By Jessica Men
Photo: Six Taste
It’s early October, which means that by now, you’ve probably made your way around EVK enough times to make a salad with your eyes closed or made enough late-night Subway runs to have the guy behind the counter greet you by name.
Needless to say, you’re wondering what else can be brought to the table – literally.
USC alumnus Jeffrey Okita and student Alex Tao have discovered the answer to ending dining hall monotony while exploring the tastes of another culture at the same time.
Okita and Tao – two self-proclaimed “everyday guys who love great food” – run Six Taste, a company that hosts culinary tours throughout Little Tokyo, a community rich in history and nestled in the heart of downtown Los Angeles (and only 10 minutes from the USC campus).
The idea for Six Taste came about when Okita’s parents stopped in Philadelphia to visit his sister and decided to entertain a culinary tour.
“After that, they mentioned to me that I should look for food tours in Los Angeles,” said Okita. “That’s when I saw that there was a huge opportunity to start up a food tour company in Los Angeles. Because Los Angeles is really spread out, we often are tourists in our own city.”
And for those L.A. suburban residents who have ever been condescendingly asked why you’re taking pictures of the sights downtown “when you live here anyway” (guilty), this is especially true.
“By the end of our tours, we want our guests to feel comfortable coming back to the area again and again and [exploring] the neighborhood through its food,” said Okita.
Participating restaurants include confectionary shop Fugetsu-Do, restaurant and karaoke bar Oiwake, Japanese ice cream parlor Mikawaya Mochi, Chado Tea Room, contemporary restaurant Spitz, Mitsuru Café, and Yamazaki Bakery.
“The main purpose of each of these stops is to add to the story that is Little Tokyo,” said Okita. “Little Tokyo’s history has seen several changes, and we wanted to feature places that shed it in a different light.”
Six Taste patrons, who can sign up to take the four-stop Epicurious Tour or the longer, seven-stop Gastronaut Tour, can mingle with one another while sampling food from the various establishments.
For the epicurious, there is herbal tea and scones to start, and then a four-course sampling and mochi dessert, all topped off with sweet potato fries and sangria at Spitz. The gastronauts get all that, as well as additional goodies from Yamazaki and Mitsuru Café, along with an eco-friendly Six Taste bag.
Eating, though a main focus of Six Taste, isn’t all there is. At each destination in the tour, patrons also get the opportunity to hear the owners and cooks share stories about the rich history of the location.
“These owners are passionate about what they do and the community in which they live,” said Okita. “Our guests love the fact that the owners are taking time out of their busy day to talk to the group.”
Six Taste has become a rising business since its inception in May 2009, with tours sometimes filling up weeks ahead of time. Each tour signs only eight to 16 individuals. Guides prefer smaller groups to ensure a more intimate experience.
Okita and Tao are planning on eventually branching out of Little Tokyo and spotlighting other cultures.
“We are looking to open up a new tour in a new location in the next month,” said Okita. “We have gotten requests to do tours in Olvera Street, Chinatown, Little Ethiopia, downtown, Beverly Hills, and many more.”
For now, Six Taste runs one tour a day on Saturday and Sunday: the Epicurious at $25 per person and the Gastronaut at $55 per person.
According to Okita, Six Taste tours are just one of many options to explore L.A.’s culinary culture.
“Go out as much as you have time [to] and as much as you can afford,” said Okita. “There are cheap, quality eats all around Los Angeles if you do a little bit of research. Get out into the city and explore!”
Can’t make it all the way to Little Tokyo but dying to try something new? Okita leaves his fellow Trojans with a recommendation and some advice: “Around campus, Bacaro L.A. on Hoover and Union is a great little spot … Don’t be afraid of L.A.’s public transportation!”