Sonoko Sakai in the “soba room” of her studio in Highland Park | |Philip Cheung; Assistant: Kali Vineburg

Local Food Scene Gains Wide Acclaim

2020 Editions Front Page More News Picks September

By Mary Lynch

Chefs, restaurants owners and other culinary artists from NELA have recently garnered major media attention. Here’s a sample:

Sonoko Sakai, who lives and works in Highland Park, has been named one of the “15 Creative Women for Our Time” by T: The New York Times Style magazine for her groundbreaking cookbooks and masterful classes on Japanese cooking.

For now, classes are via webinars; upcoming classes include “Grand Gyoza Extravaganza” and “Tonkotsu Ramen Deep Dive.” Among many fascinating details about Sakai’s life and work, the Times noted that her 1920’s Spanish style home in Highland Park is a “culinary laboratory – brimming with flour sacks, fermentation vats and spice jars.”

Ichijiku, a sushi bar in Highland Park, got a rave from, an international guide for where to eat around the world.

The affordable, fresh fish at Ichijiku is “done so well that even the sushi snobs in your life will walk away impressed,” said one restaurant critic. | Photo: Ichijiku

Sure, Ichijiku, which opened its doors in August, is takeout only for now with reserved spots out front for pick up and distancing protocols in force. But in these pandemic times, “it feels downright euphoric” to discover “a casual sushi spot with affordable, fresh fish that tastes great,” the critic wrote. The vegan rolls are “ingenious” and the fish is “done so well that even the sushi snobs in your life will walk away impressed.”

VegOut Magazine, a vegan media company with city guides across the country, recently featured the Little Barn Coffee House, a new café in Glassell Park, heaping praise on its “mouth-watering vegan sips and eats” like Oat Horchata Cold Brew and Vegan Queso con Rajas Tamales.

Little Barn Coffee House, 3329 Division Street in Glassell Park | Photo courtesy of Little Barn Coffee

Owners Seleste Diaz and Joana Rubio, women of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community, said that Little Barn’s mission is “to provide to all communities in which no one will be discriminated against.” As for opening a café during a pandemic, Diaz and Rubio talked about their hard work to take precautions to keep family and friends safe, nourished and caffeinated.

Two restaurants in Northeast Los Angeles have made it into the “Ultimate Restaurant Delivery and Takeout Guide” published recently by the L.A. Times.

Wax Paper, in Elysian Valley serves weekly specials, veggie sandwiches named after NPR hosts and an array of surprising and satisfying sides, desserts and beverages.  As they say these are “sandwiches with a twist that brings you back.

Vegetarian sandwiches at Wax Paper in Elysian Valley are named after hosts of programs on NPR. | Photo: Wax Paper

Hippo in Highland Park, which earned a spot on the Times’ list of the 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. in 2019, gets raves for its pasta dishes, but there are also meat and fish entrees on the menu, like Barbecued Pork Country Rib and Cedar Smoked Ocean Trout, along with a variety of sides, salads and desserts.

Hippo in Highland Park has mastered takeout and delivery | Photo by T.A. Hendrickson