As you walk into Tokyo Guild in Culver City you’ll see Japanese music videos on screen, hear LA hip-hop from the 90s, and a big Orange Bang machine above the bar. They set the scene for what manager Joe Ando hopes this Japan/LA, pub/tavern fusion will accomplish: a blend of two cultures and casual cuisine, Tokyo street food and LA sensibilities at affordable prices.
In Japan, bars serve booze and restaurants specialize in one kind of food, ramen, yakitori, tonkatsu. At Tokyo Guild you get the best of all worlds, a creative combination of flavors and influences, cocktails and dishes. (Side note: Tokyo Guild is located next to the Kirk Douglas Theatre; show your tickets for a 10% discount!)
A PUB/TAVERN/COCKTAIL DESTINATION
“When you go to a tavern you expect drinks and maybe burgers, fries or sandwiches,” says Joe, “so that’s what we do here.” Want chili fries? Order Miso Pork Fries ($9), shoestring fries, topped with cheese and Asian-inflected spicy miso pork. Want a burger? Get the Guild Sando (Japanese for sandwich) and their version of MenchiKatsu, a beef patty of chuck and sirloin, served on grilled milk bread (Shokupan), with amakara sauce, karashi mustard, kewpie mayo, cheese and red cabbage ($11). It’s a winner.
Joe told his cooks not to embellish this “burger,” but one of them added cheese anyway; the result was even better than Joe’s original so it’s on the menu. And that milk bread is specially baked for Tokyo Guild by Mammoth Bakery in Gardena; it’s excellent.
If your taste runs to chicken try the Tokyo Fried Chicken (aka chicken karaage), super juicy thigh meat in a crispy coating, served with spicy citrus mayo and seasoned with Shijimi, a proprietary 7-flavor spice blend. Or try the delicious Katsu Sando ($9.50), a moist, deep-fried pork cutlet, with shredded cabbage, dressed with their special katsu sauce, and that delicious kewpie mayo and karashi mustard.
TONKATSU AND TONKOTSU
Tonkatsu is thought to have been introduced to Japan when Emperor Meiji (mid-1800s) opened Japan to Western cultural influence. While the Boar is one of the Zodiac signs, prior to this time, what’s now called pork tonkatsu had been made with beef. The pork version, possibly influenced by schnitzel, was first served in 1899 at a Tokyo restaurant called Rengatei.
But don’t confuse that Tonkatsu with Tonkotsu Ramen, which is also served at Tokyo Guild. In fact, if you love to slurp, you’ve got four Ramen choices ($12), and choices within those choices of mild/spicy/hot and additional add-ons.
For Tonkotsu Ramen and Tonkotsu Miso Ramen, they boil bones for 16 hours or more and serve it with their home-made chili oil; the pork broth is served with slow braised pork belly, seasoned egg, bean sprouts and green onions. There’s also a Vegan Ramen with fried tofu, bok choy, bean sprouts and bell pepper with a special vegan sesame oil. The TanTan Ramen is an uncommon find, a sesame miso chicken broth, with spicy miso pork, corn, green onion and radish sprouts, not something you’ll find everywhere.
VEGGIES AND FISH, TOO
Need veggies? Not so common in Japanese restaurants but common everywhere in LA, crispy Brussels Sprouts ($8.50) are tossed in a Japanese balsamic dressing topped with walnuts and fresh mandarin orange slices. Or choose the Garden Salad with greens, red bell pepper, onion ginger dressing (half $5; full $9) or Chashu Kale Caesar with slow braised pork belly (chashu), baby kale, egg, croutons and parmesan (half $8; full $14); talk about culinary mash-up!
Your saltwater choices include Ebi Mayo ($9), crispy rock shrimp tossed in a creamy kewpie mayo sauce, with nuts and parsley. I don’t even like shrimp but I ate it and raved about the taste. Or try the Takoyaki ($8) (known as octopus balls in Japan), battered octopus with aosa seaweed, shredded dried bonito, takoyaki sauce (a proprietary secret), with kewpie mayo.
Manager Joe Ando is a native of LA, with a background in both fine dining and izakaya (Japanese sake pub). His previous job was assistant manager at the high-end 71 Above in DTLA, and he brought their cocktail guru with him to Tokyo Guild. “We’re a casual bar,” Joe told me, “we designed the cocktails to work with the food, which has robust flavors, so they’re more subtle by design.”
I had the “Busta Limes” (get the pun, hip-hop fans?) which goes down way too easily; it’s made with stuff I’ve never heard of, but will happily order again: partida bianco tequila, giffard pampelmouse, rosé and lime. OK, I also tried the ShortKut, made with shochu, St. Germain elderflower and lemon. Another easy slide down the throat. Of course, there’s sake, and the beer choices are wide-ranging and really refreshing.
NOT SUCH SMALL PLATES
Happy hour (3 to 6 pm; 10 pm till close) is super affordable and features many of the selections from the “bites and salads” menu. And portions at Tokyo Guild are generous. You can easily fill your belly with just one or two. But for heaven’s sake, try the half-price cocktails; you don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t.
Tokyo Guild is located at 9810 Washington Blvd. in Culver City. For more info visit https://thetokyoguild.com/culver-city/