When it comes to West Hollywood’s dining scene, the strip of La Cienega between Beverly Boulevard and Santa Monica is a force to be reckoned with. Brimming with ultra-hip celeb hangouts and stylish fine-dining options including the Nice Guy, E.P. & L.P., Nobu, Barton G., Bagatelle and Fig & Olive, this restaurant row is home to some of the trendiest spots in town — especially with the recent addition of Aburiya Raku.
The second location of chef Mitsuo Endo’s celebrated izakaya — a staple of the Las Vegas food scene — is housed in a former soba house behind an understated façade. In this neighborhood of flash, it would be pretty easy to pass it by unnoticed if not for the cloth sign out front.
The space is on the smaller side for the neighborhood, seating roughly 60, and carries over the same simple design from the exterior. It's minimalist, with three focal points: a floor-to-ceiling glass case showcasing some of the numerous bottles on the extensive sake list, a large mural of Japan on the back wall and an oversized wooden fireplace.
While the menu is much like that of the Las Vegas outpost — there's Endo’s house-made agedashi tofu, beef tendon robata and silky foie gras chawanmushi — this is a more expensive take, at least on a few of the menu items, compared with the Vegas counterpart.
The staff is friendly and accommodating, securing us a table on a recent visit even though they couldn’t find our reservation in their books. They’ll also help you navigate the extensive sake list — which you'll want to explore. The whole point of an izakaya is to serve smaller, shareable plates alongside alcohol. Izakayas are usually after-work spots, open late and serving a variety of dishes.
Aburiya Raku offers a mix of traditional and innovative izakaya dishes, such as poached egg with sea urchin and salmon roe, Kobe liver sashimi, and yakitori and robata skewers (ranging from Kobe beef filet with wasabi to pork intestine or ear) prepared on the charcoal grill. There’s also an array of house-made condiments, such as chile-infused sake and green tea salt, with which you can dress the dishes as you like.
There are also heartier dishes, such as the grilled rice ball in broth, udon with foie gras and an Ikura don topped with a dark pink mound of salmon roe and dusted with seaweed. Raku also has a daily specials board that offers fresh sashimi and grilled fish. If you can’t decide, ask them to make you a combo plate and they’ll happily oblige.
But it’s not the food alone that’s exciting about Raku’s opening — it’s also the fact that it brings a more causal dining option to the La Cienega scene. Raku is open late, with the kitchen taking orders until 1 a.m., which primes it as a hangout for late-night diners and post-shift chefs.
Already it is a busy spot. As we left, a line of hungry diners had formed along the entry wall, where they could be overheard talking about dishes they’d tried at the Vegas location, which tofu they should order and how long it might be until a table becomes available. (Hint: There's also a-first-come-first-served six-seat bar.)
Aburiya Raku, 521 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (213) 308-9393, raku-grill.com.