Seafood donburi at Wakasaya, Los Angeles

The donburi is everyday cooking in Japan, a large bowl of rice topped with whatever suits your pleasure. Wakasaya is a Japanese chain with an ardent following among students and working folk for its fish and seafood donburi. In the last couple years it’s also opened a couple branches in LA’s ethnic Japanese neighborhoods, Little Tokyo and Sawtelle Boulevard (aka. Little Osaka in Andy-speak).

The most challenging part of Wakasaya is ordering. The first thing you encounter at the Sawtelle store is wall after wall of pictures of dozens and dozens of possible topping combinations. It all looks very intimidating, but it’s simpler once you know that the charge for each item depends on how much of the bowl it covers, kind of like when ordering multiple toppings on pizza.

I tried the trio of seared salmon, negi-toro (belly tuna with green onion) and ikura (salmon roe), all pretty basic but tasty for the price, with a side of miso soup. There’s a variety of sauces and condiments for dipping or pouring including donburi sauce (sweet soy-based sauce), spicy wasabi, and gochuchang (spicy Korean red pepper sauce).

Portions are, shall we say, Japanese, and some American appetites will find them skimpy. One way around this is to order a combo with noodles – ramen, soba or udon – as a main dish, plus a donburi side dish. Other side dishes include calamari, takoyaki (octopus dumplings), nishin soba (buckwheat noodles topped with herring) and fried salmon belly. 

The Sawtelle shop is in a mini-mall and the interior workmanlike.

One side note: many of the reviewers on other sites don’t really get the concept and complain that Wakasaya is not a standard sushi shop. But that’s not quite fair, kind of like going to a frozen yogurt store and griping that they don’t serve ice cream.