One of my favorite qualities of Japanese food is the portion size. Few other cuisines have mastered the art of the bite. Every time I enter Nijiya Market in Japantown and see all the beautiful little bento boxes and effortfully prepared packages, I’m overcome with a childish elation that provokes me into walking out with three lunches instead of one. But just up the street, there is a popular ramen spot that I’ll frequent for a late breakfast that knows exactly what I’m talking about.
On Post Street, between Webster and Laguna, Waruku is a Japantown staple that serves ramen and other Japanese comfort food. The yawning space and high ceilings make the dining room look larger than it actually is, darkened by deep brown wooden panels and smoky tile floors. It’s quiet and cozy here in a modest way that a heatmap, long-lined ramen spot just couldn’t accomplish. Rice dishes and soups clutter the menu, with garlicky, spicy, and vegetarian options alike. But between the lunch rushes and post movie noodle dates, I visit Waruku for a quick Asahi and a $5-$8 snack.
Waruku’s small plates include popular, shareable finger foods like edamame and takoyaki, gyoza and chicken karaage, all lovely choices, but none really constitute a meal. Scroll down the menu to find some of these appetizers have been transformed into the perfect little donburi rice bowls.
For only $6, the Kakuni Don is a powerful and tasty little bowl of food. The softball-sized scoop of white rice is sticky but wonderfully airy. Smoky braised pork belly glistens as it cools atop a bed of pillowy starch. The hunks of crispy meat are halved by little juicy fat caps, beaded with porky sweat. Cuddled up next to the tender, buttery meat is half a soft-boiled soy egg. Vibrant, viscous yolk runs around the bowl like slowly flowing lava, coating everything in its path with an eggy glaze. Sprinkled on the bacon and eggs are ribbons of nori, toasted sesame seeds, and rings of bright scallion. The accoutrement of garnishes is the perfect blend of earthy umami notes to incorporate throughout the rice bowl and bring all the ingredients together. Wash it all down with a crisp Japanese lager and you’re ready for whatever else the weekend has in store.