Rice balls made with mystical rice
Rice balls made with mystical ...

Rice balls made with mystical ...

Rice balls made with mystical ...

Rice balls made with mystical ...

Rice balls made with mystical ...

By Keiko Fukuda

Melrose is a street of Los Angeles, where trendy LA people gather, and so do tourists from all over the world to shop. “Kawaba Rice Ball”, a Japanese delicatessen mainly featuring rice balls, is located across from the popular café, “Blue Jam” on this popular street.

The name Kawaba derives from the Kawaba Village of the Toné district of Gunma prefecture. This place opened 2 years ago with a hope of spreading delicious rice balls in the United States that are made with the mystical Koshi-hikari grade rice cultivated in the Kawaba Village called “Yuki-Hotaka” by importing it from Japan. I understood this prospect better when I found out that their operation base is at the Kawaba Resort, a large-scale ski resort in Kawaba Village.

The store manager, Mika, has been in the restaurant industry for 25 years. She came to the United States after building her career as a French chef in various notable hotels and restaurants in Japan, and worked both as a chef and a manager at Japanese, French, and organic cafés in the Los Angeles area. She took a break from her career for a while due to a traffic accident she had until she heard about Kawaba Rice Ball’s newly wanted manager position, and was hired in October of 2016. She says that she is currently recreating the menu little by little.

“I would like to use more organic ingredients for this place because I am from the organic café culture. I try to create a menu that is healthy and delicious. For example, the noodles used for our special Yakisoba dish are Konnyaku, which is completely gluten-free.

Their signature lunch combination-A comes with 2 rice balls. The rice is “Yuki-Hotaka”, the nori is custom-made, the side edamame and salad are organic, the karaage chicken is cage-free, and the miso soup is made from true shiitake mushroom dashi with organic miso. I started with the rice balls, which I could taste a genuine hand-made quality. They made me feel safe and nostalgic. The umeboshi was mildly sour. The quality is definitely satisfying to rice ball connoisseur Japanese, but I was surprised to find out that 70% of their customers are non-Asian Americans. A wide variety of Japanese foods starting with sushi, tempura, and sukiyaki followed by yakitori and ramen have been sweeping through America, and now rice balls, which is like the soul food to Japanese people, are enjoyed by Americans.

The aforementioned lunch combo-A with ample volume is $15. There are 16 kinds of a-la-carte rice balls. If you order 2 rice balls with a side and a drink for lunch, it would cost you around 12 or 13 dollars. The drinks such as lemonade also hand-made with real fruits.

I asked Mika-san about the prospects for the next few years. She said, “I would like this place to become known as a friendly and well-liked restaurant. Many of our regular customers are local, but I would also like tourists from Japan who visit Melrose street to taste rice balls here so they can take a break and feel relieved from eating American food all the time. I have ordered a larger Noren hanging sign so people can notice us more easily.”

Next, Mr. Nobutaka Moriguchi of Kawaba Resort USA, the CEO of this restaurant said, “Our mission is to spread “Yuki-Hotaka”, the best quality brand rice made with Kawaba’s melted snow. We are planning to open the second one possibly in San Francisco if in California, or maybe in Chicago, or in New York. Also as nearby candidates, there are Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Manhattan Beach.

The production of “Yuki-Hotaka” rice is limited, so the number of additional restaurants should be limited to only 3 or 4.

Because of the inability for a large future development, you can probably say that such rice balls made of mystical rice could become even more precious in value.











Kawaba Rice Ball
7368 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90046
7 Days Open