Mentatsu (revisited) – Costa Mesa, CA

So I set out this morning in hopes of trying the new Daikokuya in Costa Mesa after seeing edjusted’s post fly through Google Reader yesterday, but just as fast as I could get excited about a new ramen place in OC that excitement came crashing to a halt…hard. It was closed today and according to some workers at Marukai, the grand-opening would be tomorrow. Zannen…

688 Baker Street #7
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 979-2755

So that was how I reluctantly ended up at Mentatsu (again) to perhaps give their ramen another shot or to send it into ramen oblivion alongside the likes of Mountain, Fuji and Sushi Pia. To my surprise, Mentatsu had a line and a 15-minute wait. Could I be dreaming? I once associated them as being the worst in OC, but would this be their time to step up and impress? With Santouka just being Santouka, Kohryu on the decline, and the new Daikokuya threatening, is Mentatsu no longer scraping the bottom of the OC bowl? Despite my earlier misfortunes, the excitement is back and I’ve never been more gung ho about trying a ramen for the second time!


Shoyu ramen: The shoyu ramen was not much better than the first time, but one major difference I did notice was the lack of overpowering pepper, which was definitely a plus. Since my copilot had ordered this (I’m not a fan of adding corn to shoyu ramen), the few bites that I did take made me realize that they’ve indeed improved. I will no longer teeter when friend’s ask me to join them at Mentatsu.


Mabo ramen: Okay, for those of you that don’t know, other than shoyu my favorite type of ramen is mabo ramen. Whenever I go to a ramen-ya for the first time, I’ll try the shoyu ramen. If I go for a second time, I almost certainly order the mabo ramen when it’s on the menu. Mabo tofu is another dish with Chinese origins that consists of tofu, ground pork, and some other ingredients mixed in a spicy sauce. Mabo ramen is just this mabo tofu dish resting on top of a bowl of shoyu ramen. Now that we know what it is, Mentatsu’s mabo ramen would have to be one of THE best I’ve had in socal. Its sauce was very thick just how I like it and it held in the heat like an oven. Even with all the beads of sweat forming on my forehead, I couldn’t take a break to wipe them because it was so good. Mentatsu has been redeemed.


Gyoza: If I remember correctly, Mentatsu’s gyoza was lacking that garlic punch. While today’s gyoza was not quite the knockout, it was still a vast improvement from before.


UPDATED ON 2/2/2009:

Negi Ramen: Back in December, an Anonymous reader left a comment (see below) stating how good the Negi Ramen was. So in an attempt to prove them right or wrong, I set out to try this “really reall good” bowl.

So when it finally arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes…it looked horrific! I mean, it just looked like somebody gave the world’s most angry man a few stalks of green onions, a handful of chashu, and a really sharp knife with everything being chopped and dumped on a bowl of their mediocre shoyu ramen. I wish I could say it tasted better too. Although it didn’t taste as horrific as it looked, there’s really no way it can compete with the best of them.


I probably could have made this at home. Foo-Foo Tei’s Negi Daku would blow this ramen away…literally.

The 26 Types of Ramen (ShinYokohama Raumen Museum)

During my visit to the ShinYokohama Raumen Museum back in January, I came across a huge wall that listed all the different types of ramen in Japan. And I’ve been meaning to translate it since I got back, but never had the time to actually do it…until now. Feel free to click on the flags on the map below to see a little rundown of that type of ramen. The most intriguing stat is the total number of ramen-ya’s in all of Japan–10,408. Daaam! It looks like I still have a loooong way to GO!

This is a straight translation of the wall in the museum and all credit goes to whoever created it, so please don’t sue me for sharing. If you want to see a more informative explanation of these various types, I still suggest that you grab a copy of edjusted‘s ramen glossary and visit rameniac‘s ramen styles of japan–a perfect way to school your own noodle!

Cafe Koraku – Jean, NV

32100 S. Las Vegas Blvd. Suite. 424
Jean, NV 89019
(702) 874-1000

Located within the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, Cafe Koraku is your last chance to gamble when driving back to LA. I’m not sure if they’re related to the Koraku’s we know, but I’m not going to expect much from a ramen-ya in an outlet mall. Could this be where they send all the defective bowls of ramen?


Sandwiched between a Journeys and Perfumania, Cafe Koraku is not your typical sweet-smelling excursion. Surprisingly busy, this ramen-ya only offers bowls of discounted flavor.


Shoyu-ramen: After only 3 hours of sleep and a 4-hour drive looming ahead, this plain shoyu-ramen knew how to hit the spot. It wasn’t great or anything close to that, but after a long night in Vegas it became my best friend for about an hour. The toppings (rubbery chashu, menma, egg, spinach, nori, and negi) helped discount the character of this outlet ramen. The noodles were just your average noodle. If you’re desperate for some comfort after a long night and on your way home on I15, then feel free to stop and try Cafe Koraku. Otherwise, quit while you’re ahead and just wait until you get back to LA.


Gyoza: Disastrous! I’ve had frozen gyoza that tasted better.

Togoshi Ramen – Las Vegas, NV

855 E Twain Ave Ste 107
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 737-7003

Prior to what turned out to be a day of intoxicated madness in March, coupled with the highs and lows of letting it ride with friends not named Jack, I was able to enjoy the calm before the storm with a familiar face–ramen. When you think of Las Vegas, ramen is probably the last thing on your mind, but win or lose Togoshi Ramen does a decent job of comforting expected disappointments or celebrating unexpected delights. This Japanese-owned and operated ramen-ya is also a perfect cure for that heavy hangover.


Shoyu-ramen: An old-school shoyu-ramen that does just enough to get the job done. Nothing fancy here. Just a full-bodied deep shoyu flavor that works only in Vegas. The toppings (egg, chashu, menma, moyashi, and negi) simply pleased my craving without all the lights and glamor of the strip. The noodles were nothing special either, but they were perfectly cooked and easy to slurp. The friendly staff also made the ramen taste better than it was. I would definitely go back whenever I’m in Vegas.


Miso-ramen: The miso was shockingly strong! A bit too strong. Delicious nonetheless, it’s probably best suited for waking you up from that groggy hangover.


Gyoza: The gyoza had a nice flavor, but probably could have used more crisp. Warning: Do not eat if you plan on drinking a lot of beer, unless you can somehow control your burps.

Sakura – Los Angeles, CA

333 S. Alameda St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 687-6699

If you are low on cash, hungry, and desperate for a ramen under $5, then I recommend buying some nama-ramen from the refrigerated section and cooking it at home yourself. Located inside the Mitsuwa Marketplace, I’ve always wondered if Sakura served a decent ramen. And now that I’ve tried it, I can only wonder why it has yet to be replaced by Santouka.

Shoyu-ramen: An old-school ramen with that tangy shoyu taste. A great deal for the huge bowl at $4.50, but hardly a tongue-pleaser. The toppings (chashu, negi, and moyashi) failed to do anything but disappoint. The noodles were のびてる (overcooked)–a cardinal sin of ramen.


The chashu looked like a wood chip, and quite frankly tasted like one.

San Sui Tei – Los Angeles, CA

313 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-0100

Located about thirty steps from the renowned Daikokuya, San Sui Tei is just another ramen-ya in the neighborhood successfully failing at stealing its customers. Having been to their original location in Temple City once before, I never really cared to visit this one until today. And that’s only because my original destination (Atch Kotch in Hollywood) was closed. *sigh*

When I first took the pic below, I didn’t notice what was on the TV. Perhaps this is their artful way of persuading me into writing a good review. Should I be scared?…I don’t think so! This San Sui Tei is not only a ramen-ya, but also a sushi-bar. Based on my experience, restaurants that offer both sushi and ramen are usually non-Japanese owned (which is the case here) and never very good at either. But I’m here and I can’t just get up and leave, or could I?


Tonkotsu-ramen: On any other street in any other city, this ramen might be popular, but being so close to Daikokuya, this tonkotsu-ramen is light years behind. The soup is a nice creamy blend of pork sprinkled with chips of garlic that should please the average ramen-goer. The toppings (egg, chashu, negi, menma, ginger, nori, corn, and cabbage) were average with the exception of its chashu. The chashu was moist and full of flavor. The noodles were crinkly and flat and just like its Temple City location, they reminded me of cup noodles.


Spicy Tonkotsu-ramen: A spicy version of the ramen above. It tasted exactly like Korean ramyun. It’s great for all you Chileheads.


Gyoza: The gyoza was uncommonly sweet and the skin looked like my fingers do after swimming in a pool too long–a common characteristic for gyoza that’s been thawed. It was edible, but the pre-mixed sauce needed more shoyu.

Kurume Taiho Instant Ramen – 久留米ラーメン

So here it is, the last instant ramen from my trip. Could I have coincidentally saved the best for last? According to Rameniac, this is one of his REAL favorites. It looks like I’m in for a treat because we all know that “the rameniac” doesn’t joke around when it comes to tonkotsu ramen from Kyushu.


The plain looking box opened in a revealing fashion, unlike any other. And inside was a beauty awaiting anxiously to please my yearning hunger. Under the cover was a detailed description on how the ramen should be prepared. It even included a time line that showed how many seconds to cook the noodles in order to arrive at your preference. 30 seconds for 超かため (super hard), 60 seconds for かため (hard), 90 seconds for ふつう (normal), and 120 seconds for やわめ (soft). I chose normal.


The contents of this 昔ラーメン (old-style ramen) include:

  • 自家製生めん (Home-made noodles)
  • スープ (Soup)
  • とんこつ用ごま (Sesame seeds especially for tonkotsu)
  • 紅しょうが (Red ginger)


If you’ve ever smelled slightly-ground goma (sesame seeds) then the pic below might bring back those memories. That smell is unforgettably delectable and it goes great with this soup. A surprisingly sweet taste combined with the shyoga (red ginger) and goma made for a harmonious balance of flavor. This is without a doubt, a great blend of ingredients.


The noodles were also distinguished in their own right. Graceful and elegant are the only words that can do them justice. I now understand Rameniac’s feelings toward this ramen. Hopefully I’ll get to try the original someday.

Main Ingredients

Soup (スープ): Animal extract, pork oil, salt, dextrose, soy sauce, gelatin, spice, sugar, sesame, monosodium glutamate, sake, グァーガム…
Noodles (メン): Flour, egg powder, salt, embryo bud, calcium, sake, milk, kansui, gardenia…