At LA’s RYLA, Witness Enthralling California Cooking with Japanese and Taiwanese Roots

RYLA's California cooking is rooted in Japanese and Taiwanese techniques.

After nearly a decade at popular South Bay restaurants Fishing With Dynamite, Manhattan Beach Post, and The Arthur J., chef Ray Hayashi is turning to his Japanese roots at his latest venture. RYLA, which Hayashi debuted in Hermosa Beach in February along with his wife Cynthia Hetlinger—previously a sous chef at upscale Hollywood spot Providence—celebrates seasonal California cooking with an emphasis on both their cultures.

“We wanted to create food that was inspired by both our respective heritages, my Japanese background with Cynthia’s Taiwanese roots, while also reflecting our combined experience over the last decade,” Hayashi says. ”Ultimately, we feel our food is our interpretation of California cuisine right now.” 

Various plates of food on a wooden table with a pink

At RYLA, expect dishes such as uni-topped milk bread and karaage. Photo credit: Dylan J. Ho

Every Wednesday, Hayashi and Hetlinger pick produce at their local farmers’ market for the following week of meals at their restaurant. During the summer, they’ve been particularly drawn to tomatoes and squash. These fresh ingredients get incorporated into dishes like the Japanese Hokkaido scallops, which are served in a tomato broth. RYLA’s ox tongue curry incorporates summer squash and pickled green strawberries for a tangy and slightly sweet dish.

Comfort food is central to Hayashi and Hetlinger’s ethos. Ingredients and foods that they grew up eating are incorporated into dishes such as the cloud-like Hokkaido milk bread that’s topped with tobiko or fish roe and a nori seaweed spread, and a deep-fried chicken dish that comes with a charred scallion and yuzu mayo. 

Hayashi’s favorite dish on the menu is the black truffle fried rice. “We took a very humble comfort food such as fried rice that I would eat several times a week and we paired it with black truffles, which is incredibly luxurious but also full of umami,” he says.

For dessert, the matcha tiramisu and the soy milk pudding served with strawberry shiso sorbet are among the house favorites.

Four cocktails on a wooden surface

RYLA has reimagined classic cocktails with a focus on Asian ingredients. Photo credit: Dylan J. Ho.

For the cocktail menu, Hayashi and Hetlinger focused on classics, but have reinterpreted them with Asian ingredients. The penicillin, which typically includes whisky, ginger, honey syrup and lime juice has been reimagined as grandma’s cigarettes, a drink featuring single malt scotch, ginger liqueur, honey and bancha, a type of green tea. “The bancha tea leaves come from the same tea shop in Kyoto where my family in Japan still shops at to this day,” Hayashi says. 

For a drink with a kick, opt for the Sichuan opera, which has peppercorn-infused mezcal, falernum, and grenadine among other ingredients. A selection of sake, Japanese whiskies, craft beers, and California and French wines are also available. 

The inside of the restaurant Ryla

Ryla seats 112 people across a 3,000-square-foot space. Photo credit: Won Ho Frank Lee

RYLA is just steps away from the Pacific Ocean, in the heart of a vibrant coastal community. “Hermosa Beach is known for its lively bar scene on the pier, so we were excited and nervous when we wanted to create a chef-driven concept here, but the community response has been truly wonderful,” Hayashi says.

The restaurant blends modern Japanese design elements with Mid-Century architecture, all envisioned by design team Bells & Whistles. A geometric Maneki-neko–a popular Japanese cat figurine believed to bring good luck–greets guests at the entrance, and when they leave, there’s a sign above the door in Japanese characters that reads “Ookini” which means “thank you” in the Kyoto dialect. Dark wood along with teal and pops of orange are the dominant colors around the restaurant. A dining room in the back has a wallpaper depicting a serene marsh landscape with cranes, reminiscent of traditional Japanese screen art. “We really wanted it to be a fun ambience, so we kept it dark and moody,” Hayashi says.

The 3,000 square-foot restaurant seats 112 people, including space at a full bar and a small outdoor patio. “We’re located in a California beach town, so we like to have fun out here and try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Hayashi says.

RYLA is open 5 pm to 10 pm Sunday to Wednesday, and 5 pm 10:30 pm Thursday to Saturday. 

Kristin Braswell is a journalist and founder of CrushGlobal Travel, a company that customizes travel guides and authentic experiences around the world.