Editor’s note: With the opening of the Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica, locals have a new way to explore neighboring areas. The Daily Press will publish a weekly travelogue about what to eat, see and do near each of the stations along the Expo Line, continuing this week at the second non-Santa Monica stop: Expo/Sepulveda.
I have a confession.
Countless times I’ve driven onto the northbound 405 freeway from Pico Boulevard, turning quickly onto Cotner Avenue and zipping past the Smart & Final market before darting up the on-ramp.
Not once did I realize there was a 20,000-square-foot wine store, warehouse and restaurant in my midst. And, apparently, I’m not alone.
“You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know we’re there,” Wine House owner Bill Knight told me. “They’re so busy trying to get on the freeway.”
Thanks to the extension of the Expo Line, that could be changing. Knight’s longtime wine shop is just three-tenths of a mile from the Expo/Sepulveda station, which also serves as a portal to many nearby stores and restaurants as well as several connecting bus lines.
The new transit stop is also a gateway to the Westside’s designated Japantown, a bustling row of restaurants and eateries along Sawtelle Boulevard that now spills south of Olympic Boulevard and north of Santa Monica Boulevard. (More on that later.)
Until the opening of the Expo Line, Sepulveda served a pretty specific role to motorists — namely, as that street you take when traffic on the notoriously jammed 405 is trudging along even more slowly than usual. Geographically speaking, perhaps Sepulveda could also be considered the unofficial dividing line between West L.A. and west West L.A.
Ponder the value of that probably meaningless distinction as you walk north on Sepulveda, west on Pico and north on Cotner to Wine House, which is just south of the 405 on-ramp.
The shop offers wines from around the world at a wide variety of price points, with everything from a Spanish 2013 Flaco Tempranillo Estate ($6.99) to a Napa Valley 2012 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon dubbed “Toto’s Opium Dream: Scene III” (a cool $5,400). There are hundreds of options in a store that’s large without being cavernous.
Perhaps the best part is that 32 of the wines are available to taste at the store’s card-activated sampling stations ($1.30 and up). The staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
Learn more about the wines with a guided in-store tasting, or satisfy your inner oenophile by signing up for a class. There’s also Upstairs 2, an adjoining restaurant featuring dinnertime small plates and, of course, plenty of vino.
But that’s not your only eating option. Explore the vast array of culinary delights in what is sometimes referred to as Little Osaka, heading north on Cotner, turning west on Olympic and crossing under the 405 until you hit Sawtelle.
You’ve come to an area that can feel like it’s trying to set a world record for restaurant density. There’s iPad-ordered ramen at Tatsu, famous tsukemen (ramen with noodles to dip) at Tsujita, stellar sushi at Kiriko and pork cutlets at Kimukatsu. And the stretch is by no means exclusively Japanese, so don’t feel bad if you want a burger at Plan Check or shaved ice at Blockheads.
Consider a meal at Daikokuya, a popular ramen outpost south of Olympic. It’s a small space seemingly intended to resemble an alley in Tokyo, outfitted with funky signage, orange lights and a decorative garage door along the side wall.
Many diners will dive straight into a massive bowl of ramen, which comes a few different ways, but give yourself a better sampling of the menu by picking a combo. I went for the spicy miso ramen and chicken teri over rice, which also comes with a side salad.
You’ll place your order with a staffer and hear it yelled into the partially open kitchen, which is surrounded by bar seats. You’ll earn each bite as you use chopsticks to pile noodles onto your spoon of reddish broth, grabbing bean sprouts and chopped green onion along the way. You’ll take pleasure in your decision to venture into Japantown.
And you’ll probably take home leftovers.
The Expo Line now has 19 stations covering 15.2 miles between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. A regular one-way fare is $1.75 and includes two hours of free transfers for riders using a TAP card. A daily pass good for unlimited rides on Metro is $7 and monthly passes are $100. Visit taptogo.net for more information.