For a long time there was only Gaja Moc, a rowdy space in Torrance where families could satiate their deepest Benihana fantasies by ladling out cabbage-thickened batter onto a tabletop grill, customizing it with a desired handful of ingredients -- yam, scallop, cheese, green onion, anything really -- then flip the whole mess with what resembles a miniaturized snow shovel. The process felt a bit like assembling a stack of Sunday morning pancakes, though it would seem doubtful you'd be sipping a pitcher of Kirin then.
Later there was the kind of simplified version that cropped up at Little Tokyo's Aburiya Toranako, a fine and crunchy departure from the sullen, undercooked lumps that half the izakayas around town seemed to be serving.
A while later, Glowfish Truck advanced the okonomiyaki game even further. You could order one of these gooey, sauce-covered pancakes fresh from the truck outside your office, perhaps hauling the square plastic container back into the office to be met by looks of curiosity in the lunchroom.
But it wasn't until a few months that the Westside scored its first true okonomiyaki specialist: the popular Tokyo-based chain Gottsui, which opened its first U.S. location on the southern edge of Sawtelle's Little Osaka neighborhood.
What'll you find here is about as close to the Platonic ideal of the Osaka okonomiyaki as you could hope for -- a regional variation where garnishes are mixed into the batter and griddled crisp like an overstuffed latke. On top goes a latticework of Kewpie mayo, a sweet thickened-Worcestershire sauce, and a wave of quivering bonito, micro-thin shavings of dried fish that wilt in the heat like pale pink wood shavings.
You select a combination of toppings from the cutesy, kawaii-illustrated menu -- the house special is a dense alloy of shrimp, squid, bacon, potato and fried egg -- and wait for it to float by on a sizzling cast-iron platter. A single plateau-like serving could easily be mistaken for those slapdash breakfast skillets you find at truck-stop diners. But this is teppanyaki of the highest order, a Japanese repurposing of the late-night greasy spoon, at which plates are meant to be wiped clean with a pair of chopsticks and a handheld spackling trowel until those gaping pits of midnight hunger are solidly filled.