When a kid comes into Tempura House, a tiny home-style Japanese joint on Sawtelle, an enormous smile takes over owner Nobuo Anzai's face, as he pulls out a lollipop or cookie for the young guest.
While more mature diners don't receive a goodie bag to go with their orders of vegetable omelet or grilled mackerel, every visitor to this take-out only lunch spot gets a hearty helping of grandparently affection, courtesy of Anzai, 75, and his wife Mihoko, 72, who have been running Tempura House since they came to L.A. in 1989. Though they acknowledge that the work is difficult at their age, “Our spirit is very young,” says Mr. Anzai.
Although Anzai trained as a sushi chef, when he decided to open up shop in L.A., he wanted to stick to take-out, and so drawing from their family recipes, the couple created a menu of Japanese comfort food, all for under eight bucks.
“It's very family type cooking. All homemade,” says Anzai of the rotating daily specials, such as yakitori chicken, stuffed cabbage, and what he guesses is the restaurant's most popular dish – the chicken hamburger, a meatloaf like concoction of ground chicken, tofu, eggs, and veggies, topped with a thick teriyaki sauce. The economical six dollar lunch special gets you one of these lunch items plus chow mein, a side of vegetables, and your choice of steamed white or a particularly peppery fried rice (for two more dollars you can opt for the two item combo.)
The Anzais also offer a special bento box each day for a mere $5.50, which consists of a meat, a fish, tamagoyaki, and an assortment of pickled and steamed vegetables. On a recent visit, the bento included chicken teriyaki (a rich blend of moist white and dark meats), a portion of lightly fried white fish, tempura green beans, and pickled cucumber. Anzai is especially proud of his homemade pickles. “Everyday, they're different,” he says.
Like any visit to Gram and Gramps, the portions dished up at Tempura House are plentiful and the homey food filling. And if you ask nicely, the Anzais might even give you a cookie.
Tempura House: 1816 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-479-5989.