Downtown LA’s Little Tokyo is one of those little nooks were you could literally spend all day. If you follow me on Instagram you know that I pop in there quite a bit since I work fairly close and I’m a sucker for all things Japanese. So it’s about damn time I share the best places to eat, shop and indulge your caffeine buzz or sweet tooth.
In my mind I sort of divide Little Tokyo up into three areas; the Japanese Village Plaza, the area near the Japanese American National Museum and the more modern center around the Marukai Market. But let’s break this down by food/ attraction type, shall we?
Sweets, Teas & Coffee
So the latest craze is all things soft serve ice cream and Little Tokyo has three great places for this. The relatively new trendy Instagram spot is Bae, located along 2nd Street. They have a soft serve ice cream called “mixed feelings” that is part charcoal, part pineapple and all things wonderful & refreshing despite the black color of the ice cream and the cone. They also have killer lattes in blackberry, charcoal, and beet flavors (trust me it’s good) as well as muffin tops and donuts. Venture not too far up 2nd Street and dip into the Japanese Village to find Café Dulce. Also a solid spot for coffee, they specialize in a pastry called a roti, which has a buttery liquid center. You can read more about these spots in my article about downtown LA coffee shops. If you find yourself closer to the Marukai market, you can indulge in soft serve served up in a Taiyaki (a fish-shaped waffle cone of sorts) at Snowya. Personally, I like Midori Matcha. This is where all things matcha go when they die; tarts, croissants, and you guessed it- soft serve. Tucked in between Snowya and Midori Matcha is the Tea Shot. This is a tiny, adorable, Instaworthy space for all things boba tea. If you want to combine your drink and dessert, go with the cotton candy cloud rim around your cup. For a straight up, good cup of coffee with out any sweet frills or gimmicks, go to Cafe Demitasse. Coffee making is their trade craft, plus it’s featured in the Amazon Prime show, Bosch a ton. So settle in to their clean space and pretend like you’re doing something important.
At 1st Street and Central Ave, you can find two of the best museums in LA. The Japanese American National Museum is housed in a beautiful modern building that faces the heart of DTLA. It has hosted a number of exhibitions that have resonated with me including features on tattoo, Hello Kitty, and national treasure, George Takai! Aside from these lighthearted exhibits, the museum does a beautiful job curating visual features of history, art, and projects of many cultures from Asia and the Middle East. The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, is a permanent space that sits just behind the Japanese American National Museum. Easily one of my favorite museums in all of LA, this museum houses temporary exhibits affiliated with Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art (located on Grand). I find that it always has the coolest exhibits. This is where I fell in love with Takashi Murakami (and bought my first Louis Vuitton), where I viewed art featuring drugs or commissioned by people on drugs, and where I attended the first ever Hello Kitty Convention. As a previous member of the Geffen, I have attended many opening nights and enjoyed cocktails under the stars as DJs spun into the twinkling night. At this writing, the Geffen is closed until November 2018.
Of course there are tons of great places to get awesome Japanese food in DTLA, but I’m going to give you the best experiences of a few different types here. For sushi head to Kura, which is in the Japanese village right on 2nd Street. There’s usually a huge crowd waiting outside, but be smart and download the app. You can put in your name when you are parking and check out what the wait time is. I like this place the best because it makes me feel like I am in Tokyo with their table side computer ordering and conveyor belts shipping your food right to your table. It’s major sensory overload! If you’re a ramen fan like me, and the rest of the world, the best place to get ramen in all of LA is Daikokuya, but make sure you get there early or with a mindset to wait because it’s tiny and everyone wants to eat there. A close second for me is My Ramen Bar, which has a smokier flavor to their pork and the gyoza are fantastic. If you just want a touch of Japanese inspired dishes head to the gastropub, Far Bar. I love this place for lunch and like to order a bunch of apps while sitting in the bar or out on the patio in the evening. The wasabi fries and braised pork tacos saddle up best with a cold Sapporo. I also want to mention Suehiro Café because I think it’s so quirky and really tasty. Think of an old yellow-tinged diner but with Japanese food. I prefer to sit at the bar with a big ol’ iced green tea and a bowl of chicken fried rice while watching the TV screens showing touristy videos of Japan. All of these eateries are located along 1st Street except for Kura.
If you go one place to shop, forgo all the trendy stops and go to the Marukai Market for all things traditional Japanese. Sure you can find fresh sushi and produce here, but I head straight for the cartoonish snacks and then the beauty aisle. Who would pass up face masks that ask if you “want to be a dog” or wet wipes in their own Hello Kitty carrying case? This is heaven to me. The Japanese Village Plaza is home to four of my favorite shops. Japangeles has cool and creative apparel that obviously combines my love for the two coolest places in the world (think pseudo-Dodgers logo with a paper crane worked into the image). Next door is Hob Nob, a place for pretty boho clothing, purses, and beanies that you can wear to your next music festival. I nabbed my favorite satin bomber jacket here that reads “Los Angeles” across the back. Work your way around to the best Sanrio shop in Southern California. It has the newest products and collaborative editions of all things Sanrio. They also carry luggage and more Sanrio food items than I have seen anywhere else. Does anyone else keep Hello Kitty soy sauce in their fridge at all times? Across the way is Kools, one of my favorite LA stores. I’m so glad it has stuck around for so long. They carry tons of vintage-inspired Rockabilly apparel and accessories. I can always find unique items here that have a handcrafted feel.
Parking in LA is usually crazy and Little Tokyo is no exception, so I usually take the Metro Gold Line, which has a stop right at Alameda Street and 1st Street or I park in the structure at 1st Street and Central Ave. The stairs lead right into the village.
Clearly the lack of bullet points shows how passionate I am about this part of town. There are so many tiny nooks to explore (try to find the glowing tunnel walkway at nighttime) and new shops and eateries are popping up all the time. Not to mention the actual pop-ups that make an appearance now an again (I see you Japan LA!). Little Tokyo also plays host to several events each year like the Asian Food Festival. I would stay connected by following Go Little Tokyo on IG and plan a day to explore!