RESTAURANTS • FOUND Table
Since its 2017 debut in Echo Park, Tsubaki has billed itself as an izakaya, a characterization suggesting a focus on booze — a kitchen ultimately in service of a bar. But here, the extensive sake list, sochu, Japanese craft beers, and curated selection of French wines serve to frame chef Charles Namba’s food, among the most refined and compelling in the entire city.
For example: Namba’s Japanese Caesar with shredded nori, bonito flakes, and miso-parm dressing is a top five Los Angeles dish for me. His charcoal-grilled chicken oyster skewers — perfect pearls of yuzu kosho-topped dark meat — land in my top ten. And for dessert, the hojicha soft serve parfait with sesame-miso caramel is essential.
But it’s also a restaurant that rewards experimentation. On a recent visit, I changed it up, and marveled at a delicate tempura of Japanese sweet potato and sprouting cauliflower. Grilled jidori chicken hearts were a textural, flavorful delight. This time, I also took notice of the restaurant’s playful variety of kitchy chopstick rests (I got a ceramic okra; my boyfriend had a planking panda.)
Which is to say: The interiors may be stoic (brick walls, rosewood chairs) and intimate (under ten tables plus a bar and a window counter with a dozen-ish stools combined), but the vibe is fun. There are a few outdoor tables as well, but aim for an indoor reservation, as Tsubaki’s position on the hilly Allison Ave. creates an awkward al fresco situation.
All-in, it’s an izakaya that can handle dinner with the parents, a date night, or a full-on celebration. And for a more casual walk-in-only experience, sibling Ototo — with a smaller menu, and an even larger sake selection — is right next door. I’d drink to eat there, too. –Emily Wilson