Food

Critic's Choice: Ramen restaurants

CookingTokyo (Japan)Dining and DrinkingRestaurantsJapanTakashi

If ever Los Angeles were having a ramen moment, this might be it. Ramen pop-ups and shops are springing up from West L.A. to downtown. Ramen-ya stalwarts are facing competition as Yamadaya and Tsujita have opened on the Westside in Santouka territory and Shin-Sen-Gumi unveiled a new branch a block from Daikokuya downtown. Thick noodles, thin noodles, extra fatty pork broth, dipping sauce, toppings such as fried garlic, purple cauliflower, fried pork skin or slabs of roasted pork…. In other words, have it your way. Here are a few ramen shops to try.

Ramen Yamadaya: It might be at its best when it strays from the classic tonkotsu (pork bone broth) formula. Try the Tokyo-style tonkotsu shoyu ramen: tonkotsu broth cut with soy sauce and flavored with black sesame paste. Owner Jin Yamada is most excited about his tsukemen: thick, chewy noodles served with a side of a concentrated tonkotsu-based dipping sauce. Here the noodles are served cold with a warm dipping sauce, for added contrast. Kakuni ramen is tonkotsu ramen with the addition of a massive slab of steamed pork belly. Go for it. The latest branch of Yamadaya opened in Culver City.

3118 W. 182nd St., Torrance, (310) 380-5555; 11172 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-8776; http://www.ramen-yamadaya.com.

Mottainai Ramen: Duck your head through the Japanese curtains that hang in the entryway and you'll be hit by a soothing fog of pork and garlic. Here chefs toast the miso in a flaming wok for Mottainai's Sapporo Lover, a pork-intensive ramen saturated with toasted miso. On top of a Tokyo trend, Mottainai's soups are based on two basic broths: chicken and pork, made separately and mixed in different proportions for each soup. The three ramen options: Tokyo Props (soy), Yokohama Freaker (pork) and Sapporo Lover (miso). Noodle thickness varies for each. An extra feature are "bombs" to be added to your ramen: The "red bomb" is a ball of chile and spice pastes, and the "white bomb" is a golf ball-size lump of pork back fat and crushed garlic.

1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Suite 9, Gardena; (310) 538-3233; http://www.mottainairamen.com.

Shin-Sen-Gumi: Mitsuyasu Shigeta's empire of Shin-Sen-Gumi restaurants has expanded to Little Tokyo. The chain serves Hakata ramen, the style of ramen from northwestern Kyushu known for its thick, pork bone-based tonkotsu soup. Shin-Sen-Gumi says it uses Berkshire pork and filtered water, cooking the soup for more than 15 hours, "with a strong flame from a commercial-grade jet burner." Its cha-shu (roast pork) is prepared with its secret sauce, and the noodles are thinner, Hakata-style noodles. The ramen is sort of make-your-own, in that you select the doneness of the noodles and the thickness and richness of the soup. Extra noodles are an option. So is a spicy miso broth. Move over, Daikokuya?

Shin-Sen-Gumi Little Tokyo, 132 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, http://www.shinsengumigroup.com. See website for other locations.

Ikemen: "Dip ramen," as the few-weeks-old Hollywood ramen spot Ikemen calls it, is its own breed of ramen — in Japanese, tsukemen. The noodles are served separately from the broth, and the broth is concentrated and dense, the better to adhere to the noodles when you dip them into the bowl. General Manager Takashi Adachi, who wields a refractometer to gauge the density of the broth, imports dried bonito from his father's katsuobushi company in Japan. Powdered katsuobushi flavors the broth for the signature dip ramen, and it is heady stuff. When you're finished with your noodles and if there's broth left over, your server will ask if you want to "break" the broth. They'll add a little hot water so that you can sip the rest of it, mellowed but still as tasty.

1655 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 800-7669, http://www.ikemenhollywood.com.

Ramen California: Its soups are peculiar creations crowded with a garden's worth of unconventional ingredients. Bobbing in a bowl might be florets of purple cauliflower, earthy chunks of celery root or broth-staining bits of beet. The restaurant's produce-packed style marks a different direction for the noodle soup. The signature bowl is the California ramen. Filled with about 30 kinds of vegetables, the dish is as much a salad as it is a soup. It comes in three sizes (15, 20 and 40 ounces). The Reggiano cheese tofu ramen, in which fresh-made tofu (studded with bites of Parmesan) melts right into the broth, can sell out.

24231 Crenshaw Blvd., Unit C, Torrance, (310) 530-2749.

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