If anyone thought that L.A.'s ramen renaissance was stalling or even close to over, Alvin Cailan would have you think again. Cailan, known mostly for his insanely popular Eggslut shop at Grand Central Market, is officially opening the doors to Ramen Champ, his new Chinatown ramen-ya, on Monday.
Perfect timing, really, for everyone with the day off who might otherwise be lurking outside Pok Pok or Chego, Cailan's Far East Plaza neighbors that are both closed on Mondays.
Cailan's highly anticipated ramen shop is currently in soft-open mode, sort of, as Cailan and his partners — Johnny Lee and Nathan Asamoto, until recently a ramen chef at Men Oh — further refine their menu. This means bowls of Tokyo-style ramen in three iterations: tonkotsu, chicken and a vegetarian shiitake broth ramen (which can also be made vegan).
"It's really L.A. style," said Cailan this morning as he meticulously put little red caps on all the condiment bottles at the 22-seat shop. "We made this place for us. We're not yelling when you walk in."
Cailan, who grew up in the Pico-Rivera region of Los Angeles, took over an old Chinese bakery on the second floor of the Far East Plaza as part of an overall revitalization of the longtime Chinatown shopping center. He'd previously been planning on opening his ramen shop in Grand Central Market, near Eggslut, but changed his mind and relocated to Chinatown.
"It got too crazy over there," says Cailan. "We didn't want our ramen chefs breaking their backs for the people who want their food, and want it now."
There is nothing instant about Cailan's ramen. You can see the shiny new silver 100-quart vats behind the ramen counter, where the broth is made, as well as new tea pots, to be filled with matcha tea and yuzu punch. In the tiny kitchen, there's an equally shiny new VacMaster, where they sous-vide the chashu pork and the chicken. The noodles are custom-made by "two noodle guys," Japanese specialists in South L.A., who Cailan wouldn't name.
As for condiments, the bottles that Cailan was filling this morning held garlic oil instead of raw garlic ("the oil better coats the noodles"), sherry vinegar ("I haven't seen that around") and Sriracha oil, made from the popular chile sauce and, says Cailan, "good spicy for people who don't want to get their face stripped off."
Ramen Champ is a tiny, cozy shop, as ramen-ya's should be, with gorgeous black and white murals by New York artist Mike Houston. Imagine Tsujita crossed with a manga bookstore and a Shinjuku broom closet. In other words, the lines upstairs will soon be just as long as those downstairs, and for good reason.
Ramen Champ: Far East Plaza, 727 North Broadway, Chinatown.