Twenty years before the great poké craze of 2016, a minuscule spot serving the “original poki bowl” opened in a tiny Studio City mini mall. Serving what it characterizes as “Japanese soul food,” Daichan prepares the kind of foods people eat in Japan on a daily basis.
Owner-chef Yoshi Udagawa, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Yuka, hails from Tokyo; Yuka grew up in tropical southwestern Kyushu. You will usually find Yoshi in the kitchen, while Yuka oversees the front of house, lovingly describing dishes to newcomers in meticulous detail.
Every inch of the compact space is covered with the couple's handwritten menu descriptions and hand-drawn images of myriad home-style dishes, which run the gamut from the famous “poki” to cold ramen to juicy pan-fried gyoza to seafood hot pot. (The staff will give you a regular menu, too.) There are roughly a dozen tables in the tight, busy room. Sometimes there may be a half-hour or longer wait.
In addition to Yoshi's famed poké bowl, the four-page menu offers deep-fried chicken wings loaded with ginger, chili and minced garlic; near-greaseless and perfectly browned korokke (deep-fried Japanese croquettes filled with ground beef, potato, onion, corn and spices) and even natto (fermented soy beans) — an acquired taste for most.
Larger plates include sweet-and-sour vinegar chicken, ultra-crisp fried katsu (either the usual pork or chicken) and, for those who can't seem to make up their minds, a hefty “Daichan Special,” which includes tempura, teriyaki and korroke. Another section of the menu is devoted to noodles, from curry udon to pan-fried yakisoba to cold ramen. In fact, Daichan was serving ramen long before the ramen renaissance was ignited nearly a decade ago by the game-changing Tsujita in West L.A.
But never mind ramen-mania — how's the poké? Simple, in the best possible way. Chunks of fresh, chopped, sashimi-grade tuna are coated with a mild soy sauce, mounded onto sushi rice and showered with shredded lettuce, kobu and wakame seaweed. There's something to be said for bringing such a trendy dish back to the basics.
11288 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-8450.