Seeing customers cued up along First Street each day, it’s easy to understand why Little Tokyo is the ramen capital of Southern California, but not everyone is aware that this Seeing customers cued up along First Street each day, it’s easy to understand why Little Tokyo is the ramen capital of Southern California, but not everyone is aware that this bustling Downtown enclave is also home to some of L.A.’s best breakfast and brunch offerings. Wake up a little earlier, postpone the sushi and boba, hop on the 101, and make a date to explore these five cafes (in alphabetical order) that comprise Little Tokyo’s hidden breakfast club.
“You had me at aloha.” The sign inside says it all. Simple, hearty fare is almost as good as a trip to Honolulu (we said “almost”). Start with the Aloha Café Big Breakfast shown here with two sunny side up eggs, Spam, Portuguese sausage, rice, and Hawaiian rolls. If you’re feeling particularly pololi (hungry), Vienna sausage, and corned beef hash. The seasoned hash browns will make you wonder why you’ve never added chopped green onions before. For those who prefer a little more decadence for breakfast, there’s the French Toast served with strawberries, blueberries, and freshly whipped cream. That’s right, freshly whipped cream.
410 E. Second St., Little Tokyo
Let’s be honest. Where else but in Little Tokyo would a hungry gastronome look for Japanese breakfast…and find it! The first thing to know: Japanese breakfast is nothing like American breakfast. There’s an egg, but that’s where the similarity ends. Traditional Japanese fare must first be a feast for the eyes. World-class chef Akira Hirose knows how to frame his perfectly broiled mackerel in Japanese tradition. In addition to the fish of the day, the bento-style meal consists of dashimaki tamago (seasoned egg), tofu, tsukemono (pickled vegetables), miso soup, rice, and tea. Other items on the breakfast/brunch menu: Kakuni Omurice, an egg omelette wrapped around braised pork belly; chawanmushi (savory egg custard with enoki, kamaboko, and shrimp; and Omelette Francaise with mixed greens and potato galette.
226 E. First St., Little Tokyo
Sure, when Café Dulce arrived in Little Tokyo almost seven years ago, it introduced the artful donut. Donuts for breakfast have been trending ever since, but it’s the Breakfast Burrito that has stolen the spotlight from Café Dulce’s specialty coffees and teas. Bacon, scrambled eggs, spicy mayo, potatoes, cilantro, red onion, and cheddar and jack cheese all nice and cozy in a flour tortilla. Pair that with the freshly made salsa. Dulce’s regulars recommend adding avocado if you dare. But wait! There’s another morning menu item worth noting: the Breakfast Sandwich. Granted, it probably needs a snappier name, but the medium eggs, Black Forest ham, spicy mustard, arugula, and butter nestled inside house baked milk bread are challenging the burrito for the title, “favorite menu item.”
134 Japanese Village Plaza
As the offspring of the Tokyo Garden restaurant established by obachan in the 1940s, Jist Café has distinguished itself from First Street’s burgeoning ramen row by building an eclectic menu using top grade ingredients and paying homage to the best of Japanese and American cuisine. On Saturday and Sunday, breakfast and brunch are served until 1:30 p.m. in the outdoor dining area. The audacious menu offers a range of dishes, including Chashu Hash Skillet consisting of chunks of marinated pork belly and breakfast potatoes served with two sous vide eggs. The Guittard chocolate chip and banana pancakes are made by hand-mixing the crème fraiche batter or choose tres leche or coconut cream instead. Pangs of guilty pleasure are provided free of charge. There’s also a Super Huge Breakfast Burrito. The name says it all.
116 Judge John Aiso St.
Mitsuru Sushi and Grill
There are many good reasons to head over to Mitsuru Sushi and Grill. Aside from its split personality—sushi in the front, nostalgia in the back—this iconic dining establishment has been serving homestyle comfort food since the 1970s in what was once a classic diner. For a simple, tasty breakfast any time of day, go for the gacha, a combination of meat and vegetables scrambled with eggs and served with hash browns and toast or rice. There are nine choices of protein—ham, bacon, regular sausage, Portuguese sausage, Spam, hamburger, wiener, cha shu, and tofu in perhaps the biggest menu in Little Tokyo. Mitsuru serves both Japanese and American fare, including hot cakes (an early name for “pancakes”), omelets, and muffins.
Don’t be surprised if thoughts of Mom’s cooking come to mind.
316 E. First St.