Order cha gio, or crispy egg rolls, at Vietnamese restaurant Nong La. // © 2016 Platful/Nong La
Feature image (above): Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle Annex is famous for its delicious ramen. // © 2016 Ocean Photo Studio/WANANN, Inc.
Another foodie destination in California is Napa Valley
Many consider West Los Angeles’ Sawtelle neighborhood to be one of the hottest foodie hubs in the city. Here, hungry visitors can easily placate a wide variety of cravings in one walkable expanse. Though the area has certainly earned its official recognition as “Sawtelle Japantown” — for example, there are about two dozen places to get your ramen fix, not to numerous options for sushi and Japanese snacks — there are also abundant restaurants offering other types of appetizing Asian food (Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese) and non-Asian food, such as New American fare and Mexican classics.
Below are our top 16 Sawtelle restaurants — let the eating begin.
Balconi Coffee Company
Seeking a damn-good caffeine fix in the neighborhood? Not a restaurant per se, Balconi Coffee Company is the perfect first or last destination during an eating excursion along Sawtelle Blvd. Pour-over coffee is meticulously brewed with a cool-looking siphon coffee maker, which produces full-bodied, refined results. And don’t let the lack of Wi-Fi access deter you from stopping by: The Almond Essence Latte (espresso made with steamed milk and sweetened, ground almonds) and green tea latte make up for that in spades. Balconi also has a humble, but excellent, rotating selection of pastries from Superba Food & Bread, including Reuben croissants and vegan berry bran muffins. Note: Only whole milk and soy milk are available.
Snow might not fall from the sky in Los Angeles, but it can be found at Blockheads Shavery — just in the form of Taiwanese shaved ice cream, or “Snow Cream.” Simultaneously light, feathery, creamy, fluffy and ice-cold, the melt-in-your-mouth indulgence comes in flavors including matcha green tea, blueberry lavender, sea-salt vanilla, brown sugar (a dairy-free soy option), black sesame and original. Optional toppings range from almond jelly and lychee to less traditional options such as caramelized cinnamon flakes and pumpkin-spice cornbread.
For some of the best ramen in town, head to Daikokuya’s Sawtelle location that’s blessed with a significantly smaller crowd than the permanent one surrounding the Daikokuya in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. Although ramen might be the restaurant’s rightfully earned hook, its shredded pork rice bowl is what entices most diners (like me) to return for more. The takoyaki dish (a crispy ball-shaped Japanese snack made with octopus) is also a customer favorite.
Flores + Sons
Amidst the sea of Asian restaurants is Flores + Sons, a restaurant specializing in a New American twist on comfort food. Though the entire restaurant is stunning, it’s best to dine al fresco on its picturesque patio. Guests, including myself, particularly love the pan-seared trout with cauliflower, potatoes and herb aioli; the lunch-only fried chicken and biscuit sandwich with pickles and spicy honey; and the barbecue-braised short rib that’s exquisitely charred and served on the bone. For dessert, nosh on a decadent berry crumble topped with vanilla ice cream — and thank me later.
Slinging sushi since 1979, Hide Sushi is a no-frills, hole-in-the-wall institution that focuses on providing customers with high-quality fish. Fresh nigiri (raw fish or other seafood on top of rice) and sashimi, rather than loaded sushi rolls, are the specialty here, and the ankimo (monkfish liver), yellowtail and albacore options especially shine. Or, get the popular chirashi bowl, which is a bowl of sushi rice generously topped with raw mackerel, octopus, salmon, shrimp, halibut and tuna, as well as shiitake mushroom and sesame seeds. Prices are relatively inexpensive compared to other good sushi spots in L.A., and the restaurant is cash-only.
Craving delectable soft-serve ice cream? Saunter over to HoneyMee, which churns ice cream with milk sourced from a family-owned, kosher dairy factory in California. You won’t find any artificial coloring or flavoring in this “true milk” creamy treat, either: Instead, the ice cream can be dressed up with natural, raw honey and honeycombs harvested from a local, certified bee farm. Choose from options such as the eponymous Honeymee (ice cream with a honeycomb chip), the Dear (ice cream with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of French sea salt) and the Babee (ice cream in a sweet bun). An extra drizzle of honey is free of charge.
The interior of Vietnamese restaurant Nong La is fairly simple, so it’s the food that really does the talking. Start with an order of perfectly golden cha gio, or crispy egg rolls, and use the accompanying lettuce to wrap the egg rolls before dunking them into the fish sauce. Diners have their pick of a variety of fantastic choices, which range from pho soup and bun bo hue soup to bun noodle salad. My favorite, however, has to be the thit xiu banh mi sandwich: a liberal amount of braised pork belly that’s tucked into a toasted French baguette and crowned with the usual fixings of house mayo, pickled daikon, carrots, cilantro and cucumbers. My advice? Put an egg on it, too.
Nong La is extremely popular for lunch, so go early to beat the crowds or place an online order for pick-up. Dinner slows down a bit, but it’s still better to arrive earlier than later.
Don’t expect a light meal at Ohana Burger (formerly Bachi Burger). More than just an Asian-inspired burger joint, the restaurant dishes out tasty menu items including pork belly steamed buns, a heaping helping of oxtail chili cheese fries, Brussel sprouts with a sweet soy glaze and more. But if it’s a burger you plan on tucking into, the Daniel-San’s Burger (angus beef, fried egg, furikake-seasoned caramelized bacon, crispy onion rings and a chili mayo) and the Ohana Burger (angus beef, sauteed shiitake, eryngii and enoki mushrooms, caramelized bacon, gruyere cheese, sweet onion marmalade and garlic chili aioli) are top sellers.
Plan Check Kitchen + Bar
A popular gastropub known for its superb burgers and craft beer, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar’s original location is on Sawtelle, and the neighborhood is all the better for it. Ask almost anyone who’s eaten there, and he or she will likely gush about the PCB (Plan Check Burger) that features a patty, mixed pickles, schmaltz onions and Americanized dashi cheese (cheddar and parmesan cheese blended with kombu, or edible kelp, and katsuobushi, a dried, fermented fish), all snuggled between a pair of toasted buns. Oh, and you can’t forget about the Ketchup Leather, either — dehydrated ketchup reminiscent of a fruit roll-up — that liquefies under the heat of the fresh burger.
Other great selections are the Southern Fry (a sandwich of fried Jidori chicken with spicy green pimento cheese, duck breast ham and pickles) or the Pastrami Nosh (fried egg atop double-smoked pastrami with kimchi mustard, pickles and melted Swiss cheese).
If you can’t be bothered trekking to San Gabriel Valley, Southern California’s true Asian food mecca, or dealing with the lines at any Din Tai Fung restaurant location — much less booking a trip to Wuxi, China, where the steamed bun dish originates — then ROC Kitchen is likely your best bet for xiaolongbao (soup-filled dumplings) in the Westside. Biting into these juicy little pockets of goodness is close to godliness, and it would be foolish not to request at least several orders at ROC. (I prefer the pork.) Also scrumptious are the scallion pancakes, served with a ginger-soy dipping sauce; the perfectly steamed, garlicky bok choy; and the beef roll, which is admittedly greasy but full of flavor.
Sea Salt Poke
The poke fad has at last arrived at the Sawtelle neighborhood by way of Sea Salt Poke, serving up fresh fish dressed up with sauces, veggies, fruits and, if you so desire, a sprinkle of the namesake sea salt. Portions are generous, and prices are comparable to most poke spots in Los Angeles. A snack portion comes with two scoops of protein (ahi tuna, salmon, tofu, imitation crab), along with a base (white rice, brown rice, mixed quinoa and kale, mixed greens) and mostly free toppings, including seaweed, fresh jalapenos, edamame and more. Meanwhile, a regular portion comes with three scoops of protein and the same choices of fixings. Look out for the eatery’s Poke Special of the Week, which might contain unusual poke ingredients such as foie gras.
Seoul Sausage Company
Season three winners of “The Great Food Truck Race” reality television show, Seoul Sausage Company has reaped further accolades with its cozy Sawtelle shop. A variety of quick Korean-American-fusion eats grace the menu, including galbi (Korean barbecue beef), spicy pork and lamb sausages; burgers; sandwiches; and rice balls offered in flavors such as spam musubi. “Da KFC,” or Korean fried chicken with a sweet-and-spicy glaze, is a top pick, along with any of the sausages. But it’s the poutine — a beautiful mess of short ribs (lovingly braised for eight hours) on top of French fries, pickled onions, cheese and avocado lime crema — that keeps me coming back.
Sonoritas Prime Tacos
Sonoritas Prime Tacos began bringing vibrant flavors from Mexico’s Sonora region to Sawtelle a little over a year ago, and neighborhood regulars have welcomed the bustling taqueria with open arms. Sitting on the restaurant’s patio, start out with chips and a trio of salsas, free of charge, as well as an order of elote (Mexican street corn with fixings of cotija cheese, lime and chipotle mayo). Then, wash down a strong selection of tacos with a tamarind agua fresca or a pistachio horchata. Meat-eaters should dig into al pastor, filet mignon and ribeye tacos on tortillas made in house. Vegetarians, however, would be better off skipping the grilled veggie taco for one of Sonoritas’ excellent salads, and supplementing it with an order of decadent red velvet churros with Nutella and ice cream for dessert.
There’s no arguing that Sawtelle hosts many excellent ramen joints, but Tatsu Ramen is the only one with a nifty iPad ordering system. Though a small space, the restaurant still packs a punch with its palatable ramen options. Customers love the flavorful tonkotsu (pork bone) broth, and there are chicken and vegan broths available, too — as well as yummy sides including pork buns, chashu (Japanese braised pork) rice and even a wagyu ramen burger.
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle and Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle Annex
Tsujita LA has snagged two locations on Sawtelle, and they serve — you guessed it — ramen. The sought-after duo is known for their tsukemen, a dish consisting of ramen noodles intended for dipping in a separate bowl of very rich broth that has been simmering for a whopping 60 hours. The key difference between the original Tsujita LA and Tsujita LA Annex are that the latter features much thicker noodles. Both establishments are cash-only.