While Los Angeles could never compete with Japan in terms of its ramen and soba (buckwheat noodle) offerings, a few eateries throughout the Southland come fairly close to satisfying my noodle cravings. Picking just five favorites proved to be a difficult — but delicious — task, but I hope the places I’ve listed will bring you and your clients a bit of gastronomic gratification on your next visit to the City of Angels.
A disclaimer: You may notice that most of the places I’ve listed are located in Los Angeles’ South Bay region, which is located about 20 miles south of downtown L.A. This is because the South Bay, especially in the cities of Torrance (my hometown) and Gardena, is home to a number of authentic and highly regarded Japanese restaurants. Many of these mom ‘n’ pop joints have gained a loyal following with local Japanese expats, so don’t be surprised to hear a symphony of ardent slurpers once you set foot inside. (In Japan, you’re expected to slurp loudly when consuming your noodles).
Daikokuya (Downtown L.A., Monterey Park, Hacienda Heights, Costa Mesa)
Daikokuya’s koterri broth is rich and delicious.
// © Deanna Ting 2010
The richness of Daikokuya’s thick koterri (pork belly-based) broth is what attracts its cult following of faithful customers, many of whom are willing to wait an hour or more for a seat inside the tiny Little Tokyo establishment. www.daikoku-ten.com
Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi
The tonkotsu broth at Hakata is equally satisfying. // © Deanna Ting 2010
(Gardena, Fountain Valley, Monterey Park, Rosemead)
Hakata-style ramen is known for its thick tonkotsu broth made from pork bones, and it’s always a treat to watch the chef prepare each order according to each diner’s exacting preferences — broth flavor (strong, medium, light), oil amounts (generous, regular, light) and noodle firmness (hard, regular, soft). If you’re in the mood for side items, I’d suggest ordering a side of spam musubi (grilled spam and rice wrapped in seaweed) or the agedashi (deep-fried) tofu.www.shinsengumigroup.com
Ichimiann (Torrance – Two locations)
Ichimiann serves its hot soba noodles with
a side of rice. // © Deanna Ting 2010
This is where I go when I want a satisfying serving of fresh, handmade soba noodles. On a recent trip to Kyoto, Japan, I saw just how difficult it is to make soba — it’s a very demanding art form in and of itself that requires plenty of patience, strength and precision. Here at Ichimiann, that art is served up daily. I adore ordering a hot bowl of soba noodles with fried mochi (pounded rice cake) in the wintertime and, in warmer climes, I prefer to devour cold soba noodles, dipped lightly into soy sauce. www.ichimiann.com
Ramen California’s signature dish — the Californian — features more than 30 different veggies in a homemade chicken broth. // © Deanna Ting 2010
I love this restaurant simply because it dares to offer ramen dishes that are totally unique and one-of-a-kind. Where else can you find ramen served with Reggiano cheese tofu? Or fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes? Or more than 30 different varieties of vegetables from the local farmers’ market? Ramen purists might consider this place to be an abomination, but I think it’s truly revelatory in its use of fresh, local and unconventional ingredients.www.ramencalifornia.net
Santouka (Torrance, West L.A., Costa Mesa)
My favorite ramen to order at Santouka comes
with a plate of savory pork cheeks.
// © Deanna Ting 2010
I know that while some diners harbor a deep-seated distrust of food courts, this ramen shop will have them rethinking their opinions. Santouka, a popular ramen chain found throughout Japan, can also be found here in Southern California at three different Mitsuwa Marketplaces. Don’t let the food court ambience fool you — Santouka is serious about its ramen. In fact, I think it comes closest to resembling the taste and flavor of my favorite ramen from Japan.www.mitsuwa.com/tenant/santouka/eindex.php
This unassuming little ramen shop serves up a hearty and delicious bowl of ramen with one of my favorite additions — a soft-cooked egg that just melts into the broth. It also specializes in takoyaki (Japanese batter dumplings).
When I feel more like eating udon (thicker wheat-flour) noodles than soba or ramen, I always head straight to Kotohira, where chefs make their own udon daily. Served in a steaming bowl of light dashi (fish-stock) broth, these noodles are one of my all-time favorite comfort foods.
If you like ramen with a bit of spice, Shisen Ramen is right up your alley. This Szechwan-influenced ramen shop is heavy on the spices, ensuring that its rich and flavorful broth delivers a true kick along with its chewy and savory ramen noodles.