I love Little Tokyo. Like, l-o-v-e this little part of downtown Los Angeles. Mostly because there are so many great places to eat in the four acres of land it occupies! I work in the area occasionally and whenever I'm here it's like a dream come true but it also stresses me out--so many choices, so little time! Usually I have to make up my mind on what I want before I head out so that I don't walk around indecisively for fifteen minutes, only to feel overwhelmed and teetering dangerously close to a panic attack. That's happened a couple times before and when it does I just end up going to Nijiya Market to buy myself an already-made bento box (which is great too but sometimes the choices there get overwhelming as well, good god--so much good food, which one do I waaaaaaaaant).
This place that I'm sharing is neither new or hidden, it's pretty well-known and dining there can require a bit of patience since there's almost always a huge wait. If you've ever walked through the Japanese Village Plaza and are familiar with what shabu-shabu is, then you definitely know about Shabu-Shabu House.
And for those of you who are unfamiliar, shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish that's composed of thinly sliced beef and various vegetables that you cook in a pot yourself. I guess the easiest way to describe it is that it's a Japanese variation of hot pot that you cook yourself at your table. Like Korean BBQ but a soup version. There are different dipping sauces that come with your order (ponzu, sesame are the most common but I've been to some places that make additional sauces too) and you don't want to leave the beef in for longer than a few seconds since it'll overcook and then you're stuck with tough meat (and who wants that, ever?).
Personally, I'm not too big on shabu-shabu. I'm all about flavor and shabu-shabu is really bland to me. I mean, yeah, you can dress it up however way you like, I always put minced garlic and chili oil in the middle of the raw meat and roll it into a garlic-meat burrito before cooking it in the boiling water. But that's just it, the broth isn't even broth, it's just hot water! I prefer sukiyaki (good god, and you dip the cooked meat into a beaten raw egg – drooooool) and Taiwanese hot pot over shabu-shabu. However, I was craving the healthy, low-sodium, hot water hot pot so I made my way over to Shabu-Shabu House.
Photographs © Hannah R.J.A. Song / SUSPEND Magazine
I was kind of surprised to find that the usual lunch rush was...non-existent. As you can see from the images above, it was strangely quiet once I got there. Thinking that I was in luck, I walked up in that bitch like "Ayyyyyyyyy!"
Turns out that I was really lucky; getting rid of their shabu-shabu lunch special, they replaced it with beef curry, made from scratch. Now, I'm a huge fan of Japanese curry; I love the flavors and the consistency of it. I always buy the Vermont Curry packs and what I love most about those is that I can pretty much put in whatever ingredients I want. My favorite go-to ingredient is sweet potatoes; it adds a great touch of sweetness to the otherwise savory (and of course, spicy as hell for me) taste. I've actually been meaning to try Curry House, a restaurant known for their curry and placing a fried egg on their spaghetti (!!!) so Shabu-Shabu House's beef curry lunch special was a nice surprise for me.
Shabu-Shabu House started offering the beef curry instead of the shabu-shabu lunch special in January of 2015 due to the rise in prices for beef. Instead of raising the price for the lunch special, the owner decided to replace it with beef curry to keep the lunch menu at the same rate (the shabu-shabu lunch special was a little under $10). Bless his kind soul!
Photograph © Hannah R.J.A. Song / SUSPEND Magazine
So, I'm a saucy girl. My sauce + food ratio is a good 80-20; I love my salad drenched in dressing and I won't find my meal appealing if my pasta's not smothered in sauce or if there's not enough curry for all that rice you give me. Here at Shabu-Shabu House, they serve the rice and curry side-by-side which makes a huge difference than pouring the curry on top of the rice. I find that the rice absorbs the curry quicker than I can eat when it's poured on top and that goes against my smother-in-sauce code. Seeing them side-by-side made me do my fat-girl dance inside while I kept it chill on the outside. Anyway, I've never had Japanese curry that was made from scratch and totally fell in love with it. There's a deeper, richer taste that I haven't experienced from the curry packs and the beef, the same beef that's used to make the shabu-shabu slices, is very tender from being braised in curry. It packs so much flavor! There's also a hint of peppery spice that adds a nice kick to each bite.
I was advised to couple each bite with a bit of pickled cabbage and dude knew what he was talking about – the pickled cabbage added sweet and sour notes to the savory and spicy curry! Very good, I'm drooling as I type this (in true glutton form).
And although I'm a huge fan of having my own space and a quiet atmosphere while I'm eating, it made me sad to see that everyone opted to walk out once they found that the lunch menu changed. I mean, yeah, I get it. You walked in wanting to cook your beef in boiling hot water but can't you give your desires a little more flexibility? Especially when the owner is trying to be good to his customers by not increasing the cost of a meal just because the cost of ingredients went up for himself. I mean, my problem is that I'm too flexible, to the point of indecisiveness but y'all need to stop being so rigid – you miss out on a lot by not being open to the flow of gluttony.
Anyway, I always feel for an owner of an establishment when their business is hurting while he doesn't take the capitalist route. Hopefully whatever exposure this article brings to this will bring a little pick-up to Shabu-Shabu House!
So if you're in Little Tokyo and you find yourself wanting beef curry for lunch, head over to Shabu-Shabu House: I promise you won't be disappointed!
127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012