A Rash of Closures in Little Tokyo

9 Apr

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For all the hype the Little Tokyo food scene has gotten in the last few years, there has been a surprising number of closures recently. Fierce competition and rising rents seem to be taking their toll on an area where a lot of ambitious chefs took a chance.

Saddest of all is the closure of Bryant Ng’s Spice Table.

Who else has fallen and can’t get up?


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Aburiya Toronoko was an ambitious Japanese effort from the Sushi Roku restaurant group. The food was generally excellent, if a bit pricey. The $17 chiraishi was one of the best in the area, but never got any traction. It was a place for $25 business lunches in an area of $10 quick lunches. 

They finally relented and introduced a daily $10 bento lunch special, but it was too late. Part of the initial idea for the restaurant is that it would benefit from the synergy of being next door to one of LA’s most regarded restaurants, the Lazy Ox Canteen, also from Michael Cardenas’ group. But soon after it opened, Josef Centeno decamped from LOC to launch Baco Mercat, prompting LOC to slump. So Toronoko never got the benefit of a bump from Lazy Ox. 

Cardenas must regret his investment in Little Tokyo, since another of his restaurants, Fat Spoon, has also recently closed. Fat Spoon was a great idea, an upgraded Japanese curry joint. It was well-executed and fairly priced. Despite good reviews, Fat Spoon failed and made way for the unrelated udon place, Marugame Monzo.

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Another splashy entrant to Little Tokyo, Fickle and the Sandwich Smith, also closed in the last year. The place was ambitious, with a large beautiful space across from the MOMA annex. There was a full dinner service, baked goods, fresh baked sandwich bread, and a happy hour. 

I reviewed the Sandwich Smith, and had been there half a dozen times. I was disappointed that the owner claimed to be honoring the Bakesale Betty sandwich with a failed fried chicken sandwich that had almost no relationship with the Oakland original. 

I stopped going to the Sandwich Smith, never finding a sandwich I really liked. When I’d walk by it looked increasingly empty. Even though I didn’t love the place, I’m sad that someone lost a lot of money on this place and that the neighborhood lost a high profile dining option.

Some other recent losses:

  • Señor Fish
  • Weiland’s Brewery
  • Threads
  • Flying Pig Cafe

I’m sure I’m missing a bunch.

This may be creative destruction as new options come in to the area. Or, unlike the new Grand Central Market, it’s a case of new places expecting too much from an area of relatively modest patrons. In any case, it will be interesting to see how Little Tokyo develops as it continues to morph from a sleepy ethnic neighborhood of retirees to another gentrification target.

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