West L.A. is basically west of the 405 Freeway. There's a little strip over there -- I call it Sawtelle but other people used to call it Little Osaka. This is a lot different from the Little Tokyo that we know in downtown L.A., which is about 10 miles east.
Little Osaka, aka Sawtelle, is actually just a stretch -- literally just a few blocks -- that used to be mostly nursery and gardening stores with a heavy Japanese-American influence (they would sell bonsai trees and orchids). It also has a bunch of small businesses owned by Japanese-Americans. You'll see a lot of older noodle shops around there and some sushi places.
In the last year, there has been this energy of younger people hanging out there. First I thought it was just the food trucks because they would congregate in the evening. But I noticed last summer that younger people were opening up a lot of newer businesses. It just infused a lot of great energy. A lot of new people began to find this little tucked-away neighborhood.
There's this amazing noodle place called Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle -- the original is actually in Tokyo. Even though "noodle" is in the title, they don't serve noodles except for lunch. They have very specific rules. In the evening they have very izakaya-, small plate-, fusion-type food.
I love that it's all about the noodles for lunch. What I go there for is the tsukemen ramen, which is basically a little bit thicker than brothy noodles. It doesn't come in one bowl, you get two bowls: one with just the bare noodles, they're chilled, and then another bowl with the sauce.
Don't mix them -- that's what I wanted to do. You keep it separate because the sauce is like a gravy, it's very thick and concentrated with a heavy pork flavor. It's also a bit salty. Get your chopsticks, get a little bit of the noodles, elegantly dip it in the second bowl, and then eat it.
For me, when I get hungry, I just want to eat, I want to inhale it. But doing this made me actually think of the flavors, realize what I'm eating and also it made me understand the complex flavors. I want another bite and another because of that nice saltiness.
2. Coffee Tomo
Next door there's a coffee shop, but the thing that I like there isn't the coffee -- the coffee is good, trust me, it's good -- it's the pretzels. This isn't your butter-drenched, mall pretzel, this is gourmet pretzels made to order.
I ordered the sweet potato puree and mozzarella pretzel. It's amazing. When they first serve it, you still see the steam coming up from the pretzel. When you smell it, you smell that sweet, sweet smell from the potato. When you take a bite, you get that nice crunch, that snap. The great thing is you taste that sweetness from the potato first, then you get that saltiness from the mozzarella cheese and your brain is like, "What's going on?" You have to grab another bite and another.
Sweet potato purée and mozzarella cheese made-to-order pretzel (Angela Kim)
Next door if you want dessert, there's a place called Blockheads Shavery. They do a shave ice -- nothing like the Hawaiian shave ice, where it's super fine, fine grains of ice that they form into a big snowball. This place, they shave the ice too, but the ice isn't clear ice. They actually infuse it with milk so it's creamy. But when they shave it, it's like really, really fine sheets of ice. It's just curled-up, thin, thin, thin sheets of milky ice.
Sometimes they put flavors in the ice as well. They can put strawberry, chocolate and black sesame. I got the original, which is like a milky cream. You can choose a topping, which could be any fruit or chocolate that they have. I chose strawberries because I love strawberries. They also have purées -- I also got the strawberry purée because I can never get enough.
Original shave ice, strawberry and mochi topping, and strawberry purée (Angela Kim)
You can get a little topping on the side or other toppings as well. I got the homemade mochi. It's like little bits of clouds: It's soft, it's chewy, it's pillowy -- imagine little pillows. It works really well with the texture of the really fine ice and the creaminess that comes from the ice. They put so much thought into it. They gave it to me in a little cup on the side because they said if you have it on top of the ice, it would get really hard and I would miss the whole experience of it.
It's amazing. The line literally is out the door and around the corner some nights.