The first Ramen Yokocho festival was a spectacular flop; the venue in Torrance went so overcapacity that the line just to get into the venue went around the block (twice). This year, the organizers of the Ramen Yokocho festival wisely opted for a larger venue: the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia.
There were 14 ramen vendors at the festival, some of them from LA (Daikokuya, Men Oh, and Shinsengumi); some from around the country (Hiromaru from Las Vegas, Tajima and Shalala from San Jose); and quite a few from Japan (Tatsunoya, Tsujita Tokyo, Horaiya, and Mattou Seimen). Here are the highlights of what we could get our hands on:
The line for this shop was easily the longest out of all the ramen shops, and rightfully so. The broth was very rich and dense, packing so much umami that Daikokuya’s broth pales in comparison. With a spoon of garlic, this tonkotsu broth easily stood head-and-shoulders above their fellow competitors of the day. The noodles were slightly on the softer side but were still the perfect vehicle to deliver the umami bomb of the broth, and the chashu (pork belly) was melt-in-mouth tender.
Ever since the Ramen Burger took New York by storm, ramen fanatics on the West Coast have been scouring the edges of the earth to find a similar item here in LA. Fujin has delivered. For the duration of the Ramen Festival, Fujin created a “Tonkotsu Spicy Miso Ramen Burger,” which consisted of a beef patty along with some vegetables sandwiched between two ramen “buns” dressed with spicy miso. While the idea was well-conceived, the ramen buns were drowned in oil to prevent the coating from sticking to the grill, and the buns were unevenly seared on the outside, creating uneven cooking. However, the Spicy Miso proved to be a good addition to the burger and provided a nice kick of flavor.
For those still interested, you can also get your hands on ramen burgers in the food court of the Mitsuwa market in Torrance.
Supposedly ranked as the best ramen in Kyushu, the broth at Tatsunoya is made from only two ingredients, pork bones and water, simmered for 20 hours. Comparatively, the broth was a lot lighter and thinner than that of Tsujita Tokyo, but was still very rich in umami and pork flavor. The ramen was chewier than Tsujita’s (or most other ramen places), but was equally competent in delivering the broth. The chashu was on the same level as Tsujita, easily being one of the best pieces of chashu that I’ve had in a bowl of ramen.
- If you don’t mind spending some extra time at the next Ramen Yokocho festival, sign up to volunteer. Not only will you get free admission ($5 saved there), you don’t have to pay for parking ($4), you get a free Ramen T-shirt (not even for sale), a free bowl of Ramen ($8), free drinks (at least $2), and best of all, you can cut the infinitely long lines (priceless). All that for only a six-hour shift where you’d likely be helping out with directing the crowd, holding signs, and running errands for the various stands.
- For the less charitable (or just plain hungry) people, the best time to come to the ramen festival is around 4 pm, when most of the crowds are gone and the lines are substantially shorter (I’d guess around half the wait time of that during 1 pm).
- Tsujita LA offers a similar tonkotsu broth, but beware of the lines, which are reputably worse than Daikokuya in Little Tokyo. If you really want to try this ramen, arrive before they open (11:00 AM) and wait obediently outside. In that area there are a plethora of wonderful food options (Hide Sushi, Seoul Sausage Company, Blockheads and even Tsujita Annex across the street) — so even if you find yourself losing patience waiting in line, you can satisfy your hunger elsewhere.
- One of the ramen stalls not covered, Mattou Seimen, can actually be found in Los Angeles. Mattou Seimen is a co-op effort between Kyoshi Kurihara, the owner of Ramen Iroha, and Kenichi Cheng, the owner of a Szechuan restaurant. Fortunately for us, Ramen Iroha is tucked into a Marukai Supermarket down in Gardena. Ramen Iroha is the three-year champion of the Tokyo Ramen Show and is well known for their Toyama Black Shoyu Ramen.
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