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.
Since 2009, Manpuku’s owners have also featured “Tapas! Grill! Hot Pot!” at Izakaya Hachi in Torrance Plaza. Apart from the glass front, it feels like the restaurant’s owners brought the outdoors inside, with a sloped black roof shielding the open kitchen from the dining room. Izakaya Hachi has a sprawling menu, but you’re wise to focus on grilled items. Spicy, tart yuzu kosho joins pork cheek. Chicken meatballs take a dip in yakitori sauce. Oysters even benefit from the grill. Some non-grilled items are also impressive, including deep-fried chicken cartilage (Nankotsu Karaage) dressed with lemon and mayo; and red crab sunomono, boiled red crab on a bed of vinegar-marinated cucumber and wakame. Battera mackerel sushi is a particularly good version of box-pressed mackerel, made with koshihikari rice, shiso leaves, and ginger.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Battera Mackerel Sushi, Beef Tongue Steak, Chicken Meat Ball “Tsukune” Skewer, Chicken Nankotsu Karaage, Grilled Oyster, Grilled Pork Cheek, Red Crab Sunomono
9. Josui Ramen
The Plaza, a retro strip mall with a rather plain name, houses one of Torrance’s top ramen bars: Josui Ramen. This Nagoya-style restaurant features a Spanish tile roof, Spanish tile roof, wood booths and bar, and white walls with a pagoda painting. Josui, with a name that translates from Japanese as “clean water,” serves a distinctively savory pork and chicken broth that’s finished with fish and coats the lips. Their signature bowl touts thin noodles garnished with fatty, thin-sliced char siu, nori sheet, scallions, bamboo, and radish slices. Tantan men, available with or without soup, boasts judiciously spicy miso pork and house layu (chile oil) with crunchy bean sprouts, minced onions and scallions. Complementary appetizers include heavily spiced fried chicken wings seasoned with white pepper, garlic powder & black pepper, then dipped in Josui’s signature seasoned soy sauce and finished with sesame. Gyoza are house-made, touting thin, delicate pan-fried wrappers filled with ground pork, chicken and vegetables.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Josui Ramen, TanTan Men, Fried Chicken Wings, Gyoza
This stand-alone Japanese restaurant from Tokyo tonkatsu specialist Kentaro Masuda opened in 2008 in Olde Torrance, a neighborhood designed by the son of Central Park architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The contemporary space features a wood bar and tables, a raked, textured wall, and a giant, geometric box-in-a-box-in-a-box lantern. Chef Masuda prepares seafood well. Hotate carpaccio spotlights silky Hokkaido scallop dotted with garlic aioli and doused in savory soy sauce. Tokobushi awabi features soy-soaked abalone cooked over an open flame with plenty of butter. Agedashi tofu involves firm, deep-fried cubes dressed with bonito shavings, scallions and spicy grated ginger and submerged in savory fish broth. Fukagawa is a soupy, savory tangle of sweet boiled Asari clam, scrambled egg, green onion, crunchy burdock root and sweet soy sauce. Katsu is undoubtedly the star at Kagura. Premium Fillet Katsu Gozen is a deep-fried premium black pork fillet cutlet sporting a thin egg and panko batter. Each katsu comes with a mortar and pestle to crush sesame seeds before pouring hot, thick konkatsu sauce from a pitcher and dipping the crisp meat.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Agedashi Tofu, Fukagawa, Hotate Carpaccio, Millefeuille Katsu, Premium Fillet Katsu Gozen, Tokobushi Awabi
This Olde Torrance izakaya resides in back of Plaza Del Prado. The restaurant debuted in March 2015 and houses a shiny sushi bar up front, which I skipped entirely. Instead, I ordered small plates in a back dining room that features dark wood slats along with art-lined stone, yellow and brown walls. Anything with “mushi” in the name seems to work well. Dobinmushi features a pot of broth girded with gingko, mushrooms, shrimp and flaky white fish. Silky pot-steamed egg custard, aka chawan mushi, features a similar complement of fillings. I’m also a fan of vinegared snow crab, sweet and tangy batons served on seaweed salad. Tender grilled clams are dressed with butter, scallions and lemon zest, to good effect. The only clunkers I experienced were grilled whole squid and grilled matsutake mushrooms.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Dobinmushi, Grilled Clam with Butter, Grilled Conch Shell Fish, Pot-steamed Egg Custard, Vinegared Snow Crab
Little Shop of Mary features a sunflower-yellow awning, black and white tile floors, photos of rural Vietnam life and Parisian posters, and bright blue benches. Order banh mi at the counter, choosing from a selection of fillings that includes lemongrass chicken (or beef), sesame beef (or chicken), pork meatballs, and the dreaded “vegetarian” (aka soy protein). Classic cold cut combines sliced pork loaf, slow roasted pork, house-made headcheese, house-made pâté, cilantro, pickled daikon & carrots on a warm, soft baguette. While I look forward to working my way through the menu, Roasted Pork delivers especially big. The slow-cooked pulled pork is plenty juicy, balanced with punchy garlic aioli, tangy pickled red onion, and a thatch of greens. If you’re looking to kick the flavor up another notch, Mary’s got a squeeze bottle of Sriracha handy. Sea salt cream coffee also packs serious punch.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Classic Cold Cut Banh Mi, Roasted Pork Banh Mi, Sea Salt Cream Coffee
Francisco and Bryant Portillo opened this colorful Mexican breakfast restaurant in 2009 across a strip mall parking lot from Tunnel Master Express Carwash. The bright yellow and green restaurant with cafeteria style service and blackboard menus features tortilla chips topped with mix and match salsas and proteins. Carnitas with mild red guajillo salsa, perhaps? Or possibly shredded beef with spicy red chile de arbol. I opted for classic chilaquiles with sunny-side-up eggs, earthy black beans, and a 50/50 mix of smoky red morita and fiery green habanero salsas. Accompaniments include sour cream, crumbled cotija cheese, shaved red onions, cilantro and a choice of beans. They also run a Carson location.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Egg Chilaquiles, Red Morita, Green Habanero
Oaxaca born restaurateur Ivan Vasquez now operates three Madre! locations in L.A., including West Hollywood, Palms, and this Prada del Prado flagship. The indoor-outdoor space includes a light-strung patio, bar with colorful tilework, and a pink neon sign that reads “Besos de mezcal” (mezcal kisses). Colorful imagery includes a map of Mexico that features different agave varietals, an eagle and snake mural that references Mexico’s flag, bears for California, and La Jefa (mom Lucila). Vasquez developed a mezcal “bible” classified by agave type that categorizes his pours with “integrity” that benefit mezcaleros versus corporations, including mezcal distilled just for this location. He serves mezcal in tiny clay copitas with orange slices, sal de gusano, and chapulines. Mezcal also factors into cocktails like Smokey Margarita that teams Banhez mezcal joven with Ancho Reyes, agave, lime, and sal de gusano. Food highlights include mole palanquero made using fruits roasted during Mezcal Real Minero distillation. Tacos de barbacoa de chivo features tender goat meat rolled in house-made corn tortillas. When available, pescado sarandeado is a must-order red snapper marinated in chipotle aioli, oregano and thyme, served with chunky fruit and vegetable salsa and gritty salsa roja starring canica (marble) chiles.
MUST ORDER DISHES + DRINKS: Mole Palenquero (seasonal), Tacos de Barbacoa de Chivo, Pescado Sarandeado (when available), Ceviche Piquin (when available), Mezcal, Gato Negro, Smokey Margarita