By the time I got to Orochon Ramen, my dinner mates were like grumpy bears. The table was cramped and they’d ordered drinks that never materialized. I was undaunted. Parking was easier than I thought it would be in Downtown Burbank, and I liked what they’d done with the place. Their clever use of inexpensive pine and paper turned a cavernous ex-Tony Roma’s into a sleek Japanese eatery. We switched to a more spacious table and as soon as the waitress arrived, reiterated our drink requests and cheerfully ordered our food.
A plate of crispy dumplings arrived in a couple minutes. Things were starting to look up.
The dumplings ($3.50) were nicely browned, with a mousse-like filling. Our sweet (but not-so-efficient) waitress suggested mixing a little from all three cruets on the table for a tasty dipping sauce: soy sauce, rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. She was right. Those cruets kept coming in handy all evening. Also handy was the stash of napkins, straws and chopsticks in a “secret” drawer built into the table like a Japanese puzzle box.
Our second appetizer, cha-shu pork ($6.95) arrived shortly after. Nothing like the Chinese char siu (slices of pork shoulder with bright red skin), this cha-shu is a thick rasher of simmered pork belly. It’s moist, delicious and served on a simple bean sprout salad.
Then a big steaming bowl of soup arrived: Miso Ramen, Heat Level 4 ($7.50). Orochon makes a big deal over heat levels. The word “orochon” itself means bravery in an ancient Japanese language. Level 7 is non-spicy, whereas level 1 is called extreme Orochon. It takes the most stalwart of ninjas to eat a Level 1. If you really want to prove your mettle, you can order the Special 2 (which inexplicably is spicier than Special 1). If you finish it, your picture will be added to the Wall of Bravery.
Now, I’m not averse to spiciness, but this Level 4 was pretty hot. The problem was the heat was not integral to the broth. It simply lay on top of an otherwise bland miso-based hot liquid. I felt like a bipolar Goldilocks when I declared, “This soup is too bland/spicy.”
Salt Ramen Level 6 ($6.95) came about five minutes later. The salty broth predictably made our mouths’ contract, but after getting used to it, the broth once again lacked depth and complexity. The noodles (spaghetti-sized) and vegetables (green peppers, green onions, bamboo shoots and mushrooms) were fine, but nothing to write home about. The amount of pork was sparse. No, this soup was too dull/salty.
Five minutes later the final soup was delivered, Soy Ramen Level 5 ($6.95). Not too salty, with just the right amount of heat and a taste of umami, probably from the soy, this ramen was juuuuust right (or at least the best of the bunch). Goldilocks slurped it up and almost broke her chair.
When you’re wanting a bowl of ramen — and honestly, what’s better on a cold day? — only the perfect combination of complex broth, thick, tender noodles and fresh, flavorful veggies will do. Orochon Ramen will do in a pinch, but for the good stuff, you may still have to drive to Little Tokyo.
LISA DUPUY has written about food, travel and entertainment for more than 25 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 220 N. San Fernando Road, Burbank
When: Daily, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Contact: (818) 845-0817