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Japanese Noodle Expert tests LA

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Dear Chowhounds,

My friend Tomo is a Japanese noodle expert. Not only did he live in Japan until last year, he has a discerning palate and once worked in a renowned soba house (OK, as the delivery person...). Here are Tomo’s thoughts and feelings about some of LAs Japanese noodle purveyors. We have not tried Taiko, the Little Tokyo joints or most importantly Otafuku. Let us know if there are other spots you recommend!

Yabu 11820 W. Pico Blvd
I liked it fine but according to Tomo the soba didn’t taste very homemade and the broth also tasted outsourced or at least overly prefabricated. For me these weaknesses were ameliorated by the fluffy whisked-until-bubbly yamaimo (Japanese yam) which I enjoy in my soba. Note: this is a soba place so order soba.

Mishima 11819 Wilshire Blvd
Low low marks, they are owned by a large corporation (I’ve been using their mirin nori dashi sesame mix on my lunchtime rice) and Tomo feels the quality reflects this in a negative way. I found the tanuki soba passable but broth is from the company recipe, not that of the individual noodle master.

Yashima 11301 Olympic Blvd #210, Sawtelle Strip
Used to be a Mishima I believe, but soba has slightly superior quality now that they’ve broken away. Tomo eats here, as Sawtelle is his ‘hood. I liked the noodles but was disturbed by the onigiri – three balls with a variety of flavours but unfortunately none were umeboshi (pickled plum) let alone mentaiko (cod roe)

Kotohira 747 W. Redondo Beach Blvd,, Gardena
Much love to Todai Plaza, which includes a jolly good yakiniku restaurant (Housenka), a tebasaki bar and this famed handmade udon place, among others. Udon is closest to Tomo’s heart and while not reaching his highest standards, Kotohira earned the rare accolade “I would eat this in Japan, if it were cheap”. Which it is. The shoyu udon (plain with soy sauce one adds to taste, dashi, green onion) is the best way to appreciate the lovable irregularities and smooth, yielding texture of the noodles here. Soup udon was a little overcooked and soft by Tomo’s taste. Karaage (fried chicken) lacked the crispy snap of better versions – one of my desktop pictures is a shot of the fabulous karaage at Minako in SFs Mission District.

Ramen-ya 11555 W. Olympic Blvd
Thi’s favourite ramen and a winner on the Tomo scale. Keen to sample the simple stuff (usually the best indicator of overall quality) Tomo ordered the shio ramen, which features the clear Tokyo-style broth seasoned only with salt; compare shoyu which adds soy. Thumbs up for homemade broth and good quality noodles. I ordered the sansai ramen with Japanese vegetables, and was chagrined by Tomo’s comment “we normally eat sansai only with udon or soba”. The place is owned by Koreans I think so the kimchi was excellent, I look forward to trying the jya-jya noodle aka chachiang mein after my excellent experience at Mandarin House in Koreatown. I will, however, be avoiding the Singapore-noodle-not-found-in-Singapore as my friend Limster calls it, this has crossed over from the Hong Kong Cantonese menus where it normally resides to trick the unsuspecting diner.

Hakata Ramen Shin Sen Gumi 2015 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. #C, Gardena
We ate here tonight and had a great time. Just like the best genre films (“The 36th Chamber of Ramen”?) the noodle shops that Tomo and I treasure most are those that specialize! Here the only broth is Kyushu style “tonkotsu ramen”, milky-whitish and rich with the essence of many pork bones. The ramen eater faces important choices: opt for hard noodles which is how the Japanese have it. We also chose medium oil, yes on the pickled ginger and on the green onion. Noodles had commendable rubbery texture, while chashu (pork) was soft and very tasty. The style is different but overall I would pick this over Ramen-ya. An added bonus is the respectable selection of izaka-ya (Japanese bar) style snacks. We ordered the excellent cream croquette, a marvel of panko-breaded soft mash than nearly disintegrates upon a chopstick prod. It comes with the brown, okonomiyaki/takoyaki sauce. Nankotsu karaage (fried chicken cartilage) are definitely not for the middle of the road diner but the adventurous will savour the crunchy-chewy joints which are delicately fried and much more exciting than regular karaage. Last but not least we added the sutamina natto – yep, it means “stamina” which was appropriate seeing as both of us went back to work afterward. Amazingly, natto is mixed with two other sticky foodstuffs, yamaimo/Japanese yam and okra and a generous dab of mustard for a hard-to-eat but delicious combination. A party in one's mouth and everyone's invited.

I’ll keep reporting Tomo’s verdict on other Japanese spots including cheap sushi (the scientitific salary generally dictates low-end dining) and izaka-ya. I’m also curious what he thinks of derived Japanese cuisines such as Matsuhisa-esque Peruvian and especially Hawaiian, not to mention the Curry House/Japanese-Italian parallel universe.

Happy eating,

Low End Theory

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  1. You gotta try Daikokuya in Little Tokyo. 327 E 1st St.
    It sounds similar to the ramen at Hakata. My boyfriend always orders it "kotteri" syle, with extra pork flavor. We took our (skeptical) Japanese friend there, and he's been back many times since.

    Bonus: they're open really late... til around 2 or 3 am Mon-Sat, but Sun they usually close by 8:30.

    1. Thanks for the reports!

      1. Opinions backed by knowledge are a beautiful thing.

        1. here's another place for ramen:

          tampopo
          located in the food court next to the market
          3760 centinela ave
          west l.a./mar vista

          it's funny, but the owner reminds me of the guy who runs casa bianca pizza, they have the same sort of serious intensity. it shows in the food.

          1. Why haven't you tried otafuku yet?

            Favorite there: seishiro (sp)?, cold.

            -thi