Izayoi: 132 S. Central Ave., LA 90012 Tel: 213-613-9554
First on the list is Izayoi (132 S. Central Ave.) This restaurant reminds me of the expensive eateries in Nagoya I could only afford when it was on the company tab. Lunch at these fine places in Japan are 3000 yen and up. Izayoi has this fine quality but at a fraction of the price. This restaurant is extremely clean and the cooking is all done in plain view of the sushi counter. I recommend the Izayoi lunch box. This is a selection of sushi, tempura and grilled tuna. The fish is fresh and the tempura is lightly deep fried in the style that is hard to find outside of Japan. This is $9.50. Note the Izayoi lunch box is for the first twenty customers of the day and if I am there make it nineteen since I am the first one in at the 11:30 opening time. Free parking in the Office Depot parking lot.
Joy-Mart: Japanese Village Plaza, LA 90012 Tel: 213-680-9868
Second on my list is Joy-Mart in Little Tokyo village. Like Izayoi Joy-Mart sacrifices quantity for the best quality. The most popular lunch is a three plate lunch that is selected from about 40 choices. Some of my favorite selections is the Spicy Tuna Donburi, the Salmon Sashimi, Tofu with Chili Sauce and the Hot Salad. The Spicy Tuna is a minced tuna sashimi with mildly spicy mayonnaise sauce. The Chili sauce in the tofu is like the chili sauce that is served with shrimp in the Chinese restaurants in Japan. Park in the Japanese Village Plaza parking garage and get your ticket validated at Joy-Mart and you have free parking for one hour.
Usui: 343 E 1st St, LA 90012 Tel: 213-680-1989
Usui on First St. has a lunchbox that reminds me of the company bentos I would get in Japan - except Usui's are much better having been freshly prepared. This restaurant has larger portions but still maintains good quality. Lunch Box A has sashimi, grilled fish, tempura and a fish cake vegetable combo like oden but without the broth. This is the place I go to when I missed breakfast! Usui gets crowded at lunch so you will often have to wait if you arrive around noon or after. I park on First street past Alameda because it is one of the few places downtown with free street parking: two hours free. Once the Little Tokyo Metro station opens at First and Alameda (~2008) this will surely change.
TOT Restaurant 345 East 2nd Street, LA 90012 Tel: 213-680-0344
TOT has a great daily lunch special - the Nanban Special! This include many small dishes such as a tofu salad, gyoza, etc. as well as a main course. The Nanban Special is discounted one dollar for those who arrive before 11:45.
Mitsuru Cafe 117 Japanese Village Plaza, LA 90012 Tel: 213-613-1028
This low-key restaurant reminds me of the inexpensive neighborhood restaurants all through Japan that cater to the unmarried salary man to prepare their evening meal. Mitsuru has "Today's Special" sign that hasn't changed in years: Chicken or pork tonkatsu, three thick pieces of tuna sashimi, a big bowl of rice, miso soup, mandarin oranges and a carafe of hot green tea. Mitsuru Cafe is known for their Imagawa-yaki: a Japanese pancake filled with sweet bean. This is prepared fresh is the window to grab the attention of the children passing by with their parents. Park in the Japanese Village Plaza parking garage and get your ticket validated at Joy-Mart and you have free parking for one hour.