DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Located inside the Little Tokyo Galleria Market is Tsurumaru Udon Honpo, a casual dining spot where you’ll find authentic Japanese cuisine at affordable prices. 

The cafeteria-style restaurant, which opened last February, is a franchise straight out of Japan. Downtown residents are lucky: Los Angeles is home to the only Tsurumaru Udon Honpo outside of its home country. You might miss it when you walk through the galleria — the larger name on its sign is in Japanese. But it’s a place you won’t want to overlook if you’re an Asian food aficionado. 

Though the menu at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo is small by most standards — less than 15 items — the cuisine will leave a lasting impression. The restaurant is known for its udon noodles, which are thick, chewy and made from wheat flour. They’re served hot or cold in a bonito (fish) broth with scallions, which means they’re perfect for either a cold winter night or a hot summer day.

The style of the udon noodles served by Tsurumaru Udon Honpo originated in Osaka, Japan, where the restaurant also got its start. Currently, there are more than 50 franchises in the home country. The udon noodles are made fresh daily, unlike some other Japanese eateries, which serve the pre-packaged version. 

The most popular variation of the dish comes with seasoned beef. There is also a “bukkake” udon (with ginger, grated radish and dried bonito), a “wakame” udon (with seaweed), and a “kitsune” udon (with deep-fried tofu). Sizes come in regular to extra large, and prices start at $4. Soda, Japanese soft drinks, and beer and wine are also served. At this restaurant, you can get away with spending less than $10 on your meal and still be satisfied.

As a side dish, try the generous plate of mixed vegetable tempura, which is $2 per piece. For $1, you can order fish cake tempura, or try the shrimp tempura for $2.50. Sushi lovers will appreciate the musubis, which are individual rice balls wrapped in seaweed and made with salmon ($2), plum ($2.50) or kelp ($2). 

At Tsurumaru Udon Honpo, you order by the number of the dish, pay, and pick up your food at the counter when it is ready. The open kitchen allows you to watch while your meal is prepared. It’s a great spot to bring colleagues during lunch for a quick, light, satisfying, meal. 

At 333 S. Alameda #301, (213) 625-0441. Open Mon.-Thurs. and Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Orders close 30 minutes prior to closing. Validated parking.

Cuisine: Japanese 

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014