When I first moved to LA, my only background in ramen was of the Cup O’Noodles variety. Then I began to get Japanese ramen at my local haunt, Atch-Kotch, but this was before tonkotsu ramen began to hit it big here, and it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
I had a lot of trepidation before writing this article. Not being of Asian descent, I questioned whether I had the background to be any kind of authority on ramen. After diving in deep, I realized I had a LOT to learn and a lot more ramen joints to try out! Of course, I was happy to remedy this.
There are four main types of ramen broth: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (soybean paste), and tonkotsu (pork bone).
My experiences with the often simple (read: bland) shio and shoyu broths were very “meh.” That wouldn’t stop me from slurping them down in seconds, however, especially once spicy components were added. And then tonkotsu took over.
Maybe it had always been on the menu and I never tried it, or maybe the ramen industry needed some new invigoration to create Sprinkles-like lines around the block. Whatever happened, it’s everywhere now and it’s insanely delicious. Ramen 2.0, if you will. Tonkotsu is made by boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen over high heat for many hours, causing the broth to look like milky gravy with a highly concentrated pork flavor.
Years ago, when I first tried LA’s most popular ramen spot, Daikokuya, I was not impressed with my selection of shio ramen. Now, Daikokuya has only two ramen menu items: its signature tonkotsu and tsukemen, which is dipping ramen.
Call me a novice, but I ain’t got time for tsukemen! It’s sloppy, there are too many steps, and by the time I get anything in my mouth, it’s lukewarm. Ramen should be broth and noodles swimming lovingly together, like nature intended.
Before I get into my Top 5 ramen spots in LA, I must preface by saying I’ve only included places within a 30-minute driving distance from my home, omitting any place in Gardena. Sorry, but when I live sandwiched between Little Tokyo and Little Osaka, it’s too far. Also, I have specifically NOT included Tsujita Artisan Noodle (the hottest spot on Sawtelle) because … well … I didn’t like it. The broth was far too rich for me, so much so I couldn’t even finish it! And the hour wait just isn’t worth it.
Bun Boy has been obsessed with the LA restaurant scene since he moved here 12 years ago. He visits about 4 restaurants a week, mostly never repeating any. Even in these wavering economic times, he absolutely refuses to give up one of his favorite pastimes.