Always Good Surprises at the Lazy Ox Canteen, Little Tokyo

by Jessica on January 11, 2011

Kid Hit Menu Items: Despite being yet another adjective-animal named place, the Lazy Ox Canteen in Little Tokyo isn’t a kid’s restaurant. It’s a grown-up, fun local experimental gastropub (for lack of better term), where inventive cooking and bold flavors thrive in a setting that feels distinctively L.A. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cross it off your family-friendly restaurant list. No, that would be a big mistake. The baby ate EVERYTHING I ordered at lunch last week, and I wasn’t even picking dishes with him in mind. Did I actually think he’d have any interest in battered and fried boquerones with honey drizzle? Or keep grabbing farro bits combined with wild mushrooms? This kid is ready for more flavor, clearly! (We went back over the weekend for a grown-up double-date that was also a ridiculously belated wedding gift to friends.) The menu does offer grilled cheese with heirloom tomato and pickled red onion, and the Lazy Ox is open for weekend brunch.

It’s worth suggesting a meal here just to see kids laugh and smile at the name. This point of reference also made seeing real oxen sitting around Underwood Family Farms all the more exciting.

Adult Perks: Lazy Ox has a long craft beer list, with a bunch of craft brews on tap, and a ranging wine list that’s worth exploring. Or chose a specialty soda, such as Mexican Coke and Bubble Up. I’ve done meals here with drink and some stone cold sober, and both are perfectly lovely. Conservative eaters will be thrilled with the stellar juicy Lazy Ox burger with dill fries, which my husband orders no matter what ($14). Don’t miss the dashi marinated yellowtail with avocado and tonburi ($15) served with a split cube of crisp hash browns. (The latter component was a big hit with the little one, BTW.) This isn’t just a cliché California fusion dish. It’s a sad moment when the tender cubes of sweet fish combined with gently tangy flavors, creamy avocado, and bit of crunch from tonburi seeds and pomegranate is gone. By that point you’ve probably fought over the hash brown wedges if you’re sharing this dish that really sings.


Pros:
It’s across the street from our pediatrician’s office! So needless to say, we are on San Pedro Street often. Outdoor seating is better suited for families, even if it feels like a gated-off desert island set on a bizarre stretch of sidewalk with inconsistent street life, and across from one of Isamu Noguchi‘s less impressive endeavors. (Or maybe the space is poorly used.)

Cons: Tables inside are very tightly packed, and a lot of the seating involves taller chairs at the bar or at raised tables. Dinner is always full, reservations should be made well in advance, and lunch has become super popular, too. So time visits carefully or plan to sit outside. Being located roughly where Little Tokyo and the Toy District overlap — and not far from Skid Row — makes for some interesting situations.

Changing Station: No

High Chairs: Yes

Parking and Access: Metered street parking or paid lot next door.

Other Tidbits: Since it opened about a year ago, crowd consensus is that chef Josef Centeno is doing his finest work here at the ground floor of the mixed-use Sakura Crossing building. And even though the menu (both printed and blackboard) might seem to veer in too many directions sometimes, there is an upside to this wide range. Just keep ordering, and everyone is bound to find something he or she loves. And if not, well, that’s just their problem, and it means more, say, astonishingly delicious lamb belly or roasted winter squashwith French feta, collard greens & smoked ham hock for everyone else. (Here’s my post about the restaurant in its early days.) Even if you think your stomach and palate can’t take any more adventure, you’re doing yourself a gross injustice if you skip the creamy rice pudding. Or trying cooking it at home. Four Barrel coffee and Lamill teas can help with the post-meal recovery process.

UPDATE: Chef Centeno is no longer at Lazy Ox. We’ve followed him to Baco Mercat and Bar Ama.

LAZY OX CANTEEN


241 S. San Pedro Street, Little Tokyo
(213) 626-5299
Cuisine
: Gastropub/Eclectic
Price: $$
Hours: Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Sunday – Wednesday, 5 – 11 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday, 5 p.m. – midnight

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