EVERYBODY loves ramen.
What could be more satisfying when you're feeling peckish than a quick fix of springy noodles in a bowl of nourishing broth? It's a Japanese fast-food staple, and when the broth and the noodles are in synergy, it can be great.
Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles is chockablock with little Japanese restaurants, sushi bars and cafes with a distinctly urban vibe. Before or after a film at the Nuart, it's natural to head to Sawtelle for a quick bite. If not sushi, think shabu shabu, robatayaki or ramen.
For the last, try Chabuya, a stylish new noodle bar from a Tokyo-based chain that touts its organic ingredients. It's two doors up from the small-plate restaurant Orris, on the east side of the street.
The space looks like an industrial loft, slightly taller than it is wide, painted in a cheerful palette of green and melon, with the name "Chabuya" stenciled over and over on the walls. At the very back is a counter with a handful of stools and, behind that, a couple of huge boiling pots of broth. At the tables, fashionably scruffy Japanese students sit close together, loudly slurping their steaming noodles and broth without a trace of self-consciousness.
The menu couldn't be simpler. To start -- and listed, incidentally, as side dishes -- you can get excellent gyoza, the familiar pork dumplings that resemble pot stickers. There are also shrimp or pork shiumai, the tall pleated dumplings, and, of course, edamame. But the real deals are the noodles in either pork or chicken broth. In the classic version, fresh noodles are served in pork broth and are garnished with a slice of tender pork. The broth has a light, fresh taste, without any of the metallic overtones I've encountered at some ramen houses. Tori soba is a Japanese chicken soup loaded up with scallions, bamboo shoots, fried shallots and pieces of charbroiled chicken. Vegetarians aren't left out: They can order a vegetarian bowl.
But the noodles don't stop there. I noticed a couple of students sharing a heap of pan-fried noodles dotted with shrimp and what looked like pancetta or bacon -- that's the shrimp char-broiled Chabuya noodles. It's worth ordering too, but the portion is so large, you might want to share.
Other than that, you can hunker down with a rice bowl embellished with seaweed, scallions and marinated charbroiled chicken or pork. At less than $6, this has to be the best deal at Chabuya. But everything else is well under $10.
For some of my friends who frequent ramen places, the funkier the better. I suspect Chabuya would be a turnoff for them -- it's too refined. The cooking is clean, and the ingredients, as much as possible, are organic.
Me, I love the idea that you can slip into this attractive little place and get a bowl of hot, steaming ramen. You can be in and out within a half hour for under $10, or you can hang around and nibble on some of the side dishes and not feel as if you want to flee the minute you're done with your soup. It seems to me Chabuya strikes a shrewd balance.
If this Chabuya takes off, and by all the signs it already has, there may be more in L.A.'s future.
Where: 2002 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles
When: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily; dinner 4:30 p.m. to midnight daily
Cost: Ramen noodles, $6.75 to $8.50; pan-fried noodles, $9.95; rice bowls, $3.95 to $5.95; side dishes, $1 to $4.50; desserts, $2.95 to $3.95.
Info: (310) 473-9834