Sakura-Ya – Old School Amazing Mochi in Gardena

Sakura-Ya is the last and my favorite of the three places I’ve posted about which I’ve been going to since I was born; the other two being Sakae Sushi and Mitsuru Cafe.

Sakura-Ya is an old store opened in 1960 that specializes in Japanese confectionary called mochi and manju.  They are old school still make all their mochi by hand and still owned by the same family.  However, the original husband and wife I grew up seeing seem to have largely retired and younger generations of the family run it day to day.  This is great news because I’ve actually been worried for years that it would shut down when the original owners retired, which would be a huge shame.

It’s located in an old strip of stores in Gardena.  For a long time it looked like no one had renovated the exterior since 1960, but recently they re-did the store front and it looks much better.  However, the interior has looked exactly the same for as long as I can remember.  It’s a white room with display cases and a bit of decoration, but overall it’s pretty bare bones.  The staff is mainly family and are extremely nice.

Starting from top left going clockwise: kuri manju, imo manju, ohagi, kinako green mochi, pink mochi, kinako green mochi (again), kashiwa mochi, kiku manju , white mochi and green mochi

Here’s what we got:

Kuri Manju

This manju has an exterior made of wheat flour and mashed chestnut filling.  The exterior is quite thin and moist while the filling is sweet, smooth, doesn’t have a strong flavor and is a bit drier (although not in a bad way).  It’s a simple pastry, but it’s good.  8/10

Imo Manju

This manju has a similar exterior to the kuri manju, but is filled with mashed sweet potato.  The sweet potato filling has been spiced with cinnamon, which gives it a fantastic flavor.  This is one of my favorite items here.  8.5/10


Ohagi is a type of mochi that has red beans on the outside with a ball of glutinous rice in the middle.  The beans have the casings giving it a nice textural contrast.  It tastes exactly how it sounds and is one of my favorite mochi8.5/10

Kinako Green Mochi

These are mochi where the skins have yomogi (mugwort) in them giving them a green color and a certain flavor which is sort of hard to describe, but is quite light.  The rice dough at Sakura-Ya is so good; it’s extremely soft and delicate, much more so than other stores.  The red bean filling is perfect; not too sweet, smooth, but still has textural contrast from the red bean casing.  It is also topped with kinako powder, which is a roasted soybean powder that gives it a slightly bitter flavor, which I enjoy a lot.  8.5/10

Pink Mochi

This mochi is pink because of food coloring.  The skins are the same, so they’re amazing.  The filing is mashed white bean, which is very smooth and sweet.  It has a slightly more muted flavor than red bean, but is just as good.  This is a must-order.  8.5/10

Kashiwa Mochi

This type of mochi is wrapped in a leaf.  The dough is much more gooey and sticky than the normal mochi and the leaf imparts a certain sort of herbal flavor to the dough.  The filling is the same red bean filling.  While this is still quite good, it’s not quite as good as the regular mochi8/10

Kiku Manju

This manju has a very thin open pancake made of wheat flour that is filled white mochi and red bean paste.  It tastes just like it sounds and while it’s pretty good, it’s not my favorite overall.  I found the rice dough to be not quite as soft and delicate as the rest and I prefer the straight dough with beans as opposed to the pancake.  7.5/10

White Mochi

This is straight forward rice dough with red bean paste.  This is a really good one.  8.5/10

Green Mochi

Same as the kinako green mochi without the kinako.  This is another winner.  8.5/10

Overall, this place is great and it really stands out from the crowd.  I highly suggest trying it out.

16134 S Western Ave
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 323-7117

Sakae Sushi – This Is Not Jiro, But It’s Still Awesome

Sakae Sushi is one of the three places I mentioned in my post on Mitsuru Café that I can remember going to for as long as I’ve been alive (the third place is Sakura-Ya) because all of them are older than I am.  I’d feel like my blog is not complete until I’ve got a post on all three places.

The “restaurant” is not even a restaurant, but is rather a very small take-out place located right on Redondo Beach Blvd across the street from Pacific Square Shopping Center in Gardena.   This is not the high end sushi that you find at say Mori or Zo rather I think of it as “comfort” sushi that you eat at home.  They only makes 6 sushi items: nori maki, inari, ebi, saba, tamago yaki and California rolls.  Here’s all of the sushi except California rolls because I don’t like them:


Inari is a fried tofu skin pouch that has been marinated in a semi-sweet sauce that I believe has mirin, sugar, soy sauce and dashi and filled with sushi rice.  One note about all of their sushi is that the rice is rather sweet compared to most sushi places although I like it and it complements the sushi well. Normally you see these in the Japanese markets in their prepared food section, but those don’t taste nearly as good as Sakae; the rice is very fresh and the tofu skins are marinated just perfectly.  8.5/10

Tamago Maki

Tamago maki is a futomaki roll that instead of having nori (dried seaweed) as the outside layer instead it has thin layer of tamago (semi-sweet egg omelette) layer on the outside.  It is filled with shiitake mushrooms, spinach, tamago, pickled kampyo and oboro (the pink sweet stuff).  It’s fairly self-explanatory in flavor and the version here is very good. 8.25/10

Nori Maki

This is the same as the tamago maki except the outside is nori instead of tamago and it will have a piece of tamago as part of the filling.  This is also excellent.  8.25/10

Saba Sushi

Saba sushi is mackerel has been marinated in vinegar.  My grandmother said that traditionally you were supposed to have white meat, a bit of dark meat and skin on each piece.  This is the exactly how they do it at Sakae.  I really like their version; the fish is just right and goes great with the rice.  8.25/10

Ebi Sushi (Cooked Shrimp)

I’m not a huge fan of ebi as I find it rather plain and that’s the same here although I will say it’s better than most since the shrimp tastes fresher.  7.25/10

1st pic (clockwise from top left): inari, saba, nori maki, tamago maki

2nd pic (clockwise from top left): ebi, nori maki, tamago yaki, inari

Overall, I really like this place and if you happen to be in Gardena do yourself a favor and pick some up for yourself.  Also, if you happen to be going anywhere around New Years and want a large order be aware that you need to call weeks or a month in advance because they do sell out for the large orders.

1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Ste 112
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 532-4550

Mitsuru Café – Great Imagawayaki (Taiyaki), Homemade Mochi And Other Japanese Treats in Little Tokyo

Mitsuru Café is one of three Japanese places that I can literally remember going to for as long as I’ve been alive; the other two being Sakae Sushi and Sakura-Ya in Gardena.  All of these places serve very simple Japanese dishes that I love and fondly remember.

Mitsuru Café is a little café located in Japanese Village in Little Tokyo.  While they have renovated the outside, the inside still looks like it’s from the 60s with old faded walls with specials taped on them, a counter with an open kitchen and old wooden tables.  At the front window they have a griddle that cooks the imagawayaki as well as a display case showing a variety fried foods and other stuff such as dango.  Its super old school and really brings you back.  I rarely sit down and eat, but when I’m close to Downtown LA I almost always stop by and get some food for myself or to bring back to my family.


This is what you will see people waiting in line for.  Imagawayaki is a pancake cooked in a griddle with red bean in the middle.  More commonly you will see taiyaki which are the fish shaped ones.  The key to a good imagawayaki are being fresh off the grill, good tasting batter and the right batter to bean ratio.  Surprisingly, I’ve had a hard time finding a good one in Asia even in Tokyo and Taipei where they are very common.  One of the three characteristics is always wrong; it’s a cheap snack and most of the vendors just don’t take them seriously.  Mitsuru still makes the best one for me.  They are really fresh, hot and slightly crispy, the batter is not too thick and has a really good flavor.  The only knock is that the an (red bean paste) is a bit too sweet.  I highly recommend trying these.  8.5/10


Ohagi are a type of mochi with red bean on the outside and a rice ball in the middle; definitely one of my favorite.  The ones here are true home style and taste like the ones my family made when I was a kid.  They’re pretty ugly, but the beans are really fresh and the rice balls are very nice as well.  It’s a simple confectionery, but you’ll notice the difference versus the ones you buy in the super markets.  8.25/10

Daifuku / Yomogi / Black Sesame Daifuku:

These are also homemade.  The daifuku are the standard white ones, the yomogi the green ones that use mugwort (one of my favorite) and the black sesame daifuku are the ones covered in black sesame.  All of them have red bean in the middle.  Even though these are homemade honestly they don’t taste much different than the major local brands like Mikawaya.  They are still good, nicely fresh and taste just like they sound.  While not exceptional like Sakura-Ya, they are quite good and worth eating if you happen to be buying other stuff.  7.75/10


Inari are a type of sushi that look like footballs.  They are marinated tofu skins stuffed with sushi rice and sesame seeds.  They are fresh and pretty decent although they’re not great like the ones at Sakae Sushi.  Again these are good and worth checking out if you’re here, but not going to blow you away.  7.75/10


These are the sushi rolls that have tamago (sweet egg omelet), takuan (yellow radish pickle), this pink sweet stuff that looks like cotton candy and pickled gobo (burdock root).  The ones here are pretty standard and while tasty not out of the ordinary.  These are another one worth checking out if you’re here, but not worth going out of your way for.  7.75/10

Overall, if you want to try some great imagawayaki and homemade mochi, I’d highly recommend coming here because this is the type of stuff that one day you will not be able to find anymore.  Also please note that they only carry the ohagi and mochi on the weekends.

117 Japanese Village Plz Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-1028

Koo’s Sweet Rice Pancake Ho-tteok Cart – Delicious Ho Dduk (Korean Sweet Pancake) in Koreatown

This is a very short post on a cart that only serves one thing, which is a Korean sweet pancake that is called ho dduk.  The cart is located outside of the California Supermarket on Beverly between Western and Normandy.  It’s a tiny cart that has a Latino woman making the ho dduk.  I think this used to be at the other location of California Supermarket, but luckily I checked online for the address before I went there otherwise I would’ve gone to the old location.

Korean Sweet Pancake (Ho Dduk):

This is a pancake that is made up of wheat flour, tapioca starch, corn flour and rice flour.  The pancake is filled with a mixture that is made up of brown sugar and cinnamon (traditionally I believe it’s supposed to have chopped peanuts in it as well, but I don’t think it has any here).  The pancake is cooked on a griddle with some oil.  The outside is hot and a bit crispy, but the inside is gooey.  It’s got a great sweet cinnamon-y flavor.  I really like ho dduk, so this was great for me.  The one thing is that I’m not sure they cook them fresh to order anymore.  The lady gave me one that I believe had just been made as it was very hot and fresh tasting, but I saw a lot of pre-cooked ones.  Many years ago when I first started going here they used to cook them fresh to order and they are obviously best when cooked freshly.  8.5/10

Overall, this place is very satisfying for me.  I definitely think it’s worth checking out.

4317 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Seongbukdong – Korean Braised Beef (Kalbi Jjim) and Mackerel Specialist in Koreatown

I’m a big proponent of specialist restaurants because you know they are going to make that specific dish well.  In Asia, it’s very common to see specialist restaurants, but when you go to Asian communities in the U.S. you tend to see a lot of “jack of all trades master of none” type of restaurants.

However, one of the good things about the LA food scene is that the Asian communities are large enough that you actually do see quite a lot of specialist restaurants.  Seongbukdong is one of those types of restaurants.  It is a tiny Korean restaurant located in Koreatown that specializes in two dishes, kalbi jjim (braised beef) and godeungeo (mackerel).

The restaurant is a small room looks very Korean with lots of wood finishing and off white wall paper with lots of different newspaper clippings about the restaurant in many different languages (Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese).  We went at lunch and it was totally packed with about a 15 minute wait.  The servers were pretty nice and speak English although my girlfriend spoke with them in Korean, but my relatives spoke to them in English since we’re not Korean and they were able to converse fine.

Here’s what we got:

Complimentary Starter Dishes (Banchan):

They had an interesting selection of banchan, which are complimentary dishes that you are given at the beginning of a meal at Korean restaurants.  Here they gave us green chilis with tenjang (fermented bean paste), marinated mushrooms, cucumbers and bamboo, kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) and a cold egg custard with scallions that hads the consistency tofu.  I thought all of the banchan were quite good and fresh and they were also a little different than the banchan most restaurants serve.  8.25/10

Fermented Bean Stew (Tenjang Chigae):

Tenjang chigae is a fermented bean paste stew that is a staple Korean dish.  The broth is pretty self-explanatory and it’s got tofu, enoki mushrooms and scallions in it as well.  When it’s made right it’s quite good, but unfortunately it fell pretty flat here.  The ingredients were generally fine, but the broth was way too salty and just sort of came together poorly.  I didn’t think it had a very good tenjang flavor either. 6.5/10

Grilled Mackerel (Godeungeo Gui):

I really like simple grilled fish, so I was excited about trying it here.  This was grilled mackerel with some salt and lemon.  It was grilled very nicely where it has a slight crisp on the outside, but the meat was quite tender without being mushy.  It was a solid dish. 8.5/10

Braised Mackerel (Godeungeo Jorim):

This was interesting as I’ve never had this dish before.  It was cut up mackerel that was still on the bone in a sauce made of fermented cabbage.  The sauce was quite pungent and had a very fermented flavor.  The mackerel was quite tender and had good texture.  I thought it was pretty decent, but it had a very strong fermented flavor and I’m not sure it’s something I’d crave to eat.  7.75/10

Braised Beef (Kalbi Jjim):

Kalbi jjim is one of my favorite Korean dishes.  It’s beef that is braised in a sweet soy sauce marinade.  It tastes just like it sounds and if you like slightly sweet foods and tender meat then this is a dish you will enjoy.  The marinade here was excellent and tastes exactly how it should.  The beef was a bit inconsistent, I’d say about 25% of the meat was nice and really tender, but other 75% was too dry.  I know what this is supposed to taste like because my girlfriend’s mom cooks the best version I’ve ever had (including in Korea) and I’d say the marinade is quite similar, but in her version every piece is melt in your mouth tender.  If they had gotten all of the meat to be tender it would’ve been gone from a good dish to a great dish. 8/10 (this could’ve been an 8.5-8.75 if the beef was consistently tender)

Spicy Pork (Daeji Bulgogi):

This is sliced pork that has been marinated in a spicy and sweet chili sauce.  The dish looked really good, but the version here was just okay.  The pork wasn’t tender enough and I thought it was a bit overly sweet.  7/10

Overall, I thought it was good although I don’t think it quite lived up to the hype of a lot of the reviews I read (particularly on yelp) where it is generally universally highly praised although it’s worth checking out.

3303 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 738-8977

Sea Harbour – Still the Best Dim Sum in LA

To caveat the title of this post, Elite maybe of similar quality, but it’s been a while since I’ve been there.

Sea Harbour 海港 has been my favorite dim sum place in LA for a long time and it is probably the best dim sum I’ve had in the US.  For reference in Hong Kong I think it would be considered a pretty decent dim sum place.  Sea Harbour’s dim sum is similar in style to what you find in Hong Kong these days in that you order off the menu so the dim sum is much fresher than the old school carts, the preparation tastes much lighter and less oily than old school places and there are a lot of new types of dim sum that you won’t see in old school cart type places.  I much prefer Sea Harbour’s more modern dim sum to old school cart type places.

The restaurant is a large open room with a few smaller more private rooms along the sides.  It has tanks in the back with various live fish and seafood in them.  It is actually very clean and nicely laid out.  We sat in the small room in the back left.  I’m not used to nice and clean Chinese restaurants because I’ve been living in NY for so long where most restaurants are generally rundown and old looking, so it was a nice change of pace.  The service was good and attentive especially considering it was for dim sum when the service is normally non-existent.

Here’s what we got:

Pork Dumplings with Shrimp and Roe (Yu Zi Shao Mai Huang):

These were good, they were steamed perfectly, the pork was tender and flavorful, the shrimps tasted fresh and they were just generally of good quality.  8.25/10

Crystal Chive Dumplings (Xian Xia Jiu Cai Jiao):

These are generally not my favorite type of dumplings as I’m not a huge fan of the gelatinous skins, but some of my family likes these, so I ordered them.  The skins were good and the filling was nice with the chives and shrimp.  They’re still not my thing, but these were a good rendition.  7.5/10

Beef Rice Noodle (Niu Rou Shou La Chang): 

This is a classic dim sum dish done well.  The rice noodles was thin and cooked perfectly, the beef was perfectly minced and well spiced and the soy sauce was light.  It wasn’t remotely oily or heavy and was very good.  8.5/10

Shrimp Rice Noodle (Xian Xia Shou La Chang):

Ditto my review for the beef rice noodle except with perfectly cooked shrimp.  8.25/10

Lotus Paste Bun (Feng Huang Jin Sha Bao):

These were very good.  The buns were steamed perfectly, the ratio of filling to bun was good and the lotus paste was smooth and not too sweet.  8/10

Snow Buns (Hai Gang Xue Shan Bao):

Wow I haven’t had these in a long time and these were so good.  The outside is a bit salty and the inside has an egg white custard that is light and sweet, but too sweet.  I really liked these, they were so good I actually tried to order some to go, but the guy told me they are the most popular dish and they had run out by the time I had ordered them. This was my favorite dish of the day. 8.75/10

Steamed Pork Bun (Hao Huang Cha Shao Bao):

These were good, the bun was fresh, the bun to meat ratio was good and the pork (cha shao) itself was good, no weird parts and not overly fatty.  The only thing is that they use the sweeter red sauce and I prefer the more savory brown sauce, but it was still good.  8/10

Beef Tendon and Tripe Rice Noodle Bowl (Niu Nan Chang Fen Bao): 

I hadn’t tried this before.  It was stewed beef tendon and tripe over rolled up rice noodle in a metal pot.  The beef tendon and tripe has been stewed in a broth with star anise and five spice powder.  The meat was very tender and flavorful.  The rice noodle was cooked well as well.  I liked the flavor although I thought it could’ve used a little more sauce, but it was good.  7.75/10

Fried Tofu in Abalone Sauce (Bao Shi Pa Dou Fu):

This was silky tofu that had been fried and they covered in a light brown abalone sauce.  The tofu was fried nicely and the sauce was very light and also pretty light in flavor.  I liked this although I think it’s pretty Chinese, so I’m not sure everyone would appreciate it as it’s quite subtle.  7.75/10

Fried Taro Cake (Jian Jiao Yu Tou Gao): 

This is the one dish I thought was just decent.  It was fried on the outside nicely, but I thought the inside was a little dry and a bit bland.  Oyster sauce made it a lot better.  7/10

Radish Cake with XO Sauce (XO Jiang Luo Bo Gao):

This was interesting as I hadn’t had this before.  It was cubes of pan fried minced radish cake tossed in an XO sauce then covered in scallions and bean sprouts.  I liked it although I thought it could have used more XO sauce as it was a bit on the plain side. 7.5/10

Egg Custard (Su Pi Dan Ta):

These were quite good.  The custard had a good egg-y flavor and it had a nice crust.  I just wish they had the Portuguese version which is burnt on top, but these were still good nonetheless. 7.75/10

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (Chu Zhuo Jie Lan):

This was standard, but good.  The broccoli was cooked well and tasted good with the oyster sauce.  7.75/10

Baked Pork Buns (Cha Shao Bao):

They were bringing these around and asking if we wanted them.  My family really likes these although I prefer the steamed version.  However, these turned out to be really good.  The bread was great, the sweet stuff they brush on the top wasn’t overly sweet and the meat inside tasted great. 8.25/10

Overall, I was really pleased the quality of the food, it was so much better than any place in NY.  I also really want to try it for dinner after reading Exilekiss’s review of dinner there, alas it will probably have to wait until my next trip back home as I’m back in NY now.

3939 Rosemead Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-3939

Seafood Village – Great Chao Zhou seafood, a taste of Hong Kong

Seafood Village is a Chinese seafood restaurant in Temple City that specializes in Chao Zhou (潮州) cuisine.  Chao Zhou, also known as Chiu Chow or Teochew, is an region in Guangdong province where better known Cantonese food is from; it is distinct in that they have their own language and cuisine.

Chao Zhou food is generally known to be lighter and less oily than Cantonese food.  It also relies on a lot of fresh ingredients.  When I was young I ate various Chao Zhou dishes, but mistakenly thought it was just Cantonese dishes.  I only started to understand the difference when I lived in Singapore and stayed in Hong Kong for an extended period of time (there are a lot of Chao Zhou in Singapore and there is a large population of Chao Zhou people in HK and it is among the most popular cuisines there).  I really came to appreciate it as one of my favorite Chinese cuisines.

Seafood Village looks like a typical Chinese banquet type of restaurant with high ceilings, chandeliers, white walls with pictures of the specialties on the wall.  It gets crowded as many families will come to have dinner there.  The service is fine and servers were reasonably nice and attentive.   Our server didn’t really speak English, but if you don’t have anyone that speaks Chinese it should not be a problem as the entire menu is translated into English and there is plenty of pictures in the menu, so pointing should work just fine.

On to the food:

Braised Duck and Tofu (Lu Wei / ):

This is a very famous style of Chao Zhou braising preparation called “lu wei” in Chinese.  It’s prepared braising meats in a mixture of soy sauce, star anise, water, spices and sugar.  It’s very popular and in Hong Kong you’ll see lots of small Chao Zhou restaurants with various lu wei meats hanging in the windows.  Although it looks similar to it’s Cantonese BBQ meats, it is much lighter, less salty and less fatty.  The version here is fairly typical in that it is sliced duck with the skin on over a bed of sliced tofu and boiled peanuts all over which have been thoroughly braised in the lu wei sauce (hence their yellowish color although it can also be a very brown color).  The flavor was good, it was nice and light and not salty (it should not be very salty).  The meat should have been a bit more tender, but it was still good.  The peanuts and tofu were excellent.  Overall, a good dish. 7.75/10

Beef and Radish casserole:

I believe this is more of a Cantonese dish, but this is a home style dish that I have a soft spot for, so I decided to try it here.  It is a very light flavored dish consisting of beef and radish (daikon) stewed in a slightly cloudy beef broth garnished with green onions and some crispy golden fried onions.  The beef was tender although not quite as tender as a really good version should be, still good nonetheless.  The daikon was excellent and had a good soft texture without being mushy.  The beef broth had a good flavor and wasn’t overly salty, but didn’t quite have the deep beef flavor that a really good version has.  I liked this dish although I think my family liked it less than I did. 8/10

Spicy Clam Casserole:

I ordered this dish because my girlfriend thought it sounded good.  It’s clams in a spicy broth with green onions and chilis diced up into it; at the bottom there was a bed of glass noodles.  It was spicy, but not overly spicy (there isn’t much spicy food in Chao Zhou cuisine).  The clams tasted fresh and were not overcooked, which is good because in a lot of casserole dishes I find the clams to be overcooked.  The broth was quite good, a bit more salty than I like, but still good.  I really liked the glass noodles as they complemented the spicy broth well.  Overall, another good dish, I think my family liked this dish better than I did though. 7.75/10

Garlic Fried Crab:

This is the dish that Seafood Village is famous for, you will see it on every table.  The dish consists of a large crab (I got a 4 lb crab) cut into pieces and battered in a garlic and salt batter then covered in delicious finely diced fried garlic and green onions.  This dish is so good, the crab is easy to eat as you can literally just bite into the crab shell and it cracks easily.  The meat is sweet and the batter is delicious.  I particularly love the  fried garlic on top, I eat it by itself.  Everyone loved this dish. 8.75/10

Golden Fried Rice:

Although the garlic crab is the most famous dish at Seafood Village, my favorite dish here is the golden fried rice.  It is a very simple preparation done really well.  It’s fried rice using egg whites only with thinly diced green onions, small golden fried onions, small bits of shrimps and meat in it as well.  It is so light and fluffy, not remotely oily or overly salty with a good wok flavor to it.  I ate like 3 bowls of it, I highly recommend this dish. 9/10

Green Bean Soup (Tang Shui):

This was complementary sweet green bean soup that most banquet restaurants give you.  It was pretty standard, just a sweet soup of green beans. 7.25/10

Crystal Buns:

These are small glutinous buns filled with various sweet fillings.  There are 4 varieties consisting of black sesame, custard, melon and lotus paste.  I’m not a huge fan of these as I don’t really like the oily glutinous exterior.  The fillings were pretty decent although I didn’t like the melon flavor as it tasted too artificial. 6.75/10

Overall, I like Seafood Village a lot.  The food is quite good and it’s a great place to go with a group of family or friends.  Highly recommend.

9669 Las Tunas Dr
Temple City, CA 91780
(626) 286-2299

(there are also branches in Monterey Park and Rowland Heights as well)