LITTLE OSAKA

Little Osaka is more popularly known as “Sawtelle,” a neighborhood named after the boulevard where Japanese businesses began to settle in the early 1990s. Located in West Los Angeles (sandwiched between Santa Monica and Westwood), there’s more knock-your-socks-off good food in a three blocks radius than you might find in entire U.S. cities.

As ramen has become increasingly popular in Los Angeles, so too has the Sawtelle neighborhood. Gone are the days when Westsiders bemoaned the lack of quality Asian food on their side of town – Little Osaka has it all. Although Japanese food still reigns supreme, you can find superb Korean and Vietnamese food, and the neighborhood is now expanding beyond its traditional Asian boundaries: there’s a couple of authentic pizzerias, and a Bachi Burger opening soon.

Most of the restaurants on Sawtelle now enjoy cult followings, and you’ll be hard-pressed to walk in without a wait, even on a weekday afternoon. But don’t let that deter you: we promise you that the soup dumplings, sushi, ramen, soba and sausage will ALL BE WORTH IT.

Stop 1: Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle

The ramen at Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle is easily the best on Sawtelle, although they ONLY serve it at lunch. We ordered the renowned char siu tsukemen (that’s ramen with dipping sauce) and regular ramen (be sure to add egg). It was a cloudy and uncharacteristically cool Los Angeles day, and both steaming bowls hit the spot. The broth is milky and delicious, with very high-quality pork.

Insider’s tip: cash only. Newly-opened annex across the street.

(2057 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 2: Blockheads Shavery

We were a little dubious about the idea of shaved ice, thinking back on our elementary school days and the chunks of ice topped with cherry syrup that were served at every fair and birthday party. We called them snow cones back then, and the treats at Blockheads Shavery are an altogether different dessert.

Better described as a “snow cream” – shave ice mixed with creamy ice cream – you can choose from flavors like green tea, taro root and avocado. We went with the black sesame ice with a shaved coconut topping and a drizzle of condensed milk (a must, in our opinion). Frozen yogurt what?

(11311 Mississippi Avenue, Los Angeles)

Stop 3: Tokyo Japanese Outlet

Need a furry animal suit? A Bento lunch jar? Or a collection of Japanese Navy battleships? Tokyo Japanese Outlet has all of the above, and more. A great shop for novelty items, including Iwako erasers, skin products, Japanese candy, and an abundance of Hello Kitty gear. The items aren’t cheap, but they are certainly hard to find anywhere else.

(2109 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 4: Balconi Coffee Company

The coffee just keeps getting better and better in Los Angeles, and it’s all thanks to coffeehouses like Balconi Coffee Company. It’s one of the coolest coffee shops we’ve visited, with fashionable Japanese guys watching the baristas at the counter and screenwriters chatting about Middle Eastern economics next to the front window. It’s not pretentious, though (huzzah!) and the siphon brewing is an admirable process. We enjoyed the Almond Essence Latte, which was perfectly frothy. A delightful afternoon stop.

(11301 W Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 5: Shopping on Sawtelle Blvd

When we first started hanging out in Little Osaka, the shopping on Sawtelle Boulevard surprised us. Why? Because it’s GOOD. There’s quite a few fantastic boutiques with cool and unique items you definitely won’t find at your nearest Westfield Shopping Mall. Some of our favorites:

Blackmarket: Love, love, love this shop for delicate jewelry, one-of-a-kind shirts, handmade cards, and badass shoes. On our recent trip, we ogled their tea-length tie-dye dresses, printed trousers and varsity jackets. Holy moly, we want it all.
(2023 Sawtelle Boulevard)

Giant Robot: This shop is a little less expensive than Blackmarket, and also sells cool t-shirts and Asian comics. We loved their coffee table books and funky tea sets.
(2015 Sawtelle Boulevard)

Rimo: This boutique is very reminiscent of clothing shops in South Korea, although most of the items are made by Japanese manufacturers. Their accessories are a hit – darling headbands, statement belts, hats and scarves, all within the $12-$30 price range.
(2008 Sawtelle Boulevard)

Stop 6: Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery

There are plenty of nurseries on Sawtelle Boulevard, but we had heard that Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery had been declared one of LA’s best. The nursery is large and beautiful, and although we didn’t buy anything, enjoyed chatting with the adorable older ladies who run the place (who are also extremely knowledgeable!) A lovely family-owned business.

(1905 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 7: Seoul Sausage Company

There are almost no words to describe Seoul Sausage Company. You may have seen the guys behind the restaurant on the Great Food Truck Race (they started out as a catering company, and then ventured into food trucks, which still operate throughout LA), or heard the buzz around town. The heart of this passion project is a love for Korean barbecue and sausages, which has morphed into a majorly delicious and unforgettable culinary experience.

We ordered the Galbi Sausage with kimchi relish and garlic aioli, as well as the Flaming Ball (a mix of kimchi and fried rice) and Lil Osaka Ball (a mix of potato and curry beef) with siracha mayo. TO DIE FOR. The loud hip-hop and counter-top seating makes it feel like the perfect 2am spot, even at 6pm. Get yourself over here as soon as humanly possible.

(11313 Mississippi Avenue, Los Angeles)

The Details:

Parking around Sawtelle is a nightmare, and mostly limited to 2-hours. We parked farther west, and then walked about 5 minutes to the heart of the neighborhood. Since everything is located within only a few blocks, it’s incredibly easy to get around on foot.

A map of our day looks something like this:

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