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Food Crawls

10 Best Eats in Little Osaka: Neighborhood Grub Crawl

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Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 10:16 AM

click to enlarge ramen at Jinya - ANNE FISHBEIN
  • Anne Fishbein
  • ramen at Jinya
Just north of the intersection of Sawtelle and Olympic, in the neighborhood known as Little Osaka, there's a quadrant of Los Angeles with so much outstanding food crammed into a relatively small space that it makes you wonder why these neighborhood planners can't have a crack at other parts of town. Little Osaka has always been a terrific food neighborhood, but with the recent popularity of ramen, both here and in Japan, ramen shops have been popping up like, well, pop-ups. And many of them feel like that -- tiny, informal, created seemingly overnight from vats of steaming pork broth and the twisted yarn of floured noodles, kanji-decorated banners suddenly fluttering above open doorways like the nautical flags of newly-arrived ships.

Yes, this is an actual Los Angeles walking neighborhood, where you can get superior sushi, oden, okonomiyaki, tsukemen and ramen without having to repark -- or do more than cross the street. Sure, it would be more fun to food crawl in Roppongi or Shinagawa, but it's good to know you don't have to shell out for a ticket. Now if only somebody would install those noodle shop payment machines.

click to enlarge Balconi's siphons - NANETTE GONZALES
  • Nanette Gonzales
  • Balconi's siphons
10. Balconi Coffee Company:

Once upon a time, when Balconi Coffee Company was in its previous location somewhere in Santa Monica, finding the coffeehouse was kind of like stumbling upon and down Alice's rabbit hole -- if Alice were a caffeine addict lost in some Haruki Murakami novel. Since Ray Sato reopened in a new location on Olympic, walking into the coffee shop is more like ducking into a Tokyo coffeehouse, albeit minus the Wifi. There are gorgeous siphon pots, lining the counters and shelves like some alchemist's pipe dream. No, you can't get food here -- unless you count the little shortbread cookie that sometimes comes with your cup of java -- but coffee is its own food group for some of us. 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste 124 Los Angeles; 310-906-0267.

click to enlarge ROC soup dumplings - TIEN NGUYEN
  • Tien Nguyen
  • ROC soup dumplings
9. ROC Kitchen:

Sure, you can get better -- and significantly cheaper -- soup dumplings if you drive to the San Gabriel Valley. But for everyone who lives or works west of downtown, it's pretty great to know that you don't have to. Since its recent opening, ROC has been jammed, with lunchtime lines that rival those at Tsujita. (Somebody should maybe open a curbside sake stand.) Order the xiao long bao --and maybe the scallion pancakes and three cup chicken -- and watch the chefs as they roll the dough and form the dumplings in the open kitchen.

2049 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles; 310-235-2089.

click to enlarge Miyata Menji - A. SCATTERGOOD
  • A. Scattergood
  • Miyata Menji
8. Miyata Menji:

Owned by an Osaka-based company, this is ramen at its most minimalist. The hole-in-the-wall space has the requisite banner over the door and only two dishes on the menu: a tonkotsu ramen with teriyaki beef, shallots and fried tomatoes; and tsukemen with steamed noodles, anchovy cabbage, grated cheese, minced pork, tomato and croutons. And if tomato and cheese in your ramen still seems weird to you, maybe you need to spend more time in ramen shops -- or in Tokyo, where Italian food is more popular than it is in many U.S. Italian neighborhoods. 2500 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles; 310-312-3929.

click to enlarge Soba Sojibo - A. SCATTERGOOD
  • A. Scattergood
  • Soba Sojibo
7. Soba Sojibo:

If you're tired of ramen (really? really??), you might try a bowl of soba, a happy choice that got a lot happier with the recent opening of Soba Sojibo in the space previously occupied by Orris. Soba, traditional buckwheat noodles, are served here either hot or cold, with tsuyu, a simple dipping sauce, or loaded with lovely stuff like mochi or natto. (And yes, we used the adjective "lovely" to describe natto. Sorry.) 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 479-1200.

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