Even though Little Tokyo and Japantown have come on strong with a rush of recent openings, more good Japanese meals are still available in L.A.’s South Bay. Thanks to an early boost from Japanese car companies like Nissan (now in Tennessee) and Toyota (now in Texas) that set up North American headquarters in the area, Torrance saw the rise of restaurants that met the needs of autoworkers who were homesick for sushi, yakitori, ramen and more. Now you can also find good food from other cuisines in Torrance, a city named for Jared Sidney Torrance. The real estate magnate led investment in 3,500 acres in 1912, which residents voted to incorporate in 1921. Torrance now houses nearly 150,000 people, making it L.A. County’s eighth largest city. In the past century, a culinary and craft beer scene has emerged that would also exceed the namesake founder’s wildest imagination. Learn about 27 of my favorite food options in Torrance.
UPDATES SINCE DECEMBER 29, 2015
Additions: Brazilian Plate House, Copa Vida, Honey Dress Fried Chicken, Josui Ramen, Los Chilaquiles Mexican Grill, Madre! Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcaleria, MoDo Hawaii, Monkish Brewing, Offset Coffee, Percolate, Ojiya, Smog City Brewing Co., Strand Brewing Co., Tendon Tempura Carlos Junior
Cuts: Beni Tora (CLOSED), The Jolly Oyster Market (CLOSED), Maruhide Uni Club (CLOSED), Monjiro (CLOSED), Yuzu (CLOSED)
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Brazilian Plate House replaced Wienerschnitzel in 2016, making the A-frame restaurant their own. The owners are from São Paulo and painted the building green to match the Brazilian flag. They framed a tented patio with a wall lined with serpentine gray and white “tiles” and a mural depicting the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro. I ordered Combo Paulista, a plate named for São Paulo denizens that pairs rosy, fat-capped picanha (specifying “medium rare”), luscious linguica (pork sausage), grilled onions, potato salad folded with egg, peas and carrots, gritty farofa, and the Brazilian equivalent to pico de gallo seasoned with vinegar and herbs. The sprawling menu includes many other grilled proteins, sandwiches, and savory appetizers. Wednesday and Saturday at lunch, they offer the bean and pork stew feijoada at lunch. Bife à cavalo is an off-menu tri-tip special with rice and fries that’s frequently available.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Combo Paulista
2. Copa Vida
Steve Chang, wife Elaina and crew debuted Copa Vida in Pasadena in 2013. The company now has San Diego locations and recently replaced Steelhead Coffee in The Torrance (yes, that’s the name of this modern office park. Copa Vida’s lobby coffee bar is only open on weekdays. An open layout features communal and counter seating and a spacious outdoor patio. The bar’s well equipped with a two-group La Marzocco espresso machine, Hario V60 pourover, cold brew and teas on tap. Pourover is a great way to taste their coffee’s truest expressions. During my visit, that meant naturally processed Girma Edema Natural from Ethiopia with “blueberry, nectarine flesh, and Asian pear” notes. Iced Freddo (not named for the ill-fated “Godfather” character) is a frothy shaken espresso sweetened with brown sugar. Copa Vida also brews seasonal creations. For summer, I enjoyed sparkling watermelon infused hibiscus tea with seltzer and lemonade.
MUST ORDER DRINKS: Iced Freddo, Pourover, Sparkling Watermelon Hibiscus (seasonal)
3. Habana Vieja
This Cuban restaurant in Torrance’s CarsonWestern plaza features mottled mauve walls lined with Cuban instruments and decorative crosses. Owners Terra Carrillo and Elizabeth Solis may not be Cuban. Neither is chef-partner Alex Chavez, but he does have over 30 years of Cuban restaurant experience, and he’s clearly paid attention, since the restaurant serves some of L.A.’s best comida Cubana. Every meal starts with bean dip, sour cream and toast. From there, I’d suggest rabo encendido starring tender ox-tail braised in red wine sauce; adobo pork legs broiled with sour orange and garlic; and crowd pleasing arroz con pollo that combines saffron rice, skin-on, bone-in dark meat and beer as the finishing touch.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Adobo Pork Legs, Arroz Con Pollo, Rabo Encendido
Chef Kousuke Yoshimura operates more than 20 branches of Hakata Ikkousha Ramen across Asia and Southern California. The latest SoCal outpost is located in Torrance’s Eastgate Plaza. The space features a dragon logo, wall-mounted map of existing locations, wood tables and countertops. Start with tiny Hitokuchi gyoza with thin skins and juicy pork fillings. Their ramen menu provides several different paths. Tonkotsu Black packs big flavor thanks to the creamy pork broth, garlic oil and gritty black pepper. Thin noodles, house-made chashu, crunchy wood ear mushrooms, and green onions round out the bowl. You should also add an oozy egg.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Tonkotsu Black Ramen (+ Flavored Egg), Hakata Specialty Hitokuchi Gyoza
Hasu enlightened a dim strip mall in 2009 and upgraded to a sleek corner space in retooled Van Art SQ plaza in 2021, complete with gray walls, potted plants, and jazz. A more casual tented patio with Astroturf gets limited use. The name Hasu translates from Japanese as “lotus flower,” and while they don’t cook lotus root, Hasu does specialize in yakitori, chicken-centric Japanese skewers that grill over binchotan behind glass. Your cavalcade of skewers should include supple marinated Special Heart, crunchy Cartilage, de-boned Chicken Wing, prized chicken oysters (skin-on), soft and seared Meatballs, tightly stacked Neck meat, Chicken Skin that resembles a crispy meat accordion, and delectable Tail nuggets. Meat that doesn’t bok, but still warrants attention, includes savory Pork Belly w/Cod and herb-dusted King Oyster Mushroom. Chicken Gizzard Miso Stew features tender, almost like clam meat, earthy flavor, and zing from ginger and spicy mustard. Seasoned Ground Chicken Bowl arrives on a fluffy bed of white rice with nori and punchy pickled ginger. Chicken & Mushrooms Pot Style is available from October through March and touts dark meat chicken chunks, enoki, shimeji, and shiitake mushrooms, and a light chicken broth.
MUST ORDER DISHES:
- YAKITORI – Cartilage, Chicken Wing, Muscle Liver, Special Heart, Chicken Oyster, Neck, Meat Balls, SP Chicken Skin, Tail
- OTHER – Chicken & Mushrooms Pot Style, Chicken Gizzard Miso Stew, King Oyster Mushroom, Pork Belly w/Cod Roe, Seasoned Ground Chicken Bowl
Joo Hyoung Cho opened this terrific fast casual Korean fried chicken spot in Village Center to start 2017. “Chicken meets honey sauce” in this tiny business, which houses wooden booths, succulent filled wall planters, and a decorative wrench that reads, “Live Laugh Love.” Hormone-free poultry crisps in canola oil, resulting in lightly battered birds sporting shattering crusts and judicious saucing. Choosing your desired flavor and parts comes down to personal preference. Honey soy is mild compared to honey soy garlic, which in turn succumbs to honey spicy. Half & half orders encourage variety. Thighs, drumsticks, and wings are particularly great, though they also sell breasts, whole chickens, sandwiches and tenders. Interesting sides include fried rice cake skewers brushed with sauce. I suggest honey soy garlic.
MUST ORDER DISHES: 3 pcs (2 Thigh & Leg), Half-Dozen Wings, Fried Rice Cakes, Honey Soy Garlic, Honey Spicy
The Olde Torrance outpost of Ichimiann, aka Bamboo Garden, is also part of a Torrance chain that also includes Inaba, I-NABA Steakhouse and a second Ichimiann in Rolling Hills Plaza. They’re best known for house-made noodles: buckwheat-based soba and springy udon. Explore a variety of toppings, which basically come down to how adventurous you want to get, and whether you prefer hot or cold noodles. I’d suggest their excellent soba soup topped with unagi, or udon in a bonito-based fish broth. Turn your meal into a Tempura Bowl Combo by adding a side of delicately fried shrimp, white fish, squid and vegetables (eggplant, green bean, and kabocha squash).
MUST ORDER DISHES: Soba Soup with Unagi, Udon Soup with Make, Tempura Bowl Combo