Los Angeles: 9 Great Dishes In Little Tokyo

L.A.'s Little Tokyo dates back to 1886 when the downtown neighborhood's first Japanese restaurant opened — which later grew through the arrival of Pacific Electric Railway workers from Japan. Recently the hood has seen a significant spike of interest from restaurateurs, many of which aren't Japanese. Here are nine great dishes that represent the neighborhood's flavors both old and new.

Joshua Lurie is the founder of Los Angeles-based restaurant and travel website Food GPS.

1. Keshi No Mi Mochi at Fugetsu-Do

This fourth generation Little Tokyo mochi specialist, founded by Seiichi Kito and shepherded by Brian Kito, has made glutinous rice cakes since 1903. Keshi no mi, filled with earthy azuki bean paste, lined with tiny white grains and sporting an iron-singed spiral, tastes great. 315 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, 213.625.8595 fugetsu-do.com

2. Pigtail at The Spice Table

Bryant Ng and wife Kim feature full-force interpretations of Southeast Asian classics at their contemporary restaurant, powered by an almond wood fired grill. For the standout pigtail, crispy, chewy skin wraps around luscious pockets of collagen-lined meat, which pulls from the bones to join herbs and Serrano-spiked fish sauce in lettuce wraps. 114 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, 213.620.1840 thespicetable.com

3. Sesame Fried Chicken at Honda-Ya

This lively izakaya, the latest branch of a Tustin original, opened in 2008 on top of the Little Tokyo Shopping Center. A glass-fronted grill yields dozens of seared meats and vegetables, but we prefer the sesame fried chicken. Dark meat features sesame powder in the light coating and comes with an enlightening lemon wedge. 333 S. Alameda St. #314, Los Angeles, 213.625.1184 izakayahondaya.com

4. Yellow Magic Orchestra at Shojin

This vegan café from Tsuguhiro Morishima resides on the fourth floor of Little Tokyo plaza, featuring moody lighting and painting lined walls. The menu is like a manifesto, with cartoons promising no meat, fish or dairy "because we love animals." Refined sugar, agave and brown sugar also gets the boot. Will all of these self-imposed constraints they still manage to generate plenty of flavor in their Yellow Magic Orchestra — a sushi roll with pumpkin tempura slices side with curry spiced tempeh with Japanese "Karashi" mustard sauce. 333 S. Alameda St. #310, Los Angeles, 213.617.0305 theshojin.com

5. Coconut Macaroons at 'lette

Paulette Koumetz's macaron specialty shop, formerly known as Paulette, is new to Japanese Village Plaza and still shows the same "la passion du macaron" that she initially brought to Beverly Hills. Colorful macaron waves wash over a white stand. Order the coconut — noix de coco — chewy coconut cookies sandwiching creamy coconut ganache and topped with toasted coconut, inviting a fun comparison to its heftier twin brother, the macaroon. 127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles lettemacarons.com

6. Tokushima Ramen at Men Oh

Ramen has become increasingly popular in Little Tokyo (and Los Angeles at that) and this franchised newcomer packs the most porcine pop. Men Oh draws inspiration from the town of Tokushima on Japan's Shikoku Island, serving a cloudy broth using pork bones and soy sauce. Thick-cut butabara (stir-fried pork belly), simmered pork slices, menma (bamboo shoots), green onions and ajitama (seasoned boiled egg) all contribute to a rich, comforting ramen bowl. 456 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, 213.687.8485 menohusa.com

7. House B Set at Shabu Shabu

Masako Maruyama's popular shabu house in the center of Japanese Village Plaza features a horseshoe shaped counter, country music (!!) and Angus ribeye sliced to order. The B Set is a particularly good value, with 15 slices that take a quick bath in bubbling water, followed by a dip in ponzu or sesame sauces. The water also cooks crisp cabbage, seaweed, nutty squares of tofu and a load of udon. 127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, 213.680.3890

8. Uni Croquette at Fat Spoon

The menu here from restaurateur Michael Cardenas and chef Hiroyuki Fujita features Japanese-inflected pastas and curries. Our favorite bite has been their uni croquettes, which are available as small bites at dinner. A creamy blend of vegetables and briny sea urchin is deep fried in panko coating and served with savory katsu sauce. 329 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, 213.621.7890 fatspoonfood.com

9. Amaebi Sushi at Sushi Gen

Sushi Gen, which chef Toshiaki Toyoshima opened in a Little Tokyo plaza in 1981, sources premium seafood from the nearby markets. He carries luxury items like uni and the occasional live lobster, but we prefer amaebi (shrimp) due to its versatility. Start with the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth meat, then get a crunchy pay-off from the deep-fried heads — which are entirely edible and super satisfying with a squeeze of lemon. 422 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, 213.617.0552 sushigenla.com

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