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Nikkei Chronicles #6: Itadakimasu 2!: Another Taste of Nikkei Culture

Restaurant Memory

Restaurant entrance

My favorite restaurant in Little Tokyo is called Suehiro’s. It is a small Japanese restaurant on First Street between San Pedro and Alameda. It used to resemble a little mom and pop restaurant, but was recently remodeled to keep up with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. It is now more elegant and even has a wine bar, but it still serves the same comfortable, delicious food.

Suehiro’s chicken sukiyaki with a shiitake mushroom in the middle.

I like the chicken sukiyaki with its hearty broth and steaming noodles. I always search for the chewy shiitake mushroom hidden among the vegetables. The food is very simple: crunchy shrimp tempura, salty fish, juicy gyoza, or tasty sushi.

One can sit in a comfortable booth (if available) or at tiny, crowded tables in the middle if all booths are filled. There is also the counter for solo eaters. The walls used to be lined with sketches on paper napkins that were hung throughout the restaurant and even down the hall on the way to the restroom. Now that the restaurant has been remodeled, all the napkins are gone. I miss the offbeat atmosphere they created. Some of the drawings were quite professional, while others were just doodles.

A long time ago there was an old hotel in Little Tokyo that had a string of tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants at the street level. These little mom and pop establishments were open quite late and served delicious but inexpensive food. Eventually, the hotel was torn down to make way for a parking lot. Now that parking lot has been torn down for some new luxury residences.

I’m not sure if Suehiro’s was one of those little restaurants, but I feel nostalgia for those long gone restaurants. I remember the trips I made to them with my husband Glenn, before our son was born. When our son, Kenzo, was little, we would take him to Suehiro’s at its First Street location. After Glenn passed away, Kenzo and I would go.

Sometimes it was just the two of us when Kenzo was small. Then it would often include his friends or their parents when he was a little older. We would also dine with family, friends, or out of town guests. Of course, once my son reached high school, he would go there with his friends minus mom. Now that he is in college, he doesn’t mind me being there again.

Until recently, there were always a lot of Japanese at Suehiro’s, a mixture of families, couples, young or old people. However, the crowd has changed a lot. Now I avoid going too late to Suehiro’s because the late night crowd is often rowdy and drinks a lot. It doesn’t feel like a mom and pop comfortable place when that happens. Gentrification is not always a good thing.

But going for an early dinner or even for lunch, there is still a comfortable vibe. The food is still delicious and inexpensive. The waiters or waitresses are friendly. Now that my son is grown and not home as often, he sometimes does the driving. We park a block away where the parking is only one dollar for each of the first two hours. Kenzo usually orders both a main dish and a couple of side orders, since he eats a lot. I like to end our meal with a dish of green tea ice cream.

Suehiro’s is in the heart of historic Little Tokyo. Many people in the community are fighting to save this neighborhood. While gentrification seems to be inevitable, I hope that the little community businesses and restaurants will be able to survive for the next generation.

 

© 2017 Edna Horiuchi

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food little tokyo restaurant suehiro

About this series

In response to popular demand, we are bringing back Nikkei Chronicles’ most popular and beloved theme: food! Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture will revisit the role of food in Nikkei culture, the subject of the first Nikkei Chronicles in 2012.

We invite you to share your personal stories and essays, memoirs, academic papers, restaurant reviews, and other prose works that share your perspectives, experiences, and/or research on food.

How does the food you eat express your identity? How does food help to connect your community and bring people together? What kinds of recipes have been passed down from generation to generation in your family?

Submissions will be accepted from May 1 until September 30, 2017, at 6 p.m. PDT.

All stories that meet the project guidelines and criteria will be published in the Discover Nikkei Journal on a rolling basis as part of the Itadakimasu 2 series.

For more information, visit 5dn.org/itadakimasu2.


Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series:

#1: ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture 
#2: Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~ 
#3: Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João? 
#4: Nikkei Family: Memories, Traditions, and Values 
#5: Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture