On a map, it may look like anywhere in Los Angeles is a 30-minute drive away, but turn on the traffic-aware settings and a short drive may turn into an hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic. It's times like these when diners on the Eastside may think twice about heading west on the 10 Freeway for ramen at Tsujita on Sawtelle, or even a closer destination like Ramen Champ in Chinatown.
Luckily, for those living close to Alhambra, or even Pasadena, there's a two-mile portion of Main Street/Las Tunas. that has four ramen-yas to keep that ramen craving at bay while we all wait for lighter traffic days.
Kosuke—This old neighborhood spot across the street from a car dealer would be easy to miss, if not for the sandwich board that displays the character for "noodle" on the sidewalk. At lunch, diners are mostly people who work in the area and college-age kids wanting a change from their instant variety of ramen.
The popular menu choice is the kuro ramen, which, true to its name, arrives with an inky black layer of oil on top. Despite its shocking look, the innocuous black garlic oil doesn't overpower the soup at all. Ordering like the regulars do, with chicken instead of pork, is like having two lunches at once: ramen and popcorn chicken. The fried morsels of chicken go surprisingly well with a spoonful of noodles and soup. 618 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 289-8030.
Benten Ramen—The ramen-ya would seem to be well situated: ready to accommodate diners not wanting to wait for a bowl of noodles at Golden Deli or who didn't realize that the temple to pho next door is closed on Wednesdays. But judging by how quickly places turn over in that spot (did Ton-Chan Ramen even last a year?), it may also have bad feng shui.
There are only four or five bowls of ramen to choose from at Benten. The tonkotsu ramen comes with a thick slice of pork belly that's tender and tastes surprisingly like Shaoxing wine. The noodles are of the thinner variety, which can also be said of the broth — odd for a tonkotsu broth. The bowl comes with a trio of condiments: soy-marinated seaweed, garlic miso paste and hot pepper paste. The star of the bowl is the boiled egg. At first glance, one would think it's odd that the egg isn't sliced in half like in other ramen shops — but, biting into it, all will be revealed. The egg's runny yolk is injected with a soy-sauce based liquid to give it extra flavor. 821 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 910-5075.
Rutsu 18—If there were an award for hippest ramen joint on Main Street, Rutsu 18 would win it. The light-filled interior and colorful mural on the west wall catch your attention as soon as you enter the door. The upbeat music being piped through the speakers and the modern kimono the waitress wears makes you feel like you're in a restaurant in Little Tokyo.
The menu lists a handful of variants of ramen, from tonkotsu ramen to a more Chinese-style spicy beef ramen. The tonkotsu comes with thin wheat noodles and a murky, porky broth. Half of a medium-boiled egg floats on top of a bed of cooked bean sprouts and bright red sliced ginger. The standout in this bowl is the ample slices of pork, which practically fall apart as soon as a chopstick comes near. Dressed with some mince-your-own soy-pickled garlic, and a generous helping of Chinese-style chili oil, this is a decent bowl of ramen on this side of town. 645 E Main St., Alhambra, (626) 458-8388.
Foo Foo Tei—Foo Foo Tei shows that ramen has come full circle from a Japanese take on Chinese noodles to a Chinese take on Japanese noodles. The large ramen menu at the Alhambra branch of Foo Foo Tei has the traditional choices — shoyu, shio and miso — but also some more unusual choices.