The Los Angeles ramen aficionado has in recent years learned to differentiate shio ramen from tonkotsu ramen, miso-tinged Sapporo ramen from tangy Kitakata ramen, and fishy Tokyo-style ramen from pork-intensive Tokushima-style ramen.
Now comes Anzutei, the first local shop to serve the ramen characteristic of the industrial city Nagoya — in a light, soy-kissed pork-chicken broth, topped with a salty handful of sautéed pork crumbles, and garnished with a few strands of crimson corn silk, some bean sprouts and a symmetrical halo of chopped Chinese chives.
The Nagoya-style ramen is usually called Taiwan ramen in Japan, in honor of the Taiwanese-born chef who invented it in Nagoya back in the 1970s, although on the menu at Anzutei it is identified as spicy shoyu ramen. And it is extremely, three-napkin spicy, to the point that you may fail to notice for a bit the tautly balanced umami of the broth.
But the spicy shoyu ramen may not even be the specialty of Anzutei, run by two recent immigrants from Nagoya; a tiny, dingy storefront down in the Historic Core district downtown, recently occupied by a neo-Mexican burger shack. Regulars swear by the regular shoyu ramen, which is garnished with a thick slice of grilled pork belly. There is a popular appetizer that involves rice balls, lightly fried shrimp and a crisp wrapper of nori seaweed.
And the best ramen in the house is probably the tantanmen, the specialty of the Nagoya ramen parlor Anzutei, for which the Los Angeles restaurant is named.
You may have had great Sichuan dan dan mian at Lucky Noodle King in San Gabriel or at No. 1 Noodle House in Rowland Heights. You may have even had the excellent tantanmen at Beni Tora in the Mitsuwa supermarket food court in Torrance, which until now has been the local standard-bearer for the Japanese version of the dish.
But Anzutei raises tantanmen to a different level, its bright-red, sesame-laced broth not monochromatically spicy but nuanced, laced with garlic and tingling with Sichuan peppercorn. It's the only tantanmen I've ever tasted that approaches the Sichuan original in intensity of flavor, and the springiness of the thin yellow noodles may even surpass that of the Chinese versions in town.
633 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 688-0011.