When it comes to Japanese cuisine, you need to use your noodle.
The traditional shabu-shabu spot in Little Tokyo requires an epicurean palate and an hour (or two) of Zen-like patience, but it’s well worth the wait — and the price. Order the tasting menu of seafood (oyster, clams, and king crab), prime rib, and wagyu beef. All courses include an array of appetizers, like shredded abalone with radish and shark fin chawanmushi, wanmori (seaweed) soup, veggies, udon, and delicate desserts. 418 East Second Street, at Central Avenue, Downtown (213-617-1016).
A twenty-minute drive from downtown (and familiar noodle houses Daikokuya and Orochon), this Gardena shopping mall spot is home to the best ramen around. Each day’s pot is stewed more than fifteen hours. Tonkotsu (pork bone) broth is slow-cooked with Berkshire pork and filtered water; the fresh, secret-recipe noodles are thinner than most. We recommend a seat at the bar and a steaming bowl of strong broth or spicy miso, hard noodles, and medium-hot oil for a blast of flavor. 2015 West Redondo Beach Boulevard, at Gramercy Place, Gardena (310-329-1335).
Honda Ya Izakaya
The Little Tokyo izakaya eatery and pub has a book-like menu of traditional small plates and heartier eats, from barbecue meat and vegetable yakitori (shishito peppers, bacon-wrapped okra, spicy chicken) to bowls of nabeyaki udon served in clay and iron pots. Kick off your heels and sit cross-legged on a tatami mat or sidle up to the dark walnut bar and watch chefs prepare skewers over a charcoal fire. Long tables with picnic-bench seating let large parties cross bamboo swords and then cool off with bottomless pitchers of frothy Sapporo beer. 333 South Alameda Street, at Third Street, Downtown (213-625-1184).
Hold the maple syrup: The casual joint in Lomita is among the few places in L.A. specializing in savory Japanese okonomiyaki pancake. Toss vegetables, seafood, pork, and yakisoba noodles with house batter, and then pour it onto a sesame-oiled griddle built into your table. Order craft beers (Hitachino, Echigo) or iced shochu drinks while waiting for your griddle cake to crisp; dress it with bonito flakes, barbecue sauce, and mayonnaise. Finish sweet with a strawberry shaved-ice parfait. 2383 Lomita Boulevard, at Pennsylvania Avenue, Lomita (310-534-0153).
Don’t let the automated Mitsuwa marketplace doors deceive you. Tucked away in an unassuming corner of the Japanese market, the Westside hidden gem is a tasty departure from fancy ramen/udon/soba restaurants. Hot bowls of ramen are served on cafeteria trays to lunch lines of dedicated noodle lovers. The spicy miso or shio (salt) ramen is a quick and affordable meal for any shopper on the go. Browse the aisles and pick up ingredients for your next home-cooked meal, and then go back for slurpy seconds. 3760 South Centinela Avenue, at Venice Boulevard, Mar Vista (310-391-1101).
Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features
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