Hansei Backyard | Photograph by Katrina Frederick

Hansei Backyard | Photograph by Katrina Frederick

His California roll is a masterpiece, an immaculately constructed tower of crispy fried seaweed, crab, cucumber, and avocado topped with uni and wasabi, a textural take that’s elevated each actually and figuratively, however Chef Chris Ono didn’t begin out meaning to cook dinner Japanese-American meals.

As an alternative he got here up in high-end French kitchens, and hung out working in formidable Italian and conventional Edomae-style sushi spots. However because the LA native Ono watched among the staple Japanese-American eating places he grew up with go years with out renovation or innovation, and as he noticed too lots of them shut, he felt his perspective shift. As a Japanese-American Angeleno, he determined he wished to carry these flavors ahead at Hansei, his tasting menu residency on the Japanese American Cultural & Group Middle (or JACCC) in Little Tokyo.

Japanese-American tradition in Los Angeles is exclusive, influenced by Japan and likewise Southern California’s melting pot, by generations of immigration and assimilation stress, with deep scars left by Japanese internment. It may possibly additionally really feel like an ignored group, particularly from a meals perspective, lumped in with extra mainstream Japanese establishments, the community-focused restaurant tradition overshadowed by the sort of buzzy cooking that will get extra publicity and acclaim.

However Japanese-American meals and tradition is value celebrating in its personal proper. Broadly talking JA eating places are usually generalists, mom-and-pop retailers that usually keep inside the household for generations, designed to supply an off-the-cuff, comforting meal. The menus usually have sushi and noodles, rice dishes and gyoza, and there’s all the time, all the time, a California roll and a hen teriyaki set.

There have been Japanese-American enclaves throughout Los Angeles for generations, in neighborhoods like West LA, Crenshaw, Mid-Metropolis, Pasadena, and Silver Lake, with gathering locations just like the Venice Japanese Group Middle unfold throughout city. However Little Tokyo has traditionally been the biggest hub of Japanese-American life, and since its opening in 1980 the JACCC has been a neighborhood pillar, internet hosting festivals, occasions, performances, displays, and workplace house for nonprofit organizations.

Jane Matsumoto is the JACCC’s Director of Culinary Arts, and a Japanese-American native Angeleno. She describes the development of the JACCC as a mission by first and second technology Japanese-People, constructed with the hope of making one thing tangible for his or her youngsters and grandchildren. That signifies that the mission of the JACCC is fluid and evolving, designed to maintain up with the instances.

“We wish to carry cultural practices and traditions, but additionally make it significant, accessible, and related to younger folks,” Matsumoto says. So there are displays of conventional artwork like Ikebana dwelling flower preparations subsequent to Shochu and Wagyu beef tastings, artisanal Japanese items on the market, and profit concert events with operatic singing subsequent to Ono’s distinctly trendy and playful tasting menu at Hansei.

California Roll | Photograph by Katrina Frederick

The Hansei expertise takes benefit of the JACCC’s expansive complicated, giving diners an prolonged glimpse of the grounds as you progress by means of the totally different phases of dinner. You begin with a number of small bites within the James Irvine Japanese Backyard, a stunningly lush and significant house that’s the good backdrop for Ono’s delicate early programs. You might be ushered in to the sushi bar-style eating room for the bigger savory plates, the place Ono is behind the bar explaining and guiding you thru dishes like that California roll and a very elegant tackle a teriyaki set. Then you definitely transfer again to the eating room for the ultimate few rounds of dessert and tea. It’s, taken all collectively, an exciting dinner, illuminating and provoking and even academic.

Past Hansei and the JACCC, there are such a lot of wonderful and historic Japanese-American landmarks to discover in Little Tokyo. With Matsumoto and Ono as our guides, listed below are among the greatest JA eating places, bars, and companies in Little Tokyo, with a pair bonus spots round city:

Far Bar Little Tokyo

Immediately’s Far Bar is just not precisely what it was in many years previous, when it was Far East Cafe, a Chinameshi restaurant that served as a hangout for the native Japanese-American group to eat Chop Suey and different Cantonese delicacies. It was a spot the place they may comfortably collect after getting back from internment, and a spot the place the homeowners have been recognized to serve meals on credit score to Japanese-People who had returned residence with little cash to their names. The constructing was considerably broken by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and it sat closed for a number of years till present proprietor Don Tahara took over, retrofitting and reinventing it because the craft beer and whisky-focused pub that it’s at this time. Regardless of the change of idea, it stays a neighborhood go-to for the Japanese-American group, with a heat and acquainted environment and stable pan-Asian pub meals. And the brand new possession stored Far East Cafe’s iconic Chop Suey neon signal intact and hanging above the doorway.
The way to e book: Reservations for giant events might be made by means of e-mail or over the cellphone at (213) 617-9990


“If each restaurant had adopted an analogous mannequin, there could be much more actually cool Japanese-American cafes and eating places round,” Ono says of Fugetsu-do, the legendary Mochi store that’s now owned and run by third-generation wagashi professional Brian Kito. Kito has continued the legacy left by his dad and mom and grandparents, holding the store in fine condition and sticking with conventional strategies whereas including a few of his personal improvements. Fugetsu-do first opened in 1903, was reborn after internment in 1946, and continues making among the absolute best mochi and sweets to this present day. And they’re set to proceed doing so for a very long time—Korey Kito, Brian’s son, is in line to sometime take over the store.
The way to e book: Stroll in or order on-line by means of Japan Tremendous.


If you end up strolling Little Tokyo looking for items or small artworks, the 76 year-old Bunkado is a delight. The shop was based in 1946 by Tokio Ueyama, an artist who lived and studied all around the world, then settled in Little Tokyo earlier than and once more after internment. Immediately they carry a phenomenal and enjoyable number of ceramics, residence items, books, tote baggage, artwork, and Little Tokyo-themed stickers and pins.
The way to e book: Stroll in or store on-line by means of their web site.

In 1946 when Tsutomu Maehara opened Anzen {Hardware}, Single Room Occupancy Inns have been widespread round Little Tokyo and Anzen was designed to produce them with easy {hardware}, residence items, and toiletries. The present proprietor Nori Takatani has been working at Anzen since 1954, and people classes remained the main target below his stewardship, even because the SROs have been changed by companies and condominium buildings. Their number of Japanese residence items and instruments is extraordinarily well-curated, with a particular deal with backyard provides and seeds along with odds and ends like scissors, high-quality chef’s knives, and footwear, lots of that are in any other case powerful to search out stateside.
The way to e book: Stroll in solely.

Suehiro Cafe

The legendary cafe Suehiro is without doubt one of the first Japanese-American eating places in Little Tokyo that springs to thoughts for Ono and Matsumoto. The enduring restaurant turned 50 years outdated in 2022, and their expansive menu of Japanese-American classics is simply as hearty and comforting because it has ever been. They’ve the entire hits, from hen teriyaki and California rolls to ramen and udon, and their lunch specials—ginger beef, crab croquettes, or curry rice—have a deserved and devoted following. It doesn’t damage that they’re open till 1 am on weeknights and three am on weekends.
The way to e book: Stroll in, name (213) 626-9132 or order takeout or supply on-line by means of the entire apps.


The meals at Kouraku is just not strictly Japanese-American, it’s extra yoshoku—Japanese variations of American meals. Nevertheless it nonetheless could also be Ono’s favourite JA restaurant in Little Tokyo, with wonderful renditions of yoshoku dishes like Curry Rice and Hamburger Steak. Matsumoto agrees that Kouraku, which first opened in 1976, is a Japanese-American traditional, even when among the meals falls just a little exterior the usual definition; “JAs have gone there for 40 years, after dances and occasions,” she says. With the best way the kitchen knocks out their traditional takes on yoshoku, the subsequent 40 years look simply as vibrant.
The way to e book: Stroll in or order forward by means of their web site.

Simply throughout the LA river in Boyle Heights, each Ono and Matsumoto love Otomisan, a really iconic Japanese-American restaurant that turned an official Historic-Cultural Monument earlier this 12 months. Otomisan has been open since 1956, when Boyle Heights was residence to a considerable Japanese-American group, and their meals is as traditional because it will get. “That’s a very JA-style restaurant, very mother and pop-ish, you’ve gotten the teriyaki and California rolls, and it’s a fairly necessary landmark,” Ono says.
The way to e book: Stroll in or name forward at (323) 526-1150.

Feast from the East

In West LA, Feast From the East has been open since 1981, a relative newcomer in comparison with some on this record, however third technology Japanese-American restaurant proprietor Suzanne Toji’s place has been a standout for all of its 4 many years in the identical location on Westwood Boulevard. In line with Matsumoto, it began as a small hen wing and Chinese language hen salad specialist, and people dishes stay the main target at this time even because the restaurant has expanded to take over a number of neighboring storefronts. In addition they promote a number of variations of their salad dressing at grocery shops and on-line.
The way to e book: Stroll in or order on-line by means of their web site.

Today the stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Olympic is without doubt one of the densest strips of eating places on the town, however based on Ono the realm was once dominated by markets and retailers and plant nurseries. These have largely been transformed to mixed-use condominium and retail buildings over time, however again then Aki Restaurant was a necessary cease for the local people, a traditional JA generalist serving sushi, teriyaki, tempura, and stewed and simmered nabemono. Aki is simply as important as ever regardless of all the event round it, with a heat and unpretentious vitality that makes it a traditional in the easiest approach.
The way to e book: Stroll in or reserve over the cellphone at (310) 479-8406.

Need extra Thrillist? Observe us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat!

Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, meals, and sports activities. At one time or one other, his writing has appeared in The LA OccasionsLitroMcSweeney’s Web TendencyLos Angeles Journal, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Center College.