An award-winning L.A. restaurant gets more than a third of its produce from an unlikely place—the owners’ tiny front yard
1 of 10Amy Dickerson
Room for Veggies
When Niki Nakayama was house-hunting in Greater Los Angeles, she had one rule: “If there wasn’t room for a vegetable garden, it wasn’t right,” says the chef and co-owner, along with her wife and sous chef Carole Iida-Nakayama, of the wildly popular restaurant N/Naka. At the heart of their modern take on kaiseki—a traditional Japanese cuisine involving one- or two-bite courses and impeccable plating—are seasonal ingredients. And what could be fresher than food grown in the couple’s own yard?
Eventually they landed on a mid century modern home in Culver City. The back quickly became a playground for their three dogs, but they saw potential in a sunny, 700-square-foot front yard overgrown with hedges and patchy grass. Enter Dan Allen of L.A.- and Oakland-based urban-agriculture design firm Farmscape, who replaced the lawn and ornamental plants with raised beds and fruit trees.
Follow these tips to capture the magic of this chef’s garden, and see their favorite edibles to grow.
2 of 10Amy Dickerson
Tip: Greener Fences
A carefully pruned “citrus fence” acts as a screen between the garden and the street, without giving up crop space to fences or ornamental hedges.
3 of 10Amy Dickerson
Tip: An Arm’s Reach
For easy harvest, ensure beds are no more than 4 feet wide for arm’s-reach access to the center of the plot.
4 of 10Amy Dickerson
Tip: A Little Messy
Don’t force the garden to be neat and tidy, within reason, let plants like kabocha squash run a little wild.
5 of 10Amy Dickerson
Grow: Japanese Cucumber
Japanese cucumber ‘Tasty Queen’ thrives on a trellis and has fewer seeds than traditional varieties.
6 of 10Amy Dickerson
Grow: Shishito Peppers
“The best representation of shishito peppers are ones you grow at home,” says Nakayama. “They’re sweeter with more tender skin.”
7 of 10Amy Dickerson
“Homegrown tomato flavor is incomparable,” says Iida-Nakayama. “Plus, all the juices!”
8 of 10Amy Dickerson
“Microgreens are really easy,” says Iida-Nakayama. Her favorite is ‘Rambo’ radish.
9 of 10Amy Dickerson
Grow: Passion Fruit
Fully ripe when purple, fast-growing ‘Frederick’ passion fruit is prolific and attractive.
10 of 10Amy Dickerson
Eggplants struggle in the area’s dry climate, except ‘Millionaire’ with its long, slender fruit.