Before attending an event in Westwood, my woman and I decided to see what the college town had to offer in terms of dinner. Sure, I had eaten in Westwood many times before, but typically with specific places in mind. This time, it was about walking around and picking dinner based on our gut, which led us to Noodle World. I had expected something like Noodles & Company, which makes dishes from all sorts of noodles, but Noodle World has a lot more options, while keeping its noodles Asian. No mac and cheese here.
On a drunken evening in Osaka, I vaguely recall punching buttons on an old school lotto-style machine at a ramen restaurant. The result was some of the most delicious drunk food I have ever eaten. Fast forward to 2012 and Tsujita continues its stranglehold on the ramen scene of Little Little Tokyo in West LA. Yet, it is not alone in ramen. Tatsu sits just down the road and has taken that machine concept I encountered in Osaka into modernity.
Every time I go shopping at Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocery store in Mar Vista, I can’t help but notice a crazy long line in the adjacent Japanese food court. This line always sprouts from Santouka, a ramen place with roots going back to the real Japan. So, out of curiosity for that crazy line, Joel and I finally decided to give Santouka a go.
Not too long ago (at least it feels that way), a new ramen place popped up in Culver City calling itself Ramen Yamadaya. It was around this time that I had been totally spoiled by the ramen of Tsujita, and while Yamadaya looked good, I wasn’t exactly in a rush to get there. This was a mistake, though, because when I finally got there, I had a feeling that this was going to be my go-to ramen joint.
Have you ever looked upon a meal and thought it was just too pretty to eat? It happens to the best of us, and to be perfectly frank, a pretty-looking meal is often disguising a lack of flavor or creativity. So when my buddy and I decided to head to Tsujita LA in West LA for lunch, I was a little concerned that their claim of “Artisan Noodles” would make for a pretty meal, but little else. But when we showed up and found an obscenely long line of people waiting to get a taste of the noodles, I thought again.
Sometimes nothing beats a good bowl of ramen. No, I don’t mean the Cup O Noodle that powered me through late nights in college. I mean real ramen in a real bowl, with some thick broth and some real meat. For lunch, I headed to Ramen Jinya in Studio City with some coworkers to see if their ramen could bring back my memories of drunkenly wandering the streets of Osaka for some noodles in a bowl. There are four signature pork ramen flavors, and although they were strangely out of the Hakata premium rich broth, I was already going with their Original Yokohama ramen, so luckily this didn’t affect me.
Not too long ago (at least in my head), Ajisen Ramen opened its doors at the Century City food court. I’m not sure where else this Japanese ramen chain exists in the US, but I do know it is a pretty popular and slightly upscale chain in the land of Asia. I decided to check it out to see how it held up against its Asian brethren and found that the menu was pretty similar to what I remembered from Asia. It had a variety of ramen options and some tasty-looking Japanese appetizers.
For a little post-tennis victory Japanese treat, I headed to Asahi Ramen in West LA with my vanquished tennis foe to get some…ummm ramen. Now don’t be fooled by the name of the restaurant, as it apparently has nothing to do with delicious Asahi beer. Confused myself, I took the liberty of looking up Asahi on the old interwebs and found that Asahi is the name of about ten different towns and cities in Japan, so for the name to carry over into both beer and ramen isn’t that surprising. Anyway, enough with geography and economics, let’s get to the food.
For too long have I been subjected to people who believe the beginning and end of Japanese food is sushi. While living in Japan for half of a year, I believe I ate sushi once. This was not because I was avoiding sushi, but because sushi just wasn’t as prevalent as we are led to believe. Sure, you can find sushi if you are looking, but it is not as though every corner has a sushi place. Rather, it is much more common to find ramen. This isn’t your Cup O Noodle college hangover ramen, but a real, hearty bowl of broth with noodles, meat and more. Recently, some coworkers of mine were heading out to “that ramen place” in Gardena for lunch and I joined them, fingers crossed that this place would be the true Japanese food I’ve been waiting for.