If you've been shopping in Pasadena lately, or maybe casing Colorado Boulevard for a good place to pitch your lawn chair for the Rose Parade, you've probably seen the long lines stretching down the block near the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. They are not for some errant holiday sale, but for bowls of soup. This might seem rather Dickensian at first, until you see the bright yellow sign above them — shaped like a ramen bowl.
When Ramen Tatsunoya opened three days before Christmas, it wasn't long before a semi-permanent line opened up outside the door as well, as folks gathered in waves to order bowls of tonkotsu ramen from the Kurume, Japan-based specialists.
Ramen Tatsunoya is the first American restaurant from a well-established Japanese chain of ramen shops, which founder Ryuta Kajiwara opened in his hometown of Kurume, in Japan's Fukuoka Prefecture, in 1999. (Kurume is on the southern island of Kyushu, where the rich, pork-intensive tonkotsu ramen is prevalent.)
If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Tatsunoya has been laying the groundwork for this for a few years now, through a series of pop-ups at Mitsuwa marketplace in Torrance, and by coming to the Yokocho Ramen Festival in 2014.
Tatsunoya's tonkotsu ramen is done traditionally with thin, straight noodles and classic condiments, most notably chashu, or slices of roasted pork. The bowls of tonkotsu are differentiated by their intensity by name (koku is the richest, jun not quite so pork-laden), with an option for a bowl of spicy tonkotsu. You can get additions (seaweed, green onions, mushrooms, egg), but mostly this is a pork-centered operation, and there is chashu pretty much everywhere.
Right now, the other menu options (gyoza, sushi rolls) are mostly in theory rather than in practice, doubtless due to the onslaught of diners lining up outside. And coming soon is all-day service (there's currently a break between lunch and dinner hours) and beer and wine.
Tatsunoya founder Kajiwara has been in Pasadena, cooking noodles for the opening and overseeing his team. Tomoko Imade Dyen, a representative for the restaurant, says that while they are planning more locations in the future, they're not looking yet.
Is it worth the wait? The broth has depth, the noodles are excellent, and the bowls are classic. This is traditional tonkotsu ramen, served simply and quickly, at least once you get to your table. You will perhaps find better bowls on Sawtelle or in Torrance or Gardena, but not that many of them — and nothing of this caliber anywhere in or near Pasadena.
Ramen Tatsunoya's current hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.; they'll be closed for dinner on New Year's Eve (but open for lunch), and closed all day on New Year's Day.
Ramen Tatsunoya, 16 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 432-1768, tatsunoyausa.net.
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