2008 GO RAMEN! RANKINGS!!

I can’t believe 2008 is already over! Looking back, it truly was a great year of slurping–one that will not be easily forgotten, ever. I was fortunate enough to visit Japan not only once, but twice and although you won’t see any of those ramen-ya’s in this ranking, they have greatly refined my ramen expectations. So what can we expect in 2009, you ask? Well, that’s a great question! Two words: Ramen Rampage. Hopefully, you’ll stick around to see…

This year’s ranking consists of 72 restaurants in and around Southern California (2 in NV) that either entirely serve ramen or have some type of ramen on their menu. This ranking is based solely on my own opinion, so whether you’re a seasoned veteran when it comes to noodles or have never even tried real ramen before, I hope this list can serve as a guide to building your own ranking. All comments are welcome! Enjoy!! (Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.)

  1. Foo-Foo Tei – Hacienda Heights, CA (2): The food itself deserves this #1 ranking. Add in a cool and friendly staff with a crazy, imaginative, culinary genious at the helm and you get an unbelievable combination that defines how a ramen-ya can thrive in the U.S. With 31 different types of ramen, several appetizers & entrees, and THE BEST Japanese curry in quite possibly the world, Foo-Foo Tei is without a doubt my favorite!
  2. Asa Ramen – Gardena, CA (3): Inconsistent or not, you won’t find a better kotteri shoyu on this side of the Pacific. It’s as close as you can get to Tokyo while remaining in LA.
  3. Shin Mama Ramen – Torrance, CA (4): Because my mama STILL says so! And because I say…SHINASOBA!
  4. Umemura – Gardena, CA (1): Last year’s #1 may have dropped a few spots, but it’s still going strong with an unbelievably soulful Umani Ramen.
  5. Daikokuya – Los Angeles, CA (5): Do I need to explain this one? Rock solid, it remains at #5.
  6. Shin-Sen-Gumi – Gardena, CA (n/a): Kaedama please! No not the noodles, I’m talking about the girl in the YouTube video…hahaha. This Gardena location is the best of the 3.
  7. Gomen – Stanton, CA (37): Most improved! And best in OC! A rather bland gomoku ramen kept them out of the top 5, but their tonkotsu-shio more than makes up for it.
  8. Shisen Ramen – Torrance, CA (8): Shisen Ramen then a beer…no complaints here.
  9. Chabuya – Torrance, CA (n/a): Better than the original (LA that is), it makes me feel all “kara kara” inside.
  10. Santouka – Los Angeles, CA (n/a): What? Top 10? The West LA location left quite an impression.
  11. Ramenya – Los Angeles, CA (6): No longer the best of the west-side, but runner-up ain’t that bad either.
  12. Kohryu – Costa Mesa, CA (11): It’s definitely improved, but so have others. The love-hate meter with Kohryu is currently leaning towards love. Let’s see how long that will last.
  13. Shin-Sen-Gumi – Fountain Valley, CA (9)*: Top 15 for sure.
  14. Kairakutei – Tustin, CA (10): If only my dad had owned a ramen-ya in Japan too…
  15. Ebisu Ramen – Fountain Valley, CA (14): Aaah, Ebisu. Takeda-san, I have a new hero and sometimes they call him Doraemon.
  16. Tamaya – Hacienda Heights, CA (16): Tamani (sometimes), it surpresses the need for nearby Foo-Foo.
  17. Gardena Ramen – Torrance, CA (7): Shhh…it’s a secret.
  18. Chabuya – Los Angeles, CA (13)*: Still love the environment.
  19. Tajima – San Diego, CA (n/a): Best in SD! Don’t worry, it could be worse.
  20. Santouka – Costa Mesa, CA (15): Yeah, that’s probably more like it.
  21. Ducks – San Gabriel, CA (n/a): If you listen closely, you might hear a QUACK.
  22. San Sui Tei – Los Angeles, CA (n/a): A decent alternative to Daikokuya, but why do you feel the need to have sushi?!
  23. Togoshi Ramen – Las Vegas, NV (n/a): Dude, a ramen-ya in Vegas? Awesome!
  24. Mentatsu – Costa Mesa, CA (39): Yes, you’re not the worst in OC. Congratulations.
  25. Koraku – Sherman Oaks, CA (17): The best ramen near my work. Mabo is my favorite.
  26. Koraku – Torrance, CA (n/a): I still have the right to remain silent. You can talk to my lawyer.
  27. Men-Bei – Torrance, CA (12): Don’t get it without MSG. It’s a necessary ingredient here.
  28. Kiraku – Gardena, CA (20): Much better than that sorry place next door.
  29. Santouka – Torrance, CA (n/a): Perhaps the competition is intimidating. I wasn’t very impressed.
  30. Hanaichimonme – Los Angeles, CA (26): Superballs, transformers, and ultraman. All great memories from my past.
  31. Kinchans – Los Angeles, CA (18)*: It’s not that bad, actually.
  32. Asahi Ramen – Los Angeles, CA (19)*: It is that bad, actually.
  33. Orochon Ramen – Los Angeles, CA (32): The challenge still awaits me. Or should I say eludes me.
  34. Tamaya – Alhambra, CA (n/a): Freshly opened this year, SGV needs a place like this.
  35. Ramen Nippon – Reseda, CA (21): C’mon, just call yourself Ramen Valley.
  36. Daikokuya – Costa Mesa, CA (n/a): It’s sad, but it’s still maturing. Get rid of the diapers already!
  37. Kokekokko – Hacienda Heights, CA (22)*: Still hits the soul.
  38. Koraku – Los Angeles, CA (24)*: Still around and still fading.
  39. Teri Café – Oceanside, CA (25)*: I’ll need to revisit in 2009.
  40. Santouka – San Diego, CA (n/a): Hey, at least you got a Santouka!
  41. Maruyu – Santa Ana, CA (n/a): What a disappointment. My last visit felt like I was slurping transmission fluid.
  42. Hanashima – Rowland Heights, CA (28): I’m confused, an island on a flower?
  43. Shin-Sen-Gumi – Rosemead, CA (33)*: At least you’re not called Shin-Sen-Gomi.
  44. Joy Mart – Los Angeles, CA (n/a): Why do I feel so happy?
  45. Café Koraku – Jean, NV (n/a): Dude, a ramen-ya on my way to/from Vegas? Awesome!
  46. Oki Doki – Costa Mesa, CA (41): Okee Dokee.
  47. Mr. Ramen – Los Angeles, CA (34)*: Hi mister, let’s meet again in 2009.
  48. Honda-ya – Los Angeles, CA (35)*: Izakaya, beer, yakitori…no ramen.
  49. Sushi To Sakedokoro – Anaheim, CA (n/a): Only this low because their ramen has not yet been perfected. It could be next year’s most improved.
  50. San Sui Tei – Temple City, CA (36)*: Still yearning for more.
  51. Tokyo Table – Arcadia, CA (n/a): Not a place for ramen.
  52. Gyu-Kaku – Pasadena, CA (n/a): Not a place for ramen, either.
  53. Chopstix – San Diego, CA (n/a): I don’t know what to say. Nothing memorable here.
  54. Rockstar Noodle Bar – Rowland Heights, CA (n/a): Stick to the teas and appetizers. Rockstar’s don’t really eat ramen, anyway.
  55. Mitsuru Café – Los Angeles, CA (38)*: Reminds me of my grandma.
  56. Eboshi Noodle Bar – Lomita, CA (30): Do I smell ammonia?
  57. Kyushu Ramen – Van Nuys, CA (27): Down, down, down. Hachoo. Bless you!
  58. Katana Sushi – Hacienda Heights, CA (23): A once great tamayu ramen has now been bastardized by multiple ownership changes.
  59. Aji Man – San Gabriel, CA (n/a): Now accepting applications for umami.
  60. Hamada Orient Express – Los Angeles, CA (n/a): The finest airport ramen in the U.S.
  61. Igosi Ramen – Rowland Heights, CA (40)*: It’s actually not ramen, but ramyun.
  62. Takaraya – Irvine, CA (42)*: Hey, at least they were open on Christmas.
  63. Yokohama Kaigenro – Los Angeles, CA (43)*: I would still hate to see them be evicted.
  64. Tampopo – Gardena, CA (n/a): This is that sorry place next door.
  65. Fuji Ramen – San Gabriel, CA (n/a): Even though the ramen I tried at Mt. Fuji wasn’t much better, at least that ramen was from Japan.
  66. Ajisen Ramen – Temple City, CA (44)*: Still not for me, regardless of location.
  67. EZO Noodle Café – Irvine, CA (45)*: E-Z-O, E-Z-O, E-Z-O. It’s only fun to chant its name.
  68. Noodle World – Pasadena, CA (46)*: Don’t even bother.
  69. UCC Café Plaza – Walnut, CA (n/a): The biggest disappointment of the year! Stick to the coffee.
  70. Sakura – Los Angeles, CA (n/a): Needs to be replaced with Santouka, badly.
  71. Sushi Pia – Fullerton, CA (47)*: Su-su-su-sushi pia.
  72. Mountain – Rowland Heights, CA (48)*: For as long as Mountain stays open and serves their gnat-infested ramen, they will continue to pad the bottom of this list.

Wow, I didn’t realize the list was so long. Anyway, I hope you had as much fun as I did in 2008! Hopefully, I’ll be able to complete the SF ramen-ya’s in 2009, as well as check out some more cities across the U.S. and Japan.

Be safe and have a very, very Happy New Year! Don’t forget to eat your toshi koshi soba!!

(*Based on 2007 ranking.)

Tampopo – Gardena, CA

15462 S. Western Ave. #102
Gardena, CA 90249
(310) 323-7882
Tozai Plaza

I first met Tajima-san (the original owner) shortly before he closed the Rowland Heights Tampopo earlier this year. As we talked, he acknowledged the public’s familiarity with Tampopo, the movie, and confessed his desire to build a franchise of Tampopo restaurants along the West Coast. After first opening this Gardena location, he went on to open three more in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and the aforementioned Rowland Heights. Sadly, those three are now closed and this last remaining Tampopo is owned and operated by somebody else.

What I’m about to say next might irk Tajima-san (and others), but I hope he gets to read this so he understands the reality of what’s going on. The Gardena Tampopo is not at all living up to the aging movie. In fact, it may be tarnishing the name instead. Soon enough, Tampopo Ramen will no longer be associated with a wonderful movie, but with a bad taste in one’s mouth. I hate to say it, but that’s the truth. Tajima-san, please come back and open YOUR Tampopo before it becomes too late…onegai!!


Tampopo Ramen: Supposedly a tonkotsu base, this Tampopo Ramen tasted only like pepper. Honestly, I couldn’t taste much else. It wasn’t creamy, it wasn’t rich, and it definitely wasn’t very good.


The menma was from a can (I think I have some in my cupboard) and the chashu was borderline nasty. I swear, the scab on my knee probably tastes better.


I think I’ve said enough. This will be my last review for 2008. The next post will be what you all have been waiting for… |^o^|

Feeling like ramen on Christmas?

I just called all the ramen-ya’s in Southern CA to see if they’re open Christmas day. So just in case you are craving some noodles after opening up all those presents, here are the results:

Los Angeles Area:

  • Hanaichimonme – Los Angeles, CA (213) 626-3514
  • Joy Mart – Los Angeles, CA (213) 680-9868
  • Mr. Ramen – Los Angeles, CA (213) 626-4252
  • Orochon Ramen – Los Angeles, CA (213) 617-1766
  • Santouka – Los Angeles, CA (310) 398-2113
  • Shin-Sen-Gumi – Rosemead, CA (626) 572-8646

South Bay:

  • Men-Bei – Torrance, CA (310) 320-7730
  • Santouka – Torrance, CA (310) 212-1101
  • Shin-Sen-Gumi – Gardena, CA (310) 329-1335
  • Shisen Ramen – Torrance, CA (310) 534-1698

Orange County:

  • Santouka – Costa Mesa, CA (714) 434-1101
  • Shin-Sen-Gumi – Fountain Valley, CA (714) 962-8971
  • Takaraya – Irvine, CA (949) 654-1221

San Diego:

  • Santouka – San Diego, CA (858) 974-1101

Las Vegas:

  • Togoshi Ramen – Las Vegas, NV (702) 737-7003

Make sure you call first to check the times because some won’t be open all day. If you know of any others, feel free to post a comment or email me. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Stay warm and slurp loud!!

Gyu-Kaku – Pasadena, CA

70 W. Green St.
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 405-4842
www.gyu-kaku.com

A friend once told me that Gyu-Kaku’s ramen is really good! Specifically, they said Gyu-Kaku’s ramen in Pasadena is really good! And this was the same friend that said Tokyo Table’s ramen is really good. Can you see where this is going? Yup, I’m definitely gonna have to reconsider this friendship over the holidays…hehe.


Goma Negi Ramen: The menu describes it as: “Ramen served in a special SHIO broth topped with ample Green Onions & Sesame Seeds.” I will describe it as: “Sapporo Ichiban noodles overcooked in a stone pot and served in a special instant-like soup with a touch of Green Onions & Sesame Seeds.” I’m sorry, but I could’ve made this at home.


The only positive thing about this ramen was the chashu, but that still wasn’t even great. There’s also a raw egg dropped in that gets cooked in the soup. You know, just like when you make instant ramen at home.


Thank goodness this is a Japanese BBQ restaurant and not a ramen-ya! My favorite is the Harami Miso! So next time you’re stuck in Pasadena and desperately craving ramen, just chew a stick of gum until that craving dissipates. But if you must eat the ramen here, please do so at your own risk. Otherwise just stick to the meat and beer!


Okay, you can still be my friend…

Lunch:
FRI-SUN 11:30am – 4pm
Dinner:
MON-THU 5pm – 10:30pm
FRI-SAT 5pm – 11:30pm
SUN 5pm – 10pm

Ducks Restaurant – San Gabriel, CA

1381 E Las Tunas Dr #1
San Gabriel, CA 91775
(626) 287-8743
Ramen Menu

If someone were to tell me a Japanese restaurant in San Gabriel named Ducks serves good ramen, I would have laughed and said “You’re Crazy!!” Wait a minute…that actually happened! I can’t believe I’ve driven by this place thousands of times on my way home from work and never realized that (1) they had ramen and (2) it’s Japanese. Apparently known more for their curry & spaghetti, Ducks also has a few ramen on the menu. Simply labeled Chashu Ramen, choices of soup base include Shoyu, Miso, Tonkotsu, Curry, and Tonkotsu Curry. But don’t worry, no actual ducks were hurt in the boiling process.


Chashu Ramen (Shoyu Base): Beautiful! Definitely well presented, but we all know true beauty comes from within. So after a poignant first impression, it was time to sip its soul…absorbing, exotic, captivating, humurous, fashionable. Oh wait…I’m describing the girl that was sitting across from me…hehe. Sorry folks, now let me get back to the ramen. Wonderfully presented, this ramen was light and refreshing with a decent non-overwhelming flavor. Slightly above average, simple enough to soothe a craving would aptly describe this shoyu ramen. Topped with chashu, bok choy, and a few strips of negi, I felt like it could have used something more. The chashu was somewhat disappointing as well, but like I said…it’s simple enough to soothe a craving.


Although most likely not homemade, the noodles tasted very fresh and cooperated with the soup. Evidently, my slurping got a 10 on the noise meter…haha.


Cold Ramen: Basically a hiyashi chuuka without most of the ingredients that make it a hiyashi chuuka. Did that make sense? In other words, it’s the same sauce without all the vegetables and ham and stuff. It was good and I liked it, but I’d rather have some soup.


Mini Curry: The curry was delicious! Impressive, but I still wouldn’t call it the best. Hmm…it makes me wonder how the Tonkotsu Curry Ramen tastes.


Ducks has been around for a long time. Something like 10 years if I’m not mistaken. Which makes it all the more shocking that I never knew it was here. This can only mean one thing…that there must be others like Ducks hiding in a neighborhood near you! If you have a recommendation, please please let me know!

Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi – Gardena, CA

2015 W. Redondo Beach Blvd.
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 329-1335
www.shinsengumiusa.com

The original Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi location in Gardena has been around for more than a decade and is still considered the best (imho) compared to its Fountain Valley and Rosemead siblings. (I just can’t believe I haven’t posted this location yet!) So where should I start? All Shin-Sen-Gumi restaurants have a lot of character and it probably would be unjust if I tried to explain their mission in my own words, so here’s a little video in “their” own words.

Hakata Ramen: As stated in the video, you can modify this ramen to your liking by specifying the texture of the noodle, the amount of oil used, and the amount of flavor added. It’s like having your own personal ramen chef! Unfortunately, you can’t take them home. Anyway, like I said before, the Gardena location is my favorite out of the three. There’s definitely a harmonious feeling of originality that transfers over to the soup. I’ve never been to Hakata (or just too young to remember), but this is probably as close as one can get in Los Angeles. Its creaminess rivals that other place and on some days may even be better. The toppings (chashu, shoga, negi) are great too. Kaedama Onegaishimasu!


Gyoza: Top 5 for sure!! I got mine with the A-set. Highly recommended!


Feel like ramen on New Year’s Eve? This location will be open until 5AM New Year’s Day for all post party celebrations. So get yo drunk-a** down there!

That makes me wonder…does ramen qualify for toshi koshi soba?

Sushi To Sakedokoro – Anaheim, CA

8086 E Santa Ana Cyn Rd #155
Anaheim, CA 92808
(714) 998-3757
Exit Weir Cyn off the 91 freeway.

Sushi To Sakedokoro translates to a place for sushi and drinks. So what is a sushi-ya doing on a ramen blog, you ask? Well let me give you a little background first. This restaurant was originally opened by a family friend of ours a few years back and it used to be my dad’s favorite hangout. My stepmom even worked there for a short period of time up until it was sold to a nice Korean family last year.

So fast forwarding to today, the new owner’s son (Chef Jun, who’s also the head sushi chef) is a HUGE fan of Japanese ramen. And for the past five years, crafting a unique bowl of his own has been his passionate hobby. He remembers working in San Diego several years ago, stumbling upon a newly opened Tajima and trying an eye-opening ramen for the first time. The ramen had tickled his soul and he was forever hooked. Ahhh, I know the feeling. Just from hearing Chef Jun speak about his recent trip to Japan and how he ate ramen everyday tells me that his passion is for real!


Kimchee Ramen: Described as his specialty, Chef Jun meticulously began cooking at the small stove behind the sushi bar. His knowledge of ramen is purely based on curiosity. He’s had no training and relies heavily on Japanese books and TV shows that explain the improvised art. Throw in some Korean flair and you get the Chef Jun special–homemade kimchi sauteed with ground pork topped on a shoyu-based ramen that also includes egg, baby corn, negi, and sesame seeds. Although still in its infancy, you can taste the potential that his passion will bring. It wasn’t spectacular, but I know that in due time it will be. Pretty soon his dad will need to rename the restaurant to Sushi To Sake To Mendokoro!


Doesn’t this close-up look at the sauteed kimchi make your mouth water? Mmmm…right? Since Chef Jun is constantly experimenting, everyday might produce a different style ramen. He has no boundaries and no limits. He opens the gate and just lets his creative juices flow.


The noodles are store bought and nothing special, but Chef Jun does envision making his own someday. Perhaps his own full-fledged ramen-ya is in the works?


Oh yeah, and they also have sushi. On nights that are really busy and since ramen isn’t “officially” on the menu yet, Chef Jun may not have the time to make it, so you may want to ask first before you sit down. He’s looking into buying a bigger stove and hiring some more staff but until then your best bet is to go during off-peak hours.


And now if you’re stuck in the Anaheim Hills/Yorba Linda area, there’s no need to travel far for ramen anymore. It’s a good location and definitely fills a void in that region. Let’s be patient and hope that Chef Jun can master the art of making ramen!