A Vegetarian’s Guide to Dining in Little Tokyo: Going Vegan, Part 2

Rakkan’s vegan gyoza is very tasty and comes with a unique tomato salsa for extra flavor.
All photos by Sylvia Lopez.

Last week, we looked at some great choices for a filling vegan lunch in Little Tokyo. Today, we will explore vegan options in noodles and desserts!

359 East First Street

Rakkan Ramen is one of the newest restaurants to open up on First Street, just steps away from JANM, and they have some stiff competition. They are one of four ramen spots on that block alone! However, I think they give themselves a strong edge with their wide array of vegan-friendly options.

On the menu, you will find avocado sashimi, an avocado and tofu bowl (they had me at “avocado”), and a vegan gyoza, which is fried without being oily and has a delightful crispiness to it. In addition to all this, they also offer vegan ramen! Now, this is a big deal to me as ramen traditionally features broth made from pork or fish, and noodles made with eggs. As an amateur home cook, I know that you can get some of that umami flavor from kombu and dried shiitake, so it’s always great to see restaurants consider plant-based broths.

The Bekko Ramen at Rakkan.

At Rakkan, they will even provide a laminated card listing their ingredients, allowing curious guests with food aversions to order with some peace of mind. For vegans, you can order the Pearl, Bekko, or Ruby ramen. I had the Bekko, which had a savory miso broth, chewy wheat-based noodles, slices of bamboo shoot and mushroom, cubes of tofu, and fresh chopped scallions. The only thing that left me baffled was the slice of tomato included as a topping, but I’m nitpicking at this point because overall, I was impressed! Ramen is such a comfort food to me and while many think that vegetarians should be content with a salad, Rakkan has demonstrated that variety and substance are possible.

Bonus Tips for Noodle Lovers

For people with wheat sensitivity, there are also gluten-free noodles available at Rakkan. Don’t forget to also try My Ramen Bar’s vegetarian ramen, which features spinach noodles. And if you’re in the mood for a thicker noodle, Kagura, located inside the Japanese Village Plaza, also offers vegan and vegetarian soups—my favorite is their veggie udon.

PB&J or coconut? Which one to choose?!

Café Dulce
134 Japanese Village Plaza, Building E

While I did talk about Café Dulce in my first Vegetarian Little Tokyo blog entry, I come back to it with important news: they now offer vegan donuts! I repeat, DONUTS! This is kind of a big deal considering the fact that I often walk into the JANM staff lounge and see a pink box full of donuts that I could never eat, and can only stare longingly at. When I found out Café Dulce was offering vegan donuts, I was immediately on the case.

Because a staff member at the café is vegan, the owners decided to introduce two new donuts that are made without eggs or butter: the peanut butter and jelly donut and the coconut donut. Both are delicious, flavorful, and sweet without tasting like pure sugar. The PB&J was surprisingly refined; I was expecting a slathering of conventional peanut butter, but instead, you get a raised donut sliced in half, sealed together with just the right amount of jelly, and topped with crushed peanuts. The coconut donut is also raised, topped with a generous amount of thinly sliced coconut shreds, and drizzled with chocolate and nuts. Pair one of these donuts with Café Dulce’s signature coffee or tea, and you’re set for a break time treat!

The vegan coconut donut pairs well with Café Dulce’s signature drinks.

Bonus Tips for Sweet Tooths

Now let’s say you’re in the mood for something sweet, yet more representative of traditional Japanese culture. Head on over to Mitsuru Café, also located inside the Village Plaza. Here you can pick up a mitarashi dango—a sweet rice ball skewer topped with a warm, sugary soy glaze. You can also go to Fugetsu-Do (Little Tokyo’s oldest business!) on First Street, not too far from the plaza, and find a wide variety of mochi and manju that are crafted onsite.

Be sure to check out my other two blog posts (here and here) to learn more about vegetarian dining choices in Little Tokyo!

You can take a real-life vegetarian tour of Little Tokyo this Saturday, October 21, when our intrepid volunteer Roxane Lewis leads Edible Adventures: Vegetarian Little Tokyo. Purchase your tickets here.

A Vegetarian’s Guide to Dining in Little Tokyo: Going Vegan, Part 1

Tofu tacos topped with a vegan coleslaw, one of two bento options at Far Bar.
All photos by Sylvia Lopez.

Being vegetarian in Little Tokyo is getting easier than ever. Being vegan—which means eliminating all animal-related products from one’s diet and lifestyle—still offers a bit of challenge, especially when you have lunch meetings with coworkers and you don’t want to inconvenience them. While I will gladly take one for the team and just go with a salad on a lunch outing, I’m happy to report that there are some great vegan gems to be found in Little Tokyo—some recently added! In fact, I have so many tips to share that this blog post will have to be divided into two parts.

So if you’re thinking about taking more steps toward a plant-based lifestyle, or just want to try something different, read on for my suggestions, and don’t forget to check back next week for Part 2!

Sandwich Shop
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka Street, Suite 108

The vegan chicken banh mi from Sandwich Shop.

Located next to the Marukai Market in Weller Court is an inconspicuous little place: The Sandwich Shop. Their name says it all—they have sandwiches! I was excited to see that they actually have a vegan offering, and a hearty one at that. The vegan chicken banh mi includes pickled vegetables, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and vegan mayo, all on a crisp baguette. The “chicken” is soy-based and marinated in a ginger sauce, giving it a delicious flavor that blends well with the other components.

This one made me nervous the first time I tried it because it was a little too much like the real thing. But if faux meat is your thing, or if you are an omnivore looking to add more plant-based meals to the mix, this is a great option that always hits the spot, especially when I’m on the verge of being “hangry.” They offer a variety of chips to choose from, so grab a bag along with your sandwich for the perfect lunchtime recharge.

Far Bar
347 East First Street

The Thai curry bento at Far Bar, my favorite of their two vegan bento offerings.

Just steps from JANM is Far Bar, a hip fusion restaurant specializing in craft beer, spirits, and enticing food. Its location in the historic Far East Building gives it a chic vintage vibe, making it a great spot to unwind after a long day. While their dinner menu includes a number of vegan specialties, I’m going to focus on their lunch offerings, which feature not one but two vegan bento plates: the Thai curry and the tofu tacos. Each bento comes with a vegan mushroom soup, edamame, a grain salad, rice, and fresh fruit, all for just $10.

My favorite, the Thai curry, has a variety of squash, carrots, and potatoes in a creamy broth with a hint of coconut and spice. The mushroom soup is light yet robust in flavor, and the grain salad is a nice, refreshing complement to the meal. The tofu tacos are tasty and a great example of Japanese-Mexican fusion, which this vegan Chicana working in Little Tokyo can really appreciate! Make sure you ask for hot sauce though as these tacos are very mild in flavor. I only wish you could order these bentos for dinner as well as lunch!

Next week: ramen and desserts!

Did you enjoy these tips? Come take a real-life vegetarian tour of Little Tokyo on Saturday, October 21, when our intrepid volunteer Roxane Lewis leads Edible Adventures: Vegetarian Little Tokyo. Purchase your tickets here.

A Vegetarian’s Guide to Dining in Little Tokyo: Continuing the Search

JANM’s Education and Public Programs Assistant, Sylvia Lopez, is vegan. In February, she launched an occasional column to explore vegan and vegetarian dining options in Little Tokyo. Her adventures continue this week as she shares more of her animal-friendly food finds.

Over the last few months, I paid visits to three Japanese American restaurants. There were hits and misses, but overall, I feel that the vegetarian scene here in Little Tokyo really is showing some growth. Read on for my thoughts on an older establishment offering up more options for vegetarians and two newer ones serving up hearty, plant-based meals to satisfy the stomach.

Picture of my bowl from Snociety, taken mid-meal. I was so hungry that I dug in before photographing it!
Picture of my bowl from Snociety, taken mid-meal.
I was so hungry that I dug in before photographing it!


Snociety Urban Eatery
330 E. 2nd Street, Suite C
Near the JACCC Plaza

Let’s start with Snociety, a spot that specializes in poke bowls. I know, I know—“What is a vegan doing at a seafood place?” Hear me out though—this place turns out to have the most veggie options of any restaurant I’ve encountered near JANM. The ingredients are fresh and there are a lot of toppings and signature flavors to choose from.

I opted for the tofu bowl with brown rice and aloha sauce, and sweet ginger, jalapeno, seaweed, and edamame for my toppings. The great thing is that I can go back multiple times and still have lots of different topping and sauce combinations to choose from, so the experience will be different each time.

The only thing to be aware of is that the tofu option is priced the same as the fresh fish options. So it’s $13 for a vegan bowl, which might feel expensive to some customers.

The tofu salad at Kouraku.
The tofu salad at Kouraku.


Kouraku Japanese Restaurant
314 E. 2nd Street

A few of my co-workers frequent Kouraku, which is a much older establishment. Recently, one of them tipped me off that they had a new “Vegan Menu.” Of course, I had to check it out for myself.

As I was getting ready to order, however, I noticed that all of the “vegan” items featured ramen noodles. I asked the waiter what the noodles were made from since traditional ramen noodles contain egg. He said they did in fact contain egg. I told him they should change their menu to read “vegetarian” instead of “vegan,” as “vegan” refers to dishes that contain absolutely no animal-derived products.

While I understand that some people are still unfamiliar with the distinction between vegan and vegetarian, this innocent inaccuracy could pose a problem for a customer with an allergy, so I do hope they change the menu soon.

I then perused the rest of the menu and found two things I could order that were actually vegan: tofu salad or umeboshi onigiri (rice balls with pickled plum). As umeboshi is a bit too tart for my liking, I opted for the salad. I was hoping for more though!

I still want to commend Kouraku on trying to expand their offerings for vegetarians. I encourage any vegetarian to try it out some time as the restaurant offers a lot of different Japanese dishes and could be a good spot to go with a group of friends with various tastes and preferences. Plus, it’s open late!

The vegetarian ramen at My Ramen Bar. All photos by Sylvia Lopez.
The vegetarian ramen at My Ramen Bar.
All photos by Sylvia Lopez.
My Ramen Bar (formerly Manichi Ramen)
321¼ E. 1st Street

My Ramen Bar only offers one vegetarian meal on their menu, but man, did they get that item right! The vegetarian ramen (which turns out to be vegan when you don’t add an egg) has quickly become my favorite comfort food meal after a long day of work.

This hearty bowl of ramen costs $12 and is served in a creamy vegan-friendly soup that is savory with the right amount of saltiness. The noodles are made from spinach and have a slight green color to them, with a texture that is perfectly chewy. Topping off the bowl are crisp bean sprouts, green onions, and woodear mushrooms. The mushrooms add a unique texture to the dish, as they are slightly rubbery and pork-like—I did a double take the first time I ordered it!

My Ramen Bar was originally called Manichi Ramen. They recently transitioned to the new brand because they feel the name is easier to remember. I hope they keep this vegetarian ramen on their menu, because it’s one of my favorites!

You can take a real-life vegetarian tour of Little Tokyo on Sunday, August 7, when our intrepid volunteer Roxane Lewis leads Edible Adventures: Vegetarian Little Tokyo. Purchase your tickets here.

A Vegetarian’s Guide to Dining in Little Tokyo: The Scavenger Hunt Begins

Tofu Donburi from Teishokuya of Tokyo (TOT). All photos by Sylvia Lopez.
Tofu Donburi from Teishokuya of Tokyo (T.O.T.). All photos by Sylvia Lopez.


Working in Little Tokyo comes with plenty of perks, one being that it’s home to lots and lots of restaurants. As a vegetarian (vegan for the most part) however, I don’t get to eat at many of these places, since they tend to focus on classic Japanese dishes such as sushi and teriyaki. I have to be more aware of what I’m ordering, and so something as simple as lunch can turn into a scavenger hunt of sorts.

Luckily, once I did some exploring, I found there’s plenty to eat around here for those of us who are trying to follow an animal-friendly diet. Here are just a few of the places I’ve frequented lately.

Teishokuya of Tokyo (T.O.T.)
345 E. 2nd Street

T.O.T. does offer a good number of vegetarian options on their wide-ranging menu, so it’s a great Japanese restaurant for vegetarians and omnivores to enjoy together. I always end up ordering the same thing though, because it’s that good!

The Tofu Donburi is a hearty bowl of rice topped with tofu fried in a rice-flour based batter and seasoned with a savory and very mildly spicy sauce. A generous helping of sliced green onions adds a crisp and refreshing element to the dish. This dish is a great choice for vegans too. Pro tip: ask your server to leave out the complimentary miso soup, which is made with fish.

Café Dulce's Peanut Kale Salad.
Café Dulce’s Peanut Kale Salad.


Café Dulce
134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall

Café Dulce is the hip coffee place where many JANM staffers like to get fueled up. They offer a number of delicious pastries, sandwiches, and salads, with several vegetarian options. My favorite is the peanut kale salad. This is a light and fresh yet surprisingly filling green salad, with a hint of spice thanks to the inclusion of diced serrano peppers! Kale can be a tricky vegetable to work with raw, but Café Dulce dresses it just right; their peanut sauce tenderizes the kale so the texture isn’t tough at all. Pro tip: to make it vegan, ask them to hold the Parmigiano cheese.

A Falafel Street Cart Doner from Spitz.
A Falafel Street Cart Doner from Spitz.


371 E. 2nd Street

I didn’t pay much attention to Turkish street food specialists Spitz at first, since they describe themselves as the “home of the doner kebab.” My bad for assuming kebab always has to mean meat! Now that I’ve familiarized myself with their menu, I know better and can order plenty. They even state that anything on their menu can be made vegan or vegetarian.

My favorite thing to grab from Spitz is the Falafel Street Cart Doner. Is it weird to say it’s “meaty?” Because it is! The vegetables are fresh and have loads of flavor. When you order it vegan, they bring you a side of hummus to dip it in. I normally don’t like falafel, but these are cooked nicely—lightly fried and not too heavy. Pro tip: vegans (and others) should try their crispy garbanzos, an addicting alternative to standard French fries.

Nijiya Market's handy and reliable inari sushi to go.
Nijiya Market’s handy and reliable inari sushi to go.


Nijiya Market
124 Japanese Village Plaza Mall

Let’s say you’re in more of a rush, or tightening your wallet a bit. No problem—Nijiya Market is close by and there are plenty of quick bites for a vegetarian or vegan at this Japanese convenience store. Just make sure you read the labels! Many items that may seem vegetarian contain things like bonito or fish broth. It’s those hidden surprises that keep us vegetarians on our toes.

While Nijiya carries lots of goodies like mochi, rice crackers, seasoned seaweed, sesame balls, and other things for munching on, one of my favorite items to pick up is the inari sushi, found in the pre-packaged foods aisle. Inari sushi is very simple, just fried tofu pockets stuffed with seasoned rice, but it hits the spot when you need a quick, tasty snack. This, and the kombu (seasoned kelp) onigiri are longtime favorites of mine, having grown up near a Nijiya. It’s nice to know I can get some of my favorite childhood snacks during my lunch break at work.

Sylvia Lopez works as Education and Public Programs Assistant at JANM.