Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo is sit-down and upscale, at least for a noodle joint, with black, lacquered tables and a feel that's downright sleek. It's in this way that Monzo bridges the gap between L.A.'s high-end Japanese restaurants and the low-rent ramen shops that were here even before the current noodle craze. But the real treat is the udon, handmade right in front of you in the glassed-in, open kitchen. Monzo serves traditional hot and cold udon, but there's also a hefty portion of the menu dedicated to udon with Italian sauces — udon vongole, or udon with miso carbonara. The house specialty is the uni cream udon, a hybrid dish that has quickly gained cult status. Here is all the care, effort and comfort of a sushi restaurant, only instead of pristine fish, it's the noodle that diners come to revere. 329 E. First St., Little Tokyo. (213) 346-9762, —Besha Rodell

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