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Yakyudori Rev. 2.0 - Nabesan does it again!

I just came back from a last minute visit to Yakyudori Ramen after hearing about their soft opening in another thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/684012 Since that thread was anticipating their opening, I thought it most appropriate to start a new one now that they are open.

Though there were quite a few cars in the lot, there were only two customers in the shop when I arrived. I figured most of the cars were for the *$'s shop next door. I didn't realize it at the time, but I would find out a half-hour later that I came in just before they were to close the doors to new customers. (During the soft opening they close at 9 pm.

)

As I walked in it was nice to have been recognized by both the waitstaff and the sole customer at the bar, both of whom remembered me from my frequent visits to Yakitori Yakyudori. (Hurrah for our first Ramen-ya with a counter!) The counter is very generously sized, certainly deeper than many in Japan, and extensive enough to handle perhaps 15 or more customers. Table seating was also plentiful, though only one table was being used at the time.

Having already read the menu on the front door, I knew what I was having - the Shio Ramen (salt flavored Ramen). This is, afterall, my favorite Ramen, followed by Shoyu Ramen (soy sauce flavor), neither of which is represented well in San Diego. Though I also enjoy a good Tonkotsu (pork bone flavor), I find it too rich and over-the-top to enjoy exclusively and have been dying to find a good Shio or Shoyu bowl in San Diego to provide an alternative to Santouka. A single bowl of Tonkotsu to every 9 bowls of Shio or Shoyu Aji is about the right balance for me.

Lucky for me Nabe-san's new shop concentrates on these two most basic flavors, in addition to Miso Aji. (There were 3 other variations which I did not pay attention to...)

So I ordered the Shio Ramen just as is. The Shio Ramen already comes garnished with two slices of Chashu (Chinese style pork), finely shredded rings of Tokyo Negi (Japanese green onions), Menma (or Shinachiku, marinated Chinese-style bamboo shoots), the all-important Hanjyuku Tama (half-boiled marinated egg), and corn.

The bowl was beautiful. Whereas a food-pornish image of a Tonkotsu Ramen will feature a nearly opaque and milky soup hiding its oils that cannot all be held in emulsion within its saturated broth, in a Shio Ramen it's all about the clarity and color, dotted with tiny pearls of oil clearly delineated from the rest of the broth. Here we can expect by looks alone that we will taste a soup in all its nakedness, one which will for better or worse clearly showcase the skills of the chef in making his Dashi (stock). There is no hiding with a Shio broth.

And the broth was wonderful. With a good Shiomen I'm always left speechless, unable to describe it in terms of any of its constituent flavors as all of its parts disappears into a single gestalt experience. Sure enough when I have a Shio or Shoyu Ramen that does not agree I can quickly point out why, but for me with these classic Ramen broths they are at their best when one can no longer make out any particular component.

And that is why I enjoy these broths so much, and why I believe it is the Shio broth above all, to be followed by the Shoyu broth, that makes them so difficult to master. That is, the closer you get to perfecting these broths, the more and more difficult it becomes to know what to do to make them better. (Very much like trying to navigate to the North Pole. The closer you get to it, the less you know in which direction you need to go...)

So check off the most important part, their broth. It really is true what they say in Tampopo - it's the soup that animates the noodles. The noodles, too, were wonderful and flavorful, with just enough soft starches on the surface to hold fast onto the broth. It is a smoother type of noodle than used at Santouka, which befits their more refined broths. And they have good flavor. Another thing I look for in a noodle is its "guts", or strength, and these have good strength but not quite as good as Santouka's. Still not shabby in strength either, and an overall score of the noodles would be very high in my book.

The pork was nicely cut and generous in size and cut to the correct thickness, Too thick and the Chashu will start to be unbalanced, too thin and it becomes too "wimpy" and insignificant. It was elegantly flavored with the right amount of fat to keep it moist, and again more befitting the more elegant styled broth vs. Santouka's more assertive Chashu.

And yet again the Menma befit the broth, where the more assertive, almost barn-yardy notes of some Menmas would be out of place. However perhaps in this department the Menma could be a tad more assertive and still complement the broth well. Afterall even in this quiet symphony of tastes there comes a point at which some notes become too quiet to almost not be noticed.

So I was pleased with almost all of the components and was left with one big question - I have not yet tasted the Hanjyuku Tama. Well it was more than adequate given the rest of the bowl. The yolk had just the right texture and provided a subtle salty burst of flavor as it was liberated from it's albumen casing. One thing did surprise me though as I bit into the Tamago is that I appeared to catch some unexpected sweetness coming out of the yolk. Not sure if this was accurate or not, so I await a second tasting. I actually considered ordering another portion of Tamago just to make sure, but I didn't have enough broth left to balance it out.

I'd say the only nit I came home with is that I can do without the corn. Growing up I never had corn in my Ramen, though it is a popular add-on topping in Japan. In a bowl which otherwise is all about Umami flavors, corn's concentrated and simple sweetness simply does not belong. But that's just my personal preference, and I suspect that I can order my next bowl sans corn.

*-*-*-*-*

I talked at length to Haru-san, who is the Ramen chef at Yakyudori. He comes here from Tokyo by way of Orange County, where we had worked for several years in charge of the Ramen at Santouka's Costa Mesa branch. To have perhaps the man responsible for Santouka's most consistently run So Cal branch here in San Diego is a plus indeed.

In fact he first became familiar with San Diego when he had helped with the opening of Santouka's San Diego shop, and it was during this time that he became familiar with Yakitori Yakyudori. Wanting a change of pace from Santouka's Tonkotsu style, he was looking for a change when Nabe-san just happened to approach him with the idea of opening up a new Ramen-ya.

So thus began a true collaboration, with Haru-san in charge of the Ramen, and Nabe-san in charge of the Yakitori. We're talking about an all-star team here, though Nabe-san's Yakitori station is yet to be installed, awaiting the arrival of a liquor license.

It was good to hear from Haru-san that the development of the Ramen is completely up to them. They know they're off to a good start, but they know they could do better depending, as usual, on the all-important customer. What would their taste preferences be? How traditional could they stay? Can they chase even more exotic preparation techniques for their broth and still keep a following and a relatively low price point?

It'll be a while before we will find out, but at least in these very early days I think I can confidently say that they are off to a great start!

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  1. Very nicely written review.

    I just realized that I almost always get tonkotsu type ramen.

    I was also at Yakitori Ramen tonight and also went with the shio ramen and...I found the broth to be a bit bland.

    Is that on purpose? It seems like a very light chicken broth with just a hint of dashi. I found myself wanting more shio in the shio ramen and added shoyu, pepper, and some of the hot sesame oil, but like I said I think this is the first time I've had a shio ramen that wasn't mixed with some pork broth. I don't want to imply a poor preparation if it is just my misunderstanding of the flavor profile.

    I did like the chasu, thought the half egg was great and just at the proper level of doneness. I also thought the noodles were very good. I agree that the corn was not necessary and personally I'm a big fan of naruto so was a bit disappointed not to find it in the bowl. Menma is not my favorite topping but I found it to be fine.

    Shio ramen may be too subtle for me. Perhaps you can explain the proper way to spice up the bowl?

    I found the service to be very good and everyone was super friendly. The owner/manager actually stopped by each table and asked how things were, a nice touch.

    I can't wait for the yakitori to start, as I'm a huge fan of the Hillcrest location and hope they can bring the same punch to this place. I'm curious about why they can't do yakitori without a liquor license. I rarely drink alcohol anymore and find tea or water go great with hatsu et al.

    2 Replies
    1. re: thirtyeyes

      I wouldn't call the broth bland at all. It was very well constructed. I also doubt that your portion was made any differently than any other, as the stock will have been started perhaps as early as the day before or sometime early that same day during prep.

      However depending on the practices of the shop the complete broth is typically constructed to order per portion directly in the serving bowl itself, typically starting with the most concentrated flavorings and concluded with the main broth. However it would be very unlikely that any appreciable variation would be found in this step. Ramen chefs take great pride in their methods, and each bowl should represent precisely the flavor profile that he has crafted.

      However if all you've ever had is a Tonkotsu Ramen, that is most likely the reason for your reaction. The Shio and Shoyu are the classic Ramen broths, and to truly understand Ramen one needs to start there. Tonkotsu is a regional Ramen that through time has spread to other parts of Japan. Santouka, in fact, is from one of these regions that's outside of Tonkotsu's traditional home in Japan, and perhaps may help explain their somewhat contorted names for their flavors.

      Oh, come to think of it, that must be it! Could it be that the only other bowl you've had is Santouka's so-called Shio Ramen? If so that could explain it, as all of Santouka's broths are bulit-upon a Tonkiotsu base. Shio, as used in Santouka's bit contorted context, should be interpreted as meaning something like "plain vanilla". By no means is their so-called Shio Ramen an actual Shio Ramen. It is their basic, or "plain vanilla", Tonkotsu Ramen, an entirely different animal than a Shio Ramen.

      On garnishing your bowl: if you wish, for a Shio Ramen you can add some Sansho (ground Szechuan pepper) for aroma, or Rayu (red pepper infused sesame oil) for heat and flavor, but I found the broth so delicious that I didn't add anything to my bowl. You really want to avoid overseasoning a Shio broth, as it is particularly easy to upset its carefully crafted balance.

      On the Yakitori/liquor license: eating Yakitori is synonymous with drinking beer, so to a Japanese one is unthinkable without the other.

      On how good the Yakitori is likely to be: I'm expecting the best that YY has to offer. My understanding is that Nabe-san is planning on being full-time at the new Convoy shop.

      1. re: cgfan

        I had similar thoughts to thirtyeyes after trying the shoyu ramen, so I'm willing to go again and try the shio ramen. Personally, I'm just not a big fan of the shoyu flavor, so I'm hoping the shio might let other flavors in the broth shine through better.

        I also thought the egg was fantastic. If they had a pack of 4 for take-out, I would order it in a heartbeat.

    2. cgfan, what a fantastic review. I could almost taste each ingredient as you described it. I must check this place out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: DiningDiva

        Thanks, DD! Would be great to hear a review from you on their new enterprise.

        1. re: daantaat

          Lunch too. I forget the opening hours, but I think it was like 10am - 3am, 7 days a week.

        2. wow, great review. While I was professed Santouka addict upon discovering it, I have come to find that its heavy, potent porkiness is overwhelming to me now. Hopefully, I will find a replacement in this subtler version.

          1. Well having now gone 3 days in a row, here are my "micro-reviews" on each bowl that I've had so far.

            * Saturday Jan 30: Shio Ramen - broth was off the charts good, with a beautiful Usukuchi flavor but still packed with explosive Umami, though I wouldn't mind if the Menma were to be a touch more assertive and could do without the corn

            * Sunday Jan 31: Shio Ramen sans corn - delicious though not as refined as Saturday's more Usukuchi broth; perhaps a good bet for Koikuchi fans; everything else was delicious as before, and the Menma this time seemed to be just right

            * Monday Feb 1: Shoyu Ramen - wow, another beautiful broth, off the charts good; elegant, refined, dignified; has as much Umami as Saturday's Shio broth; thought they could serve their broth much hotter, though that could be to adapt to local preferences... http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

            Both Saturday's Shio broth and Monday's Shoyu broth were off-the-charts incredible. Both had the quality where I can no longer say how it could be made any better. For the time being for my next 3 visits I'll have one more Shio and two more Shoyu, to net a total of three each, before I try any of the other flavors. That should allow me to assess their consistency and their target style.

            So far I'm really liking this place!

            1. I assume all their broths use pork, is that correct? Unfortunately I don't eat pork but am a big fan of YY so it would be great to check the new place out.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mayache

                Actually I wouldn't assume that at all; it would be best to ask. These most traditional broths, the Shio and Shoyu, are all about lightness and clarity, and would probably not use any pork at all in their respective broths, though some shops do. My guess from what I've had so far is that they do not.

                Again my advice would be to ask them specifically about how their broth is constructed, or at least specifically if it contains any pork. (Many shops will only go so far as to discuss their brothmaking, as these are typically very heavily guarded secrets.)

                However in the bowl itself they'll all be garnished with slices of pork, which of course you could easily omit.

                1. re: cgfan

                  I'll check it out then. Just in case, they do have yakitori there too, right?

                  1. re: mayache

                    No, they won't for several months until they get the liquor license.

              2. Thanks for another great review and photos! I went yesterday and had a good time, can't wait for the yakitori and beer. =)

                This is definitely more traditional ramen than the pork broth style at Santouka. I got the shio ramen. Noodles are great, with soft melt in your mouth pork chashu, egg, onion, corn, and sliced bamboo (menma). The broth is light, which really comes down to personal preference. I appreciate having a ligher ramen than Santouka with an emphasis more on the noodles and sides. Great deal at $6.50 for ramen. Even better is being open till 3am with guaranteed parking.

                Definitely a welcome addition!

                1 Reply
                1. re: royaljester

                  Agreed! Not only do we finally get a really competent Shio and Shoyu Aji broth, but San Diego now gets for the first time an actual Ramen counter and service til 3 am 7 days a week!

                  (This is bound to be a big hit amongst restaurant crews who work the late dinner shifts!)

                2. We went during the soft opening.

                  Overall, since we're fans of Nabe's work at the Hillcrest location, this new venture looks like it has some good things going on. Service was very friendly. With any soft-opening, things take time to settle in and get going. So, we went with an open mind.

                  With that in mind, here are some random observations....

                  It was verrry bright in there. It worked with the counter style, with the lights shining down from overhead, but it looked just a tad too bright from the tables where we were sitting.

                  The lack of alcohol and skewers is definitely missed right now. I look forward to when it's at full-speed and full-menu, but having just ramen on the menu, and no beer to go with it was a negative for me. Especially since there are large beer posters on the walls. Too tempting!

                  In addition to the ramen, we ordered gyoza and karaage. The gyoza were great, as were the karaage. One note about the karaage was that they came with some loose lettuce underneath, but no dipping sauce/mayo, or any lemon. Maybe it's a westernized thing to serve karaage with lemon and sauce, but it made eating them a little odd without the condiments I've always had with them.

                  With our ramen we ordered some tea. They brought us two cans of tea. When the waitress came back, we clarified that we wanted hot tea, so she took the cans back. She returned a minute later with the same cans, which were now hot to the touch. So, we looked at each other, laughed, and then moved on drinking our hot tea-in-a-can. So, looks like they're not serving tea from a pot with a teabag. Strange, no?

                  As for the ramen, we had the Shio and Miso. We're big fans of tonkotsu broth, so overall the broth of the ramen was not our preferred usual. It was definitely good, but we were missing that richness. Others may complain of the "too-rich" quality of a bowl of Tonokotsu, but I personally love a good full-bodied bowl. So, the flavor of the Yakyudori broth was much lighter than I expected it to be. Definitely good, with strong hints of shellfish in there, but I defer to the expertise of others who are used to that style of Shio and Shoyu broth. For me, I kept missing the Tokotsu flavors I'm used to.

                  As for the garnishes on the bowl, overall I'd have to say that the bowl was a little "under-dressed" for my liking. I'm not one to throw a whole ton of stuff on top of the broth, but I felt that it could've used some more by way of toppings. Sesame seeds, woodear mushrooms, seaweed, etc. The most abundant topping was the corn, which I didn't care for at all. I really didn't like having the sweetness of the corn on top of the nuanced flavor of the broth. Or when they sunk to the bottom of the bowl. Kind of messed with the noodle/broth combination for me. I know that it may be traditional and part of that style of ramen, but I will definitely be asking them to hold it next time. The egg, on the other hand, was great. Very nicely prepared.

                  The chashu was excellent. No complaints there. Delicious. Equal with the chashu served on a good day at Santouka. As for the noodles, they seemed to be the standard JFC stuff. They may have even been from Teri cafe for all I know. They did have that kind of "glossy" slightly translucent on the edges look to them. Tajima's noodles have a similar look, but Santouka's are much more matte in comparison, and as such I prefer the texture of their noodles better.

                  On the plus side, something that I really liked about the menu was that you could customize your bowl by paying additional for extra toppings. So, add an extra 2 slices of Chashu to the Yakyudori bowl for $2 and you have a $8.50-$9.50 bowl, totaling 4 slices of chashu. However, worth nothing that this comes out just a hair (and a slice) short of Santouka's $9.99 5-piece chashu bowl.

                  Overall, we were happy to support Nabe's new endeavor. We'll probably be back next weekend to give it another try. Please take my above comments with a grain of salt. Personally, I don't think that any restaurant should be judged too hard on their opening week. And in that the restaurant is only at half-menu right now, the potential for the future is obvious. Even if one doesn't like the ramen, it will be very nice to have another Yakitori location in town.

                  If you're going for a late lunch or early dinner, be sure to time it right, as they close at 2pm and reopen at 5pm for dinner.

                  By the way, last point to make is that this new location makes for the 6th location that one can get a bowl of ramen from within a 1 mile radius of the Convoy/Balboa intersection: Santouka, Tajima Izakaya, Chopstix, Tajima Noodle House, Teri Cafe, and now Yakyudori.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cookieshoes

                    I went back and had the shoyu ramen and found it to be much better than the shio for my tastes. I'm thinking shoyu was the type I had up at Ramen Halu in San Jose.

                    Though I'm still putting tonkotsu at the top of my list, I thought the shoyu was very, very good. The chasu was exceptional this time. I also did a takoyaki side and found it very tasty.

                    I can't wait for the yakitori, but I hope it doesn't take months like someone mentioned up stream.

                    1. re: cookieshoes

                      I was not a fan of the kara-age. Texturally, it was dense, and flavorfully uninteresting. Personally, I prefer the texture of the kara-age at Sakura and the flavor at Okan.

                      (The lettuce allows any remaining oil to drip out of the chicken without being reabsorbed and making it soggy, as it would if the chicken were in a bowl by itself.

                    2. When I lived up in LA, I used to go to a place down on Sawtelle (kinda a mini Convoy street in WLA) that served Mabo ramen. I just loved it. I really do not see it that much down here. Is it truly Japanese? or is it a California thing? and if it is Japanese, does Yakyudori serve it. I really do miss it esp. with the rains coming this weekend.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: littlestevie

                        You can get a bowl of Mabo Ramen at Chopstix on Convoy.

                        It's a fun bowl. Paired with the happy hour special there, it's a nice casual meal. As for the overall quality of the broth, etc. It's not in the same league as Santouka, Tajima, and Yakyudori.

                        1. re: littlestevie

                          Mapo Tofu is a popular dish in Japan, which is essentially the Szechuan Mabo Doufu served on top of rice. It's usually ground pork broken Tofu simmered in a spicy Doubanjiang-based sauce.

                          I've only explored Yakyudori's Shio and Shoyu Aji so far, but they do have a spicy Nagoya Ramen, which I believe would be Yakyudori's pet name for a regional but ethnic-influenced (for Nagoya) dish. If I recall it was topped with ground pork, so it may be their version of a Mabo Ramen.

                          1. re: cgfan

                            Thanks to both of you, now I can have my comfort food.

                            1. re: littlestevie

                              Question: Does Yakyudori do takeout? I presume this type of thing is enjoyed best at the restaurant piping hot and fresh, but I wasn't sure if it would be sacrelige to request isome ramen "to go."

                              1. re: pooch

                                Sacrilege to me, but as horrified as I was when I was there on Sunday a customer walked-in and ordered take-out. And they complied! (I think. I didn't even turn around to pay much attention, honestly. Too busy eating my Shio Ramen!)

                        2. You are truly a treasure trove of knowledge about Japanese cuisine cgfan! Some friends from out of town are going to be in SD this weekend and wanted to try good Japanese food in town. I went through several of your posts on other threads and recieved quite an education.
                          I was thinking of taking them here - however, I myself am vegetarian (and therefore very limited in my experience with Japanese cuisine). Does Yakyudori ramen have anything on their menu currently that a non-meat/fish eater could order? If not, I could go to the original - They've got a pretty decent selection of vegetarian items.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: ipsit

                            Thanks ipsit. As to your question, since I only focused on the classic broths I really didn't pay much attention to other parts of their menu. My eyes were on the Shio and Shoyu only, but they also do Miso as well. They also have a Nagoya Ramen, and I believe a vegetarian Ramen and the sixth version on their menu I didn't catch.

                            However I don't know when they talk about a vegetarian Ramen if that applies to the broth as well. Ramen broths vary, but even the simplest broths often contain both a chicken and/or a seafood (bonito, kelp, and/or sardine) component. But these will be broths only and not contain any identifiable pieces of protein.

                            If you don't mind the source of the broth, then all you need worry about are the toppings, and for all practical purposes you will have access to all of their broths.

                            Given that one's called a Vegetarian Ramen, it'll be safe that you'll at least have one to chose from, if not their entire line. Just enquire if it matters to you about their broth and you should do fine.

                            As to sides I don't recall any veggie items as sides. What I recall are Gyoza, Takoyaki, and Ton Soboro Gohan.

                            1. re: ipsit

                              I went for lunch today and was told that all of the broths have a meat / fish base. In fact, according to the waitress, all of the broths are made with pork and chicken and seafood. This is what she said. But since the waitress' command of English was moderate at best, she might not have meant what she said.

                              While I would be willing to eat ramen with a seafood broth, I am unwilling to eat pork or chicken, so I walked out. I'd be interested to learn whether -- in fact -- there is a broth made without pork and chicken.

                              Totally vegetarian seems outside the realm of possibility.

                              1. re: notjustastomach

                                Getting true "vegetarian" food at an authentic Japanese/Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese restaurant is near impossible. Save for ordering plain rice with steamed vegetables or fresh spring rolls. Unfortunately, that's just how it goes.

                                When it comes to soups and broths, 99.9% of any asian soup that doesn't have meat in it, is still going to be made from a chicken or seafood stock. I don't know of a broth that is only made with seafood stock. As a rule of thumb, if it sounds too difficult to picture there being one, chances are that you certainly won't find one at your local restaurant. It would be far too specialized to offer such a dish and still retain the necessary flavor profile of the dish.

                                As such, vegetarians get a bad time at many asian restaurants, simply because many of the dishes simply don't work in a true vegetarian style. But there's also the fact that many dishes still contain meat/seafood, even though there isn't any visible pieces of meat in the dish. For instance, go to any Thai restaurant, and ask the staff if there is any meat in the Thom Kum soup, and they will always say "No meat". Yet, this soup is always made with chicken stock, and a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce. So, even though there are vegetables floating in the soup, it is most definitely not vegetarian. Same goes for a plate of any number of stirfried Chinese greens dishes, where the vegetables are prepared with a savory oyster sauce.

                                The best bet is to just go the homemade route. Go to Teri Cafe or Ranch 99, buy some fresh noodles, and then make some vegetarian broth at home. Pick up some of the "better than boullion" vegetable paste, some vegetarian miso or dashi, and get some fresh vegetables to steam, and then make a simple broth out of the vegetable stock plus some soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil. Get some Ichimi Togarashi, sliced green onions, and Sesame Seeds to top, and there you go.

                                1. re: cookieshoes

                                  You can make a nice dashi with just kombu and dried shitake--just google kombu dashi or shitake dashi.

                            2. Hi cgfan,

                              Thanks for the great review. :) I'm excited to have an option to try some potentially great Ramen while visiting my friends in SD. :) If I may ask:

                              1. Where do they source their Noodles from? I'm guessing since Kansui isn't allowed in the US that they can't make their own Noodles in-house (same problem here in LA/OC).

                              2. Is Nabe-san moving over to this new location? What will become of Yakyudori (Honten) (original branch) if he moves over here? :(

                              3. Anyone have their Address and Phone #?

                              Thanks!

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: exilekiss

                                I can answer #3:

                                Yakyudori Ramen and Yakitori
                                4898 Convoy St
                                San Diego, CA 92111

                                1. re: exilekiss

                                  For #1:

                                  I don't know where they source their noodles from, but to me there wasn't anything out of the ordinary about them. They seemed like the standard JFC imported noodles. Most noodle places in town, here and in LA, use JFC. Unless Nabe is using Teri Cafe's noodles, which are manufactured in Oceanside, my guess is that they're JFC also.

                                  Santouka uses some other brand, but they too are imported via some distributor. I saw the clerks at the counter there removing the noodles from the bag, and they were packaged as several semi-dry bundles, slightly more dry than the usual "fresh" bundles of flour covered noodles that one gets at the store (which is probably why Santouka's noodles are always complimented as being a little more al dente). My guess is that Santouka is probably able to import a particular noodle due to their association with Mitsuwa. Whereas, other ramen joints in town are limited to whatever products are available locally or via the larger distributors. However, even st Santouka, look around the counter and you'll notice JFC boxes stacked up in the corners here and there. So, Santouka also uses JFC for things too.

                                  1. re: exilekiss

                                    It'll be a rare Ramen-ya that'll make their own noodles, and certainly there's nothing to indicate that Yakyudori makes their own. That being said their noddles are very, very good. They have excellent flavor and resilience. It's a less crinkly noodle than at Santouka and perhaps a bit thinner. I find Santouka's noodles very filling, whereas the Yakyudori noodle, while somewhat similar (as it is not a lightweight noodle), is not quite so filling.

                                    To me Yakyudori's noodle's resilience doesn't quite reach that of Santouka's, with Yakyudori's being just a tad less resilient.

                                    However they sourced this noodle, they certainly got a hold of a noodle that other shops in San Diego have not been able to obtain. (And I don't understand the comment on sourcing Teri Cafe noodles - I find them terrible, of very low quality but befitting the non-Chow-worthy eatery that they are. And I find nothing about Yakyudori's noodle that should scream out JFC. But if it happens to be from JFC, which I very much doubt, then JFC can make a very fine noodle.)

                                    Recall that Haru-san was the Ramen chef at Costa Mesa's Santouka. I'm sure during his years there he would have figured out how to source a good noodle, and I have no doubt that through Haru-san's connections and desire to open his own shop that we knew just where to go.

                                    As to Nabe-san, yes, he'll be working full-time at Yakyudori Ramen & Yakitori. I'm sure that doesn't mean all hours, given their morning to 3am hours. But he will be there at the Ramen-ya everyday, and Yakitori Yakyudori will continue to operate in Hillcrest but without his presence at the grill.

                                    1. re: cgfan

                                      I was planning on going to Yakyudori Yakitori next week with my parents, but given that Nabe-san isn't going to be there now, should I hold off on that? Have the other chefs improved?

                                      1. re: DougOLis

                                        I was there just 2 weeks ago on a "Nabe-less" night and it clearly showed. I'd love to say otherwise, but so far there's been a 100% correlation between the meal and the chef. The thing that I can't get my mind wrapped around is how a lunch-time crowd (at the new location) can have the time given the slow and easy pace of Yakitori grilling. I wonder if that'll be a night time only thing.

                                      2. re: cgfan

                                        Hi cgfan,

                                        Thanks for the detailed reply. :) I definitely can't wait to try the Ramen here.

                                        Another possibility for their Noodles might be Sun Noodles (out of Hawaii). They've opened up a new Noodle-making facility here in LA, and have been actively seeking out Ramen-ya owners to custom make a Noodle to their specifications (sold only to that store). I can't wait to try it regardless.

                                        For Nabe-san, that is tragic (and good news in some ways): Tragic, that the original Yakyudori will now be permanently downgraded in quality (since Nabe-san is at the new location 100% of the time), and good news for Yakyudori 2.0 since Nabe-san will be there 100% of the time (unless he has days off here as well, and then we'll have to see how his 2.0 protege works out). Thanks.

                                        1. re: exilekiss

                                          Well, tragic for you is wonderful for someone else. ;-)

                                          LA definitely has some great choices for Ramen. If you're in Little Tokyo, Daikokuniya is great. And they serve fresh cold beer, another plus.

                                          1. re: royaljester

                                            Definitely give the gyoza a try if you're up there as well.

                                    2. Having just completed my fourth visit to Yakyudori Ramen, I thought I'd summarize my findings so far. During the soft-opening I had a Shio Ramen on Saturday and Sunday, then on Monday I had my first Shoyu Ramen. So add today's visit and I've had 2 Shio and 2 Shoyu.

                                      As to overall quality I'm very pleased with all aspects of the bowl, from their broth to their noodles, from their Chushu to their Tamago as well as their Menma. This is a Ramen as I would expect done by a passionate Ramen chef who truly cares about their product. All ingredients of the bowl are very well selected, and the stars of any Ramen bowl, the broth and the noodles, each show signs of excellence. Is one more of a star than the other? I'd say that in their bowl their broth takes a bit more of the limelight than their noodles, but the noodles are still very very good and is perhaps only surpassed in San Diego by a touch by Santouka's noodles.

                                      So what are the improvement areas? I see two areas in which they can instantly improve an already competent bowl.

                                      1) I'd like to see more consistency in their broth. Saturday's Shio broth was mind-blowing. It had plenty of Umami and such a well-integrated balance of flavors that it all came together seamlessly without anything sticking out and demanding conscious attention. And as delicious as it was, it was in an Usukuchi style. Sunday's Shio broth, however delicious, definitely leaned towards Koikukchi, where a bit over-concentrated flavor and saltiness took my attention away from absolutely being in Nirvanna.

                                      Almost the same experience repeated itself with the Shoyu broth, with Monday's Shoyu broth being absolutely in balance and very, very Umai (full of Umami), but with such a broad cast of flavors supporting the Shoyu that again it all blended into a seamless whole. However today's (Friday's) Shoyu broth was more Koikuchi, with a bit more assertive flavor of Shoyu and the darker flavors coming out of the broth "as if" it got over-reduced by just a tad on the stove.

                                      (I say "as if" above as I suspect that like most Ramen-yas the broth is assembled directly in the bowl so the level of concentration of each of the constituents is not likely to change much during service as to dramatically affect the overall bowl.)

                                      The better of each of these samples so far tells me that they have everything in place to really rock both broths, so long as the pressures of service do not interfere with them getting the flavors just at the right intensity.

                                      2) They really need to get the broth hotter, and by which I mean to Japanese standards hot. (I have the same complaint regarding San Diego's Santouka, though their broth is still hotter than Yakyudori's.) I know that the Japanese are somewhat unique in the rather high temperatures that they enjoy their hot liquids, but it really adds a whole entire dimension when served at such temperatures.

                                      Not only does it tend to liberate more volatiles into the air creating a veil of aroma around the bowl, but being immersed in the steam while slurping the noodles just adds that much more involvement into the whole affair. And I don't want to finish with a lukewarm bowl. So long as there is a noodle left to devour, I'd like it bathed in a still hot broth.

                                      This is particularly important for those who orders Kaedama, which is the practice of ordering a second freshly cooked batch of noodles to add to one's leftover broth.

                                      Work on these two areas, and I'll have no reservations left when talking about their Ramen to others.

                                      (However I've yet to find any of their sides very compelling... This part of the menu could certainly use some more focus in the kitchen and/or in sourcing as a big improvement opportunity.)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        Tonight both the Shio Ramen & the Gyoza @ Yakyudori were stellar...

                                        ...though the Ramen didn't start out that way. In fact it started out quite insipid until I realized that all it needed was just a gentile stir.

                                        So a little stir and it was just as mind-blowing as my very first Shio there during their soft-opening.

                                        This time the Gyoza also delivered in a big way, unlike the last time. The Gyoza skins were tender, as tender as they get w/o being hand-rolled. And the ground pork stuffing was also delicately formed, allowing the oils to flow throughout the dumpling resulting in a thoroughly moist Gyoza with an exquisitely tender and juicy bite.

                                        This was the first time I was impressed by one of their sides. Could it be because it was just Nabe-san at the helm taking care of the Gyoza? Could that also explain the need to mix the Ramen broth once served in the bowl? (It was past 9 pm and Haru-san was already gone...)

                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                      2. We went on Saturday. My wife had the miso ramen and I had the shoyu ramen. The kids (5 and 3) split an order of takoyaki and we had some rice bowls and shared some stuff.

                                        The kids loved the takoyaki, and they liked the soups, too -- esp the egg and the noodles.

                                        My wife's miso ramen had the corn in it. First time I can recall corn in ramen, but it wasn't bad at all, and I wouldn't bother to specify having it removed from anything I ordered there (shoyu ramen doesn't come with corn).

                                        Nice food, friendly staff, easy parking, long open hours, not expensive (bill for the 4 of us was a smidgen under $20 before tip): What's not to like?

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: The Office Goat

                                          Finally had a chance to check this place out on Saturday as well. I had the chasiu ramen with the shoyu broth. The soup flavor and pork were excellent, certainly much better than Chopstix's shoyu ramen. The one gripe I had is that as far as I can tell the only difference between the chasiu ramen and the normal shoyu ramen is that the chasiu is supposed to have more pork. However for the extra $2.50 in price ($6.50 vs. $9.00) the ramen only came with 3 extra slices.

                                          Would be nice once they start serving yakitori to have a couple of skewers to supplement the ramen for a more hearty meal.

                                          1. re: mliew

                                            The pricing always seems a bit weird at ramen places, especially when it comes to toppings. I think getting three extra pieces of chashu is significantly more expensive if you order it a la carte rather than the special chashu ramen.

                                            That doesn't even cover the $2 green tea in a can!

                                            1. re: hye

                                              Actually at Yakyudori the special chasiu ramen is more expensive by $.50 than ordering a la carte (a la carte is $2 extra IIRC, the chasiu ramen is $2.50) :). But yeah I agree that the toppings seem to be pretty expensive if added on ($.50 for green onions!).

                                              On the other hand if you go at lunch they give you free barley tea and a side bowl of rice(?). I don't really understand the point of the rice since theres already plenty of starch by way of noodles in the ramen and its kind of strange eating rice by itself. Maybe it would make more sense once they start serving yakatori to eat with the rice.

                                              1. re: mliew

                                                Whatever the reasoning, it worked out great for us with the two kids -- we could make mini ricebowls for them with the chasieu and egg off of our ramen.

                                                Also (I don't know if this is "kosher" for ramen places, but it was tasty) I put some of the last bits of the broth on some of the rice -- I didn't know about the extra noodle ordering thing.

                                                1. re: mliew

                                                  Hmm, I thought you only got two pieces of chashu for $2, but that the chashu ramen comes with three extra pieces. *shrug*, it's expensive either way!

                                                  I also found it weird that they have free barley tea at lunch, but that it doesn't seem to be on the menu - I would much prefer it over the green tea in a can, especially if it cost less than $2. :)

                                                  The extra lunchtime bonuses is not unusual, restaurants are frequently looking to increase business if they do not have lunchtime regulars yet. Because it's not attached to a supermarket like Santouka, they have to work a little harder to attract people to visit them.

                                                  1. re: hye

                                                    You're probably right about the portions. I guess I just assumed that the $2 add on chasiu was the same portion as the chasiu ramen. In that case its a deal cause that last piece is only $.50 more :).

                                                    1. re: hye

                                                      Think of it this way. If everyone orders chashu, they either won't be able to make any more ramen or they're guaranteed to throw away ingredients.

                                                      It costs them *a lot* more to give people extra chashu than the original chashu for this very reason.

                                            2. Husband and I just returned from out first excursion to Yakyudori Ramen.

                                              I had the Shio Ramen, The pork was the best I have ever had. I mean, it MELTED like sweet butter in my mouth. The egg was cooked to perfection, eggs are so fragile under heat, one more second it would have been ruined, but my egg was soft and delicious.

                                              Husband had the Nagoya Ramen, which he loved. It was appropriately spicy but the flavor was savory and rich.

                                              We shared the Gyoza, and the (pardon the english, I don't want to screw up the Japanese word), the Octopus appetizer. The Gyoza was wonderful. The octopus was tender and delicious.

                                              Th service was excellent. The atmosphere was pleasant and welcoming. We will return.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Dagney

                                                the octopus app was takoyaki.

                                                We really liked the Nagoya Ramen too!

                                              2. Yakyudori has 2 desserts now. An ice cream float w/ melon soda and warabimochi. Got the warabimochi, since I've been craving it after stuffing my face w/ it in Honolulu. Soft, gelatinous yet chewy little square pillows dusted w/ soybean powder. Served w/ sugar for dipping. I could eat 3 plates of this!

                                                1. Ok, the time has finally come...Yakyudori Ramen finally has yakitori! Unfortunately, it's only after 5:30 pm and we were too early to order any, but we saw the grill and watched them load up the charcoal while enjoying our ramen. We'll definitely be going back for the yakitori!

                                                  8 Replies
                                                    1. re: daantaat

                                                      Just in time too. Taking a friend out for a dinner before he leaves, gotta have the yakitori!

                                                      1. re: daantaat

                                                        I went on Friday evening after hearing that they were finally serving Yakitori and tried the beef and chicken thigh with green onion yakitori. Both were excellent and complimented the bowl of ramen I had very nicely. They also seem to have expanded their menu to include donburi as well. Really nice to be able to order some yakitori along with the ramen as I feel that ramen by itself is usually not enough food to fill me up (and I'm not a big guy).

                                                        1. re: mliew

                                                          where did you find donburi on the menu?

                                                          1. re: daantaat

                                                            I think it was on the back of the last page.

                                                            1. re: mliew

                                                              On the new, handwritten page that lists their alcohol choices?

                                                              1. re: daantaat

                                                                No, it was part of the printed menu as I recall.

                                                                1. re: mliew

                                                                  will look for it the next time we're there.

                                                      2. Went for dinner last night and had a great time. To answer daantaat's question, this week there is a new menu reflecting the yakitori offerings. On the last page is the donburi and other "closing dishes". I got the fried rice to finish which was superb - using chasu as pork with the correct Chinese style seasoning.

                                                        We tried about a dozen yakitori orders, they come in pairs and are very reasonably priced. I'd especially recommend the chicken heart, teba, asparagus bacon, and momo. Out of 12 there were maybe 2 okay orders but not bad. I know honkman didn't like heart but I wonder if nabesan being there made the difference. I eat out in Japan a lot, and this is comparable to a high end yakitori restaurant in Tokyo - i.e. easily better than 90%. It's also way better and cheaper than gonpachi in Los Angeles, though I've only gone once.

                                                        Besides yakitori, I love the takowasa there which is raw octopus marinated in wasabi. Goes great with beer. Didn't see the fried mackeral offered on the dinner menu (didn't check thoroughly) though that's great at lunch. BTW Draft beer is always cheap and excellent here - fresh Sapporo. $2 for the 5oz glass which is all I need since I'm the driver. =)

                                                        This was basically the kind of memorable experience I had in the Hillcrest branch around January, before the convoy location opened. We got there early but the place was busy for larger parties as we left around 8pm. A lot of people seem to know about the yakitori haha.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: royaljester

                                                          We were there yesterday also. The heart and liver were exceptional-tender, lightly salted. There is baby mackerel $5.50 on the "Deep Fried Fish" column and Saba-Q , $5 under appetizers. Seared Marinated Mackerel Oshi Sushi for $8.50 uder "Other" and also Marinated Mackerel sashimi.

                                                          I had the octopus in wasabi at lunch a few weeks ago and it was excellent, without beer.

                                                          Only one table was empty when we left at about 7.

                                                        2. Nice to see Nabe-san back doing his Yakitori. I went Saturday night for the first time since hearing of the beginning of Yakitori service.

                                                          I was surprised to see the extensiveness of the Yakitori menu. From conversations with Nabe-san in the past I was expecting a much more abbreviated Yakitori menu, but the offerings seemed to me very similar to the Hillcrest location. From my experience that night, it looks like Nabe-san hasn't skipped a beat since leaving the grill at Hillcrest... (Though I understand he'll now be alternating weeks between the two locations, something which the Hillcrest location now sorely needs.)

                                                          I had my usual items (with the exception of a few items that did not make it to this menu such as Nankotsu [cartilege] and Gyutan steak [beef tongue steak]) of Tebasaki [wings], Hatsu [heart], liver, petite tomato, Gyutan [beef tongue], and Kawasu [vinegared skin]. All were done to the level of perfection that I've now become accustomed to with Nabe-san's stellar job at the grill.

                                                          pictures: http://tinyurl.com/2bbmtwj

                                                          With the new buildout of their menu Yakyudori KM now has an ideal combination for late nights eats. The more central location (vs. Hillcrest) will benefit many, and the combination of an extensive Yakitori menu plus their stellar Ramen will make for an easy late night choice. And I really like the drink size options offered for beer too, being more accustomed to the smaller beer glasses traditionally used in Japan.

                                                          They could make it more perfect by offering, say, a Hitokuchi (bite-sized) serving of Ramen as an option for their Yakitori diners - just enough for a taste, without taking up an entire or large part of the meal. (And I still wished that they'd serve their Ramen broth "Japanese hot" [which is much hotter than "American hot"], my consistent pet peeve of almost all Stateside Ramen-yas...)

                                                          12 Replies
                                                          1. re: cgfan

                                                            Woo-hoo! Can't wait to get up there...

                                                            Cheers!

                                                            1. re: cgfan

                                                              I went there on Sunday and while the yakitori was as good as you're describing, I found that the ramen has seemed to become more of a second thought now.

                                                              The broth in my shio ramen wasn't very hot and when I bit into the chasu, the fat was actually cold. Some of the corn was also cold as if they were relying on the inherent heat from the stock to warm up everything, but it didn't work out.

                                                              1. re: karaethon

                                                                Wow, that's a bit of a slip, or so it would seem...

                                                                Just wondering, what time of day was it, and were any of the two principals (Nabe-san [young and skinny guy] or Haru-san [older guy w/glasses]) present? (If so they'd always be visible doing key cooking duties in their open kitchen...)

                                                                1. re: cgfan

                                                                  Nabe-san was doing the yakitori, but Haru-san wasn't there.

                                                                  I was there about 6:30pm last Sunday.

                                                                  1. re: karaethon

                                                                    I just went on Thursday and noticed that my broth (Shio) was cooler than usual, reminding me of your post. And as in your post Nabe-san was on the Yakitori, and Haru-san was absent. But everything else was their usual spot on quality, as the broth otherwise rocked as did their Chashyu. (...and no corn as I always request for it to be omitted...)

                                                                    1. re: cgfan

                                                                      I've noticed the same thing, so it isn't just your imagination. Fortunately I don't really care, but my wife sure would!

                                                                      1. re: cgfan

                                                                        Went back again today. Nabe-san (as usual) was on the yakitori and Haru-san was again absent. However, unlike last time everything came out well from the Yakitori and everything was good from the ramen side as well. The broth was nice and hot and the fat on the meat wasn't cold.

                                                                        I really didn't have high hopes for going on a Monday night, but this far exceeded my expectations

                                                                        1. re: cgfan

                                                                          had the shoyu ramen this weekend and managed to lightly sear my tongue from the heat of the broth.

                                                                          1. re: daantaat

                                                                            Light sear on the tongue! That could be the CH equivalent of scarred hands for a chef (as described by Tony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential.) No fun at all, but a sure mark of legitimacy!

                                                                            1. re: ipsit

                                                                              It was a light sear as opposed to the deeper sear that comes with boiling hot Chinese soups and teas. :-)

                                                                2. Finally made it last night for a yakitori dinner and they are really firing on all cylinders on the yakitori front. Good news too because my last few visits to the Hillcrest location were very disappointing -- food was alright, but generally bland, dry, and oversalted, and the service was slow and unresponsive.

                                                                  Nabe was on the grill last night at the Convoy location and my meal was great: enjoyed the hatsu (chicken heart), tan (beef tongue), ninniku (garlic), and negima (chicken thigh w/ green onion). All spectacular, juicy and flavorful. Although usually hatsu is my favorite, the tan was the real standout. Service was quick too. Sad to realize how far the Hillcrest location (an old favorite) had fallen! Hopefully Nabe can get it back to its old standards soon too, but at least now Yakyudori Convoy can satisfy my yakitori craving.

                                                                  1. I don't remember seeing it posted elsewhere, but they now serve Tonkotsu Ramen. Comes with a wonderful broth, two pieces of Chashu, straight noodles, some kikurage (woodear mushroom), sliced green onion, and a sheet of nori. Simple and delicious. I believe it may be limited to lunchtime right now, so you have to be there before 5:00-5:30pm to get it.

                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                    1. re: cookieshoes

                                                                      I think I remember seeing it on the specials menu last time I went, but I usually only go for dinner so they probably wouldn't have had it.

                                                                      How's it compare to Tajima and Santouka's tonkotsu ramen? Santouka is currently my favorite tonkotsu ramen in SD. Tajima used to be good but now that they have competition their ramen pales in comparison.

                                                                      1. re: mliew

                                                                        It's alright, it's different than Santouka. I tried it once, but Yakyudori's regular ramen is good I prefer it if I go. Santouka has a lot more pork fat, which I guess if you want tonkotsu you'd like that.

                                                                        Tajima's gone downhill..their entire staff changed..it even seems like the owners have changed. Or at least aren't there..

                                                                        1. re: royaljester

                                                                          I thought the tonkotsu broth and bowl overall was great at YY. I agree that Santouka's is still the most "rich" bowl in down. They're two different takes on it. I imagine quite a few people will enjoy the option of being able to get a lighter tonkotsu or stick with the shio etc offered at YY. Also, the proper restaurant vibe (as opposed to Santouka's food court), plus the beer and all those wonderful skewers and appetizers and desserts (cream soda and the black sesame ice cream - both must haves) can't really be beat. YY has pretty much developed into a one-stop powerhouse.

                                                                          Going to Santouka would still be in my rotation, so I can still get that particular bowl. Love those noodles, in particular, and sometimes you just need that heavier broth. But now that YY has a very nice tonokotsu of its own (and with different noodles) I can cut down on my mandatory visits to Santouka since the YY bowl definitely gives me my fix.

                                                                          1. re: cookieshoes

                                                                            The tonkatsu is limited to 27 or 30 bowls a day. I've never seen it available at 5:00.

                                                                            I have been the first person inside at lunchtime. More than once. Just for tonkatsu.

                                                                            1. re: Cathy

                                                                              That would go along with the experience I had then...I was there at just before 5pm, and when I ordered the tonkotsu the food server had to ask Nabe if it was still available. He nodded that it was, so I ended up getting the last bowl that night. By the time I was done eating, they were switching out the lunch menus for the dinner ones.

                                                                              1. re: cookieshoes

                                                                                Unfortunately word about the quality of YY has gotten around and the place seems to be much busier now every time I'm there. The last couple of times there has been a wait for parties arriving after 6:30 or so. YY is good but I can't see myself waiting more than 15 mins for a table. Too bad the place isn't bigger.

                                                                                1. re: mliew

                                                                                  Yeah, I've had similar experiences, although I try to manage this by only trying to get the urge to go when I know that it will be a dead time (before 6:30, or after 9:00). Although, even that doesn't always work.

                                                                                  Funny you mention the size of the place, because the bank that used to be next door is now gone, leaving a large empty space just waiting to be taken over. I don't know if it would at all be a good move for them to expand just yet. But, I could see it working along the lines of Shin Sen Gumi in Fountain Valley, which has essentially the exact same type of space, but with ramen on one side, and yakitori on the other. The problem is, that kind of larger operation would introduce the risk of not being able to stay busy enough, or having to churn out more product than the restaurant can sustain, which would lead to the quality of the food (and experience) dropping. I believe that may have been what happened with Tajima. They just got too big, and perhaps should've just stuck with the first location. Sure, YY is small, but that is part of the experience. Gives it a coziness. Any bigger and it would risk losing that charm. Not to mention, a bigger space would mean that those hot little skewers would have even further to travel before hitting your table, losing that wonderful "fresh off the grill" heat by the time you get to enjoy them.

                                                                                  1. re: cookieshoes

                                                                                    I agree that often times when a restaurant expands the quality goes downhill. And also that ramen/yakitori places should be small and intimate like they are in japan. The problem with San Diego is that there aren't enough good places around to keep up with the demand to sustain a small 20 seat eatery without long lines out the door (Dumpling Inn is another good example of this).

                                                                                    What we need is a few more similar quality places to pop up to spread out the crowd a little :).