Kims

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Strawberry and cream donuts, strawberry jelly donuts at Café Dulce

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Photograph: Victor Leung

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Tan tan men at Kouraku

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Photograph: Victor Leung

LA city guide Little Tokyo: Shrimp tempura udon at Marugame Monzo

On the edge of Downtown Los Angeles, Little Tokyo is a vibrant, bustling neighborhood that dates back to 1886, when a Japanese seaman opened a restaurant on 1st Street. It's been particularly lively of late: While the neighborhood may have always served as a primary go-to for your ramen fix, new destination-worthy eateries have moved in alongside old-school joints, giving even more reason to explore the area. The best part? The neighborhood is small—just a few blocks, really—so a fantastic bowl of noodles isn't more than a few steps away from a delicious snack of mochi or a perfect plate of sushi. Whether you're around for just a quick bite or plan to spend the entire day and night in Little Tokyo, we have your meals covered. Enjoy our LA city guide to the best eating and drinking in Little Tokyo.

RECOMMENDED: Little Tokyo neighborhood guide

Breakfast

To get your day going, start with a strong cup of coffee. Café Dulce in the Japanese Village Plaza pulls excellent shots using Madcap Coffee Company beans: Try a cappuccino ($3.50) or, for something sweeter, a Vietnamese iced coffee ($4.50), and don't forget to grab a green tea donut to nosh on while you drink up. Or, head over to Demitasse, where you can watch a barista brew your cup in a steampunk-ish siphon filter. For a fuller breakfast, head over to the 10-plus-year-old Aloha Cafe for classic Hawaiian grub such as Spam and eggs and loco moco ($7.75). Hearty appetites craving meat and potatoes will much appreciate the delicious marinated chashu pork, fluffy breakfast potatoes and six-minute eggs in the Chashu Hash Skillet ($11) at the just-opened Jist Cafe. For something sweeter, this charming morning spot also serves up delicious Earl Grey pancakes ($9).

Lunch

If a steaming bowl of ramen is what you’ve been looking forward to on this Downtown trip, options are abound. For nostalgia's sake, Daikokuya is a Little Tokyo institution, and rightfully so: Even with the newer ramen shops moving into the neighborhood simmering arguably better bowls of noodles, there's something enormously comforting about the storefront's faded yellow awning, cozy red booths and worn counter stools. You'll want the classic tonkotsu ($8.95), but also consider a shredded pork bowl ($8.95) and a side of gyoza ($5.95). One of the best new-school ramen joints to move into the neighborhood is Men Oh Tokushima—thanks to its tokushima ramen ($8.95) of broth with intense pork flavor, topped with both chashu pork and pork belly. To customize your own bowl from the toppings to the chewiness of the noodles, try Shin-Sen-Gumi, where you'll be greeted enthusiastically and handed a sheet of paper to specify exactly how you would like your bowl of ramen. And, finally, if tsukemen (dipping ramen) is more your jam, check out the traditional and creative options—we like the Johnny Dip in which tonkotsu broth is mixed with green onions and basil ($9)—at Ikemen.

If you’re not quite a rameniac, the neighborhood offers plenty of other options. For sushi, there almost certainly will be a crowd outside of Sushi Gen, but it'll be worth the wait, if only for the restaurant's lunch special: One of the best deals in town, you'll be treated to a satisfying rice bowl of the day's selection of sashimi for just $15. Toshi Sushi is also a wonderfully low-key (and less crowded) sushi joint with excellent fish. Take advantage of lunch meal deals such as chirashi ($13.50) and bento box ($8.75) filled with pick-and-choose options from grilled fish to tempura.

Restaurant Aoi is one of the few remaining mom-and-pop joints left in this quickly changing neighborhood; stop in for excellent tempura and a variety of perfectly sized bento boxes. If you have a curry craving, Curry House's chicken katsu ($9.25) with thick, homey curry is sure to satisfy.

Snack

For a post-meal or midday dessert, you can't go wrong with mochi at Fugetsu-Do. The family-run shop has been making fresh, delicious rice cakes since 1903. Or, swing by Mikawaya for mochi filled with fun flavors of gelato from mango to Kona coffee. Also, in the Japanese Village Plaza, Mitsuru Cafe is where you can see imagawayaki (small pastries filled with red bean paste) being made right in front of you in the griddle, and at Lette Macarons, you’ll find a beautiful display of colorful marcons in classic and seasonal flavors. These sweets shops are right next to each other, so you may as well stop by both spots—one will surely hold you over until dinner.

Dinner

The most exciting meal in Little Tokyo at the moment is udon—yes, udon—at Marugame Monzo. Grab a seat at the counter, so you can watch the rolling and cutting of noodles right before you. The results are fantastic: Whether you choose hot kitsune udon ($7.95) topped with deep-fried tofu, cold plum and shiso-flavored bukkake udon ($8.95) or an interesting Japanese-meets-Italian mash-up like the miso carbonara udon ($12.50), you really can't go wrong here. Nearby, the Spice Table's menu of Southeast Asian-inspired dishes—we love the meaty grilled pig's tail ($15), satays from lamb belly to tripe ($11) and an unexpectedly stellar cheeseburger with ground short rib and sambal ($13)—has earned the restaurant and its chef, Bryant Ng, much-deserved accolade. Groups will have fun cooking up their own beef (or King crab, wagyu beef or a surf-and-turf mix) at the shabu-shabu destination Kagaya, or, maybe even better, plunking down at an izakaya, where everyone can indulge in a variety of small plates of yakitori (skewers), tempura and sushi rolls with a pitcher or two of cold beer or sake. Honda-Ya is a Little Tokyo standby where you can sit on tatami floors or around the wooden bar, while Aburiya Toranoko is a newer izakaya with gussied-up dishes such as uni tofu ($9) and beef filet with truffle teriyaki ($18) and an impressive list of Japanese whiskeys.

Late night

After a long day of exploring, walking and eating, it's time to let loose. Make your way to First Street and look for signs for Far Bar; you'll end up cutting through an alley and coming upon an unexpectedly generous patio and bar. Grab a seat here, order from an excellent list of craft brews and soak in the atmosphere. You'll need at least one drink before belting out the greatest hits of the '90s at your next stop, Max Karaoke. After singing your heart out, end a night to remember at Kouraku, an old-school Japanese diner that stays open until at least 3am, serving up, among other things, tenshin chahan aka pork fried rice topped with shrimp omlette ($9.45) and spicy tan tan men noodles ($8.45) to gyoza ($4.45) and chicken karaage ($10.45). In other words, exactly what you'd want to eat at 3am to soak up the day (or the night's boozey intake).

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