When it opened a scant three years ago, Tokyo import Jinya served the best ramen Los Angeles had ever seen: big, earthen bowls of pork-bone ramen, long, springy noodles soaking up just enough broth to become almost liquid themselves yet retaining a wheaty resilience of their own. Best of all was an intense Tokyo-style ramen, whose pork broth had been fortified with industrial quantities of dashi and dried fish, a broth umami-rich enough to make your tongue feel as if it had just run a half-marathon inside your head. Have other ramen shops caught up to Jinya, which now has branches on Sawtelle and on the Miracle Mile among other places? Probably so. But you wouldn't know it by the waits on a Saturday night.
11239 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 980-3977, and multiple locations, jinya-ramenbar.com.
Jammed into a corner of the Pacific Square shopping complex in Gardena, Mottainai is probably best known for its odd add-ins: balls of garlicky pork fat or spicy pork fat that you stir into the broth like a Cold Stone Creamery jock pounding pulverized Heath bars into ice cream. A bowl of shoyu ramen with a "Red Bomb" ( a ball of pork fat dosed with chiles) stirred in tastes more or less like a red bomb. Still, the chewy consistency of the noodles is great. And when you've got to have a bowl of their slightly caramelized miso ramen with corn, nothing else will do.
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (310) 538-3233.
I must admit, my favorite ramen at Shin-Sen-Gumi is something not technically on the menu, which is to say, a bowl of the restaurant's Hakata tonkotsu ramen dosed with a spoonful of the chain's excellent yuzu kosho, a paste of hot green chile zapped with fragrant yuzu zest that they make for their yakitori restaurants but will sometimes sell you for $7 to $8 a jar. Barring that, the ping-pong ball of green-chile butter Shin-Sen-Gumi always has on hand gets you more than halfway there.
2015 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena; (310) 329-1335, and multiple locations, http://www.shinsengumigroup.com.
As Yogi Berra would say, nobody goes to Daikokuya anymore — it's too crowded. And the blossoming of competition in Little Tokyo doesn't seem to have shortened the line at all. But Daikokuya was the first ramen shop in town to have embraced the full pork-bone broth thing, you can specify kotteri if you want the level of molten pork fat to be turned up to 10, and on every table is a jar of fresh-chopped garlic should you desire. After an evening of opera at the Music Center up the street, sometimes your system needs that extra jolt.
327 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, (213) 626-1680, and multiple locations, http://www.dkramen.com.
Asa, marked by a Japanese-only sign in an obscure Gardena strip mall, is not a place you wander into by accident. It's not an E-ticket ramen parlor; it's a dark neighborhood joint with an excellent version of the crisp, gooey octopus pancakes called takoyaki and a very nice pork-bone broth that does not happen to be set to stun.
18202 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 769-1010.
Santouka, an international chain founded in Hokkaido, may be the McDonald's of high-quality ramen, with shops both across Japan and attached to many Mitsuwa markets here in Southern California. Yet the restaurants are notoriously strict by the standards of food-court stalls: They refuse to package their noodles to go, and you will find nothing like a flavor bomb here. Its famous shio ramen, built around 20-hour pork-bone broth, is enough.
3760 S. Centinela Ave., West Los Angeles, (310) 391-1101, and multiple locations, http://www.santouka.co.jp/en.