Day 1323:

“The value of his journey does not lie in the treasure at the end, but in the knowledge and experience he gains from the journey itself.”

Could it be time to go home?

Ramen maniacs…

Day 1276:

Speaking of maniacs, the one-and-only rameniac joined me for lunch today. Although you won’t see it on his blog (update it dammit!), his latest hype is Ramen Toraya in Torrance.

Rick recommended the Kitakata Ramen. A very light shoyu broth with a clean, crisp flavor.

It was good, but Kitakata it was not.

I needed another bowl so I got a mini Kyoto Tonkotsu.

Impressive, but I’ve never seen a ramen like this in Kyoto before. Good catching up Rick! Again, update the blog dammit!!

Before this trip ends, there is one place I need to go. Yeah you guessed it. Foo-Foo Tei

A big thanks to Michael for showing up and hanging out. It was great to finally meet you!!

Hello mabo.

Just like old times…

Sucks I gotta drive.

Thanks Murakami-san!!! 元気で良かった!まだ帰って来ないよ!

Daikokuya (大黒家) – Hacienda Heights, CA

It’s finally here! The fourth Daikokuya location is now open in Hacienda Heights and is currently in a soft-opening phase for dinner only. Apparently, everyone in the neighborhood is also aware of this because we ended up waiting for over 30 minutes to be seated (no worries though). All menu items are not available yet, but ramen and gyoza were the only two things I was concerned about trying. Understanding that this is only their second day open, I approached the ramen with low expectations and an open mind.

Daikoku Ramen: The soup was definitely not up to par with the LT location, being a tad rough on the tastebuds, but it still represented that smooth Daikokuya feel. The chashu was excellent but the hanjuku egg could have used a little more marination. The noodles were the typical curly noodles that Daikokuya is known for. Overall, it still needs some work, but I’m sure we have nothing to worry about.

Gyoza: The gyoza was also underachieving and not living up to its top 5 status, but I could live with that because they were still pretty good. Just don’t let them sit too long. They’re much better when they’re hot.

From the 60 freeway exit Hacienda Boulevard and head North. Turn right on Gale and it’ll be on your immediate left next to the Mobil Station.

A Night at Foo-Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights)

Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the owner and head chef of the original Foo-Foo Tei, Takeshi Murakami. He had contacted me by email on Day 1 of my recent trip to Japan and I was completely stunned when I read that he wanted to meet me and talk about ramen. So being the ramen geek that I am (yes I admit it now), I was looking forward to this night for weeks.

It ended up being more than I expected. We basically spent four hours casually talking about ramen, eating ramen, and drinking shochu. There was so much knowledge to be extracted from Murakami-san and it was just flowing into my alcohol soaked brain at a frenetic pace. And although I wasn’t there to learn about his secret ingredients, he did trust me enough to share a few. But out of respect, I won’t be able to share everything with my readers (sorry…). After all, we don’t need another Monterey Park to happen. For those that don’t know, the Monterey Park Foo-Foo Tei is a result of partnerships gone sour and an ex-manager’s betrayal. And to make a long story short, Murakami-san is currently in litigation with them to resolve this huge headache. As for the recipes, he smiles as he says “they didn’t get everything.” For instance, their shoyu ramen is completely different. Murakami-san’s technique of extracting flavors cannot be matched!

Some other things I learned are:

  • The name Foo-Foo Tei is derived from the action of blowing the noodle before you slurp it, hence the kanji 風 (wind).
  • If you’ve ever read those free magazines they have at the Japanese supermarkets, you’ll notice that Foo-Foo Tei is never listed in the restaurants section. Murakami-san’s customers have always just showed up, so he feels that there’s no need to advertise (I don’t blame him).
  • A lot of people have thought (including me): “Why is this place in such a remote industrial area?” And the simple answer is: “Because it’s close to my home.”
  • Another thing he doesn’t advertise is the use of organic ingredients in everything that he cooks. I was shocked to learn that he doesn’t use any pork for any of his soup bases. It’s all chicken-based.
  • Even the rice is super premium koshihikari and not the cheap stuff that most other restaurants use.
  • The reason he and other ramen-ya’s don’t make their own noodle is due to the strict health regulations imposed by the regulators. So he has Myojo mass produce his own noodle recipe solely for Foo-Foo Tei.
  • There are 31 bowls of ramen on the menu for everyday of the month–1 noodle a day. Could this be a challenge?

On to the food…

Nanchatte Tonkotsu Ramen: If you ask Murakami-san what his specialty is, he’ll just point to the wall listing all 31 bowls of ramen, but the Nanchatte is by far the most popular and the most interesting. We all know that tonkotsu ramen is made primarily with pork bones, but that’s not the case with this one. A cruel joke to most tonkotsu lovers (nanchatte means just kidding), but what this ramen does is actually help shed America’s image of an unhealthy soup. The main ingredient of the base is tofu and how he gets it to taste and look like this is beyond me. Although it tastes like a creamy Japanese corn soup, there’s no corn in it at all. If I had to guess, I’d say the other key ingredient is…soy milk?

Shio Ramen: Of course the shio ramen’s key ingredient is salt, but this shio ramen is also infused with a perfect blend of pepper and you can taste it’s uniqueness right away, but you may not appreciate it. The next time you try this, please pay attention. I also have a thing for baby bok choy in ramen. I tend to use it a lot when I make ramen at home.

Tenshin Ramen: If you like omelette ramen covered with a sweet and sour sauce, then you’ll enjoy this one. I’m not much of a fan of Tenshin-men, but I know my brother will like this one.

Gyoza: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Foo-Foo Tei has the best gyoza that I’ve ever tried in Southern California! And I finally know why! Instead of using water when cooking them (which often results in a loss of flavor), they use the ramen soup…genius!

Fried Potatoes: The perfect food to go with a few drinks…or a couple bottles of shochu.

The most flattering part of the night was learning that Murakami-san has read practically every page of this blog. I thought he was kidding, but his memory of certain posts proved it.

So if you’re in the neighborhood be sure to stop by. It just might become a fixture in your regular dining rotation. And remember…Hacienda Heights NOT Monterey Park!

Murakami-san ありがとう!ご馳走様でした!Thank you for your time and most importantly the advice you gave. I truly appreciate it.

Tamaya – Hacienda Heights, CA

17142 Colima Rd
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
(626) 581-3223

On the heels of my thirtieth ramen post in less than three months, I happened to stumble upon a true hidden gem in Hacienda Heights while visiting the bank. Surprised by this unexpected discovery, I had to put my football plans on hold and run in for a quick slurp. Tamaya is a small ramen and donburi restaurant that’s been serving the neighborhood locals for more than four years. It’s friendly family-owned atmosphere makes this restaurant that much more enjoyable. Some say that this is their back up ramen-ya when the line at Foo Foo Tei is too long, but don’t underestimate Tamaya. Although they don’t pop-up when googling for “ramen in LA”, Tamaya’s ramen can definitely hold its own and compete on a high level! Their menu even contains 24 different types of ramen to choose from. I can’t wait to go back and try the Kaarage-ramen.

Shoyu-ramen: Not knowing what to expect from the unexpected, this shoyu-ramen was surprisingly delicious! It even seemed to get better with every slurp. I couldn’t believe what my taste buds were experiencing. The soup was sensational with no regrets. The noodles were cooked perfectly and blended a great relationship with the soup. The toppings (chashu, egg, menma, nori, and negi) were also outstanding. Mostly because the kurobuta chashu was amazingly tender and moist! I’d never thought I’d say this, but this chashu quite possibly could give Daikokuya a run for its money. There’s nothing more to say…

Gyoza: Foo Foo Tei‘s gyoza is hand’s down the winner in this battle. Tamaya’s gyoza was less exciting than their ramen and oddly tasted like they came out of the freezer.

Chahan: If you do order the ramen combo, you’ll be better off combining the chahan instead of the gyoza. The chahan rivals most of the top ramen-ya’s in LA and OC.

Kokekokko – Hacienda Heights, CA

1611A South Azusa Ave.
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
(626) 810-2918

Auspiciously guided by the peak of this weekend’s meteor shower, a young rooster cries “kokekokko” (cock-a-doodle-doo) in hopes of awaking the city of Hacienda Heights. Although it’s lacking the famous yakitori grill from its popular Little Tokyo parent, this Kokekokko still shines, relying on ramen and rice bowls to keep the chicken coop restless–a definite plus for us ramen-enthusiasts. Did I also mention that ordering a large soboro just to try the ramen is NOT required here? Several different types of ramen are on the menu with an option of combining various chicken bowls. A superb restaurant for anyone that loves chicken!

Shoyu-ramen: Chicken soup for the ramen lover’s soul! If I ever get the flu, I’ll order gallons of this stuff to go. Not surprisingly, chicken is the main ingredient here. The soup tasted like Campbell’s chicken soup with a dash of shoyu. Light in taste, I found myself licking the bowl towards the end. The thin, blonde, crimped noodle reminded me of instant ramen (not yet sure which one), but it meshed well with everything else. The main topping was three pieces of succulent grilled chicken that had me screaming kokekokko! The rest of the toppings (menma, egg, naruto, nori, and negi) co-starred with admirable serenity.

Miso-ramen: Similar to the shoyu-ramen with an additional hint of miso. The miso made the soup very sweet but the rest was identical to the shoyu. I’m not much of a fan of sweet ramen so I’d have to pass on this one. But if you like sweet, by all means give it a try.

Chicken gyoza: A welcome change to the traditional pork-filled gyoza. I could probably eat fifty of these without feeling sick. They have a light, crisp taste that doesn’t weigh you down. I highly recommend them.

Katana Sushi and Ramen – Hacienda Heights, CA

3107 Colima Rd.
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
(626) 333-7222

It’s Q? No it’s Katana Sushi and Ramen! After browsing a forum thread on rameniac’s site which mentioned It’s Q Ramen (Ikkyu), I decided to go check it out. But after calling to see what time they open, I was greeted by a soft “Hello, Katana Sushi and Ramen.” Did I call the wrong place? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I still heard them say ramen so I asked for their hours and headed out my door. Anything to kill that Noodle Pluto taste that’s still lingering from yesterday.

Tamayu-ramen: After reading some prior reviews about It’s Q, it looks like their ramen still lives at Katana. Perhaps the owner of It’s Q simply changed their name and added sushi. Or perhaps the new owners also bought the ramen recipe. Or perhaps they just enslaved the old ramen chef. Or perhaps I know nothing at all. What I do know is that I actually really enjoyed this hakata-style tamayu-ramen. It also eerily reminded me of Shimadaya’s nama tonkotsu ramen in the package. Could this just be a pure coincidence? Hmmm…it makes me wonder. Well the soup base was oily and excellent. The noodles were slightly undercooked but I didn’t mind since it beats being overcooked. The toppings were simple (thinly sliced moist chashu, negi, goma, and konbu), giving the ramen some individuality. And with Utada Hikaru singing First Love in the background (natsukashii), I virtually fell in love with Tamayu!

Gyoza: For just $7 total, my Tamayu-ramen came with three pieces of gyoza. Not bad! Although these were deep-fried and reminded me more of fried wontons than gyoza. They even came with their own sweet ponzu-like sauce. Good but not great. There are plenty of other items to choose from for this ramen-combo so you might be better off skipping the gyoza here.