Hollywood loves a remake. For good reason - those films make more money in three days than you’ll make in a lifetime, and that includes the money you saved with all your Bed Bath & Beyond Coupons. But the key to a great remake isn’t to give us a movie we already know - it’s to transform an old movie into something entirely new. The same goes for restaurants.
Take Shojin, the vegan sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo. This place works because their sushi isn’t trying to trick you into thinking it’s fish, and the space isn’t trying to imitate what you might expect from a traditional sushi restaurant.
The whole Shojin experience starts the moment you make a reservation. Instead of calling or hitting a button on an app, you fill out a long form on their website that feels like you’re applying for a passport. Once you arrive at the third-floor space in a massive mall in Little Tokyo, you’ll find the windows are tinted like it’s some sort of nightclub, and the door is just a heavy curtain that might be one those lead vests you wear for x-rays at the dentist.
But Shojin is far from a nightclub, a dentist’s office, or even a sushi bar. There are wrought-iron chandeliers, black leather chairs, and jazz covers of Cheap Trick playing over the loudspeaker. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you were in some snoozy dinner spot on Wilshire where people go to eat trout at 5:45pm. But then you open the menu, and see that’s not at all what’s happening here.
The first thing any meat-eater wants to know about a vegan restaurant is whether they should even go there. Meat-eaters should go to Shojin - but not because the food is mind-blowingly good (it’s not) or because it somehow tastes like raw fish (it doesn’t). You should come here to appreciate what legitimately inventive vegan food looks and tastes like.
Shojin’s standouts include tempura zucchini blossoms stuffed with pumpkin, apricot, and tomato and a spicy baked “scallop” roll topped with mushrooms and onions that’s blowtorched at your table. Those dishes are more successful than others (skip the watery ramen), but when flavors are at their most intense (the rolls) and presentations at their most elaborate (also the rolls), this is the kind of unique dining situation that anyone will enjoy. Not because you’re eating vegan sushi - but because you’re eating Shojin.
Deep fried and stuffed with brown rice, pumpkin seed, apricot, and tomato sauce, this dish is our favorite of the appetizers. It’s rich and slightly sweet from the apricot, and the polenta sauce at the bottom is fairly addictive.
We like the “tuna” part of this (which is really just spicy tofu), but the fried brown rice crackers are so dense and chewy that you can’t appreciate how good the tofu is. Also, it’s extremely filling.
We have no idea if these shito leaf gyozas stuffed with vegetables are any healthier than regular gyozas, but we don’t care. We’ll eat way too many of them and so will you.
The spicy tofu and avocado roll at the bottom of this is fine, but it’s the heaping pile of mushrooms and onions in dynamite sauce on top that make this our favorite of the specialty rolls. Plus, they blow torch it at the table, which still gets us going.
Easily the simplest of the rolls, the Dynamite stands out because of the spicy mayo and spicy beet sauce on top. It’s a good complement to the heavier baked scallop roll.
This is the only real miss at Shojin for us. The thin shirataki noodles are fine, but the broth is watery, not at all spicy, and sort of tastes like flat miso soup. Feel free to skip
Shojin takes dessert pretty seriously, and our favorite is the green tea cake. The cake itself is light and fluffy, but the real star is the scoop of vanilla coconut ice cream on the side. Good luck trying to split that with your date.