LA's best Japanese restaurants
While Nobu Matsuhisa's eponymous restaurant is nothing new—his Japanese-Peruvian food is now global—the Nobu outpost is a sight to behold, with a minimalist, zen-meets-the-Pacific space and an oceanside setting that leaves diners speechless. Just as stunning is what's on your plate: mini tacos are filled with creamy uni, rib-eye is topped with truffle butter, and tangy Lobster Shiitake Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing all showcase elegant raw preparations that bypass the usual sushi and sashimi.
Shunji almost looks like it could belong in the Shire—with its circular frame and low ceiling, Bilbo Baggins would feel right at home. Not so Shire-like is the fantastic sushi inside this Pico Boulevard restaurant, including the well-curated omakase available at lunch and dinner. But first, ask about the fried oysters, which come four to an order and will convert even the oyster averse among us with its soft, pillowy exterior shielding a juicy helping of mollusk inside. The lunch omakase special—seven pieces for $23—might have you trying scallop and salmon, blue fin tuna and mackerel, flying fish and more. When ordering a la carte, though, the Santa Barbara uni is a strong contender, as is the yellowtail. Chef Shunji Nakao knows exactly how much wasabi to hide in each scoop of rice, and when your plate has been picked clean, a steaming cup of green tea helps ease your way into the outside world—LA, not the Shire, in case you needed a reminder.
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.
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).
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.
Those who frequented the West Hollywood location of Yabu were devastated when it closed, but fear not: the original Sawtelle location still stands, serving as a comfortable neighborhood walk-in eatery. The dish to order: Yabu’s signature housemade soba. It's perfect in any iteration—our favorite is the kamo nanban with duck and green onion—but traditionalists would insist that you try the zaru soba, served cold with seaweed flakes and a dashi dipping sauce, the perfect cooldown for an especially hot day.
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.
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.