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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Gardena

There was a time when you could see why Gardena inspired the nickname “Berryland”. The city’s currency may have well been in the form of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries with as much land was dedicated to growing these crops. 

By the mid-1930s, berries were traded in for playing cards. The landscape shifted as cardrooms became more and more of a major income source for the South Bay city. Roughly six decades later, the city became a cautionary case study of sorts on the travails that can come with heavy reliance on the gambling industry. There remain clear traces of the city’s identity as a regional gambling hub in 2016. Hustler’s Casino and Lucky Lady Casino still beckon from their respective thoroughfares on the edge of the city’s eastern border. 

The gambling sector wasn’t the only trade shaping Gardena’s economic landscape. Warehouses and corporations took up swaths of the city over the past few decades, creating in a way a loose network of concrete encampments at the center. Even with surrounding residential homes and the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve at the southeastern corner, the city can leave travelers an overall industrial impression.

Japanese Americans were instrumental in the development of the modern Gardena we know today. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, residents of Asian ancestry make up 26.2 percent of the population, but the longstanding impact of the community and its transnational relationship with Japan adds more depth than the figure can indicate. Both Nissin and Marukai, large Japanese food corporations, had set up U.S. headquarters here. (Nissin has since left the city after a near 36 year-long stay.) Whether it’s an organic tofu factory or Hawaiian shaved ice emporium, the diversity of Japanese American culture is more prominent in Gardena than in many other cities in California.

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Sanuki No Sato

Open since 1989, Sanuki No Sato has preserved many of the traditions associated with Japanese restaurants. Being greeted loudly is normal (so get ready) and as you walk through the main dining room you will walk by traditional Japanese calligraphy and tables of Japanese-born immigrants (Issei) enjoying traditional cuisine with their grandchildren (Sansei). Servers wear Kimonos and walk in traditional Japanese footwear, taking quick steps when rushing from table to kitchen and then back with your mini cast iron pot of nabeyaki udon (noodle soup). A laminated one sheet menu features various ways you can order udon or soba (buckwheat noodle soup). But the kitchen is set up to turn out more than that. A fairly extensive list of options is on another menu, revealing on the last page elaborate tray sets served with a small udon, pickles, rice, chawanmushi (tea cup soup), and ice cream.  

Sanuki No Sato18206 S. Western Ave., (310) 324-9184

Sanuki No Sato
 

Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop

Hawaiian food is not difficult to get in Gardena, perhaps given the Japanese American connection to the archipelago state. Between its Loco Moco, fried Portuguese sausage and bacon fried rice — Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop arguably serves a better version of Island classics than most places in town. Housed inside the bowling alley, the coffee shop is equally as bustling at night as the bowling lanes. But what’s even more eye-catching than towering tempura dinner plates are the local crowds. During peak dinner hours there are as many takeout orders packed and waiting to be picked up as there are plates brought out to sitting customers.

Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop15707 S. Vermont Ave., (310) 324-1244

Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop

Photo: Courtesy of Christine Chiao

 

Spoon House

If you think a Japanese meal revolves around raw fish or ramen, you’re barely scratching the surface of foods that populate the spectrum. Spoon House has been making familiar Italian dishes with conventional Japanese and American accents for roughly thirty-years. Dishes like Tarako Spaghetti made with cod roe (fish eggs) or squid and Wakame (seaweed). You could also order Spaghetti with homemade salsa and shrimp; or mayo and crab meat; or avocado and cheese sauce.

Spoon House: 1601 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., (310) 538-0376

Spoon House


 

Josie’s Place

Open since 1952, Josie’s Place is one of the city’s oldest restaurants. Whether it’s the locations vintage Mexican American design or their renowned fried chicken taco known as “The Best Chicken Taco in Town”, you will walk away knowing what “Homemade Mexican Food” is all about. The atmosphere might be a little outdated and the food might seem a bit plain for those schooled in L.A.’s street taco vernacular. But a must have is the Vampiro Taco, a garlicky Baja-style taco bursting with al pastor (marinated pork) meat carved fresh off a rotating vertical spit.

Josie's Place16616 Normandie Ave., (310) 323-3113

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