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May 22, 2010 02:49 PM

Economic Equilibrium - Delivering What the Locals Want - Ramen Yukino Ya [Review] w/ Pics!

(Formatted with All Pics here:

When opening a new restaurant, perhaps the biggest defining factor of what that eatery is going to be lies in the initial goals of the chef / owner. Are they trying to be a destination restaurant? Aiming for Michelin 3 Star rating? Catering to enthusiasts of a certain dish? Trying to be the best specialist in the area? Or just trying to make some money and get by? While the "best" choice may seem like striving to be a "Michelin 3 Star / destination restaurant," that may not always work well with the type of food you're going for. Ramen Noodles are one such area. Witness the tragedy that is the big, bombastic Mizuki and you begin to appreciate the sublime, little mom & pop Ramen specialists like Menya Kissou even more. For the newish Ramen Yukino Ya (taking over the space where Wonton Forest used to be), they seem to focus on trying to craft quality bowls of Ramen Noodles, and also appease the local clientele.

Sadly, Yukino Ya is the *2nd* business attempting to survive after Wonton Forest closed. There was another Ramen shop that opened and lasted all of ~3 months before shutting down with Yukino Ya opening immediately afterward. Walking into Yukino Ya, they've kept most of the sparse decor from Wonton Forest, except now they have some large color signs of their various specialty Ramen offerings.

Looking over their limited menu, the first thing that strikes me is their two tier approach: They offer "Regular Ramen" and for ~$1.25 - $1.75 more (depending on the flavor), you get their "Yukino Ya Ramen" which is upgraded with fancier ingredients. It kinda worries me that a Ramen chef would compromise their product, but perhaps both versions can shine?

For the first visit, I try their signature Yukino Ya Tonkotsu Ramen (Ramen Noodles with Pork Bone Soup).

The Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Soup looks sufficiently milky and creamy and taking a sip, there's a smooth, rich, porcine funk that pervades the mouth. Those adverse to MSG should note that Chef Nakamoto uses MSG in every flavor of Ramen he serves. :( It's nowhere near as extreme as Daikokuya (Little Tokyo), but it should be noted.

But then I dig under the surface and am disappointed to see the ubiquitous thick, yellow, mass-produced, curly Noodle found in too many Ramen shops locally. This normally isn't the ideal Noodle for creamy, porky Tonkotsu Soup, but perhaps Nakamoto-san is pioneering a new style? I take a bite with the Soup, and... nope. They clash as expected. When I ask our server, he mentions that they originally had the proper straight, thin Hakata-style Noodles, but they switched to the current yellow, curly Noodle because "all the local Chinese customers don't like Hakata noodles." (>_>) Sigh. Somehow I don't see Mori-san switching out his amazing, crisp Nori (Dried Seaweed) from Saga, Japan, for some other type because the locals near Mori Sushi don't like that style of Nori. But ultimately, the customer is always right, and if that's what they want, then that's what Nakamoto-san is making.

This premium Yukino Ya Ramen comes with Kurobuta Chashu (Berkshire Pork Slices) which turn out to be surprisingly fresh on this first visit, it's firm, but has enough fat to make it enjoyable, and is one of the better Chashu sides with Ramen in So Cal. But on subsequent visits, it tastes disappointingly old (~1 - 3 days old), making this visit seem like a fluke. :(

It's also served with an Organic Hanjyuku Tamago (Flash Boiled Egg). It's a touch overcooked, but still retains quite a bit of the slightly sweet, succulent marinade and soft, creamy center that's desirable with a great Hanjyuku Tamago.

One notable aspect at Yukino Ya is their offering of complementary, marinated, raw Garlic and a Garlic Press at every table. The freshly grated Garlic definitely adds an enjoyable, spicy edge to the Ramen that's worth trying if you're a Garlic fan. :)

Those looking for something lighter should try their Yukino Ya Shoyu Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Soy Sauce-based Soup).

Nakamoto-san crafts his version from Torigara (Chicken Bones), Tonkotsu (Pork Bones), a variety of Seafood and Vegetables and Shoyu (Soy Sauce) cooked for over 10 hours. With a focus like this, one wonders why he has to rely on the MSG crutch, but the end result is a light, fragrant Soup that only hints at the Shoyu layer underneath. One of my Ramen Hounds notes that it reminds them of Chinese flavorings, which makes sense since Nakamoto-san has worked at an undisclosed Chinese restaurant on the Westside for over 10 years according to the chef.

The yellow, curly Noodles work better here with the Shoyu Soup, but the problem is in the mass-produced Noodles themselves. It's doughy, slightly chalky and just not an enjoyable base.

Next, we try their Po-ku Raisu (Slow Cooked Shredded Pork Over White Rice).

The Shredded Pork has a very sweet taste (almost bordering on cloying) with notes of Mirin, Sugar and Shoyu. The Benishoga (Red Pickled Ginger) and shredded Nori (Dried Seaweed) help to try and balance out the flavors, but in the end it's a touch too sweet for my tastes, and the Pork could use a little more time roasting to make it tender.

While it may not seem like much on the menu, having a Ramen-ya try and deliver 4 major styles of Ramen is a huge task (many specialists are known for 1 or 2 styles at the most). The Yukino Ya Shio Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Salt-Based Soup) is proof that even 4 styles might be too much for this small eatery.

Their Shio Ramen Broth turns out to taste like Hot Salt Water with a slight dash of Chicken Broth. It's flat, dull and while not as bad as Kohryu's version, it's still probably one of the most disappointing Shio Ramen I've ever experienced. :(

To make matters worse, the Kurobuta Chashu Pork Slices taste old and slightly chilled still from being taken out of the refrigerator.

During my 3rd visit, I bring along the most discerning Ramen Hound I know, wanting to see what they think of Yukino Ya. We begin with their Gyoza (Potstickers, listed on their menu simply as "Dumplings").

There's a decent seared crust on the bottom of each Gyoza, but the filling reminds me more of Chinese Dumplings than the usual Ramen house offerings, based on the Chinese Chives, Egg, Ground Pork and seasonings used.

We start with their "Regular Ramen" (Non-Premium) version of Shio Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Salt-Based Soup).

First, a sip of their Shio Broth: Sadly, it's just as one-note, flat and boring as their Premium version. :( The key differences between their Regular Ramen and "Premium" Yukino Ya versions is in their use of a regular, Non-Organic, Hard-Boiled Egg, and Regular Pork (instead of Berkshire Pork) for their Chashu. And the Hard-Boiled Egg turns out as expected: Chalky, simple, non-seasoned and adequate for a bowl of standard So Cal Ramen.

Their Non-Kurobuta Pork Chashu turns out to be far worse than imagined: Tasting old (~2 - 3 days old), dense, and chunky.

A note for those who might be confused by the English menu description of their 2 Egg choices: "Egg" turns out to be their Non-Organic, Hard-Boiled, Non-Seasoned Egg, while "Egg (Organic)" refers to their Hanjyuku Tamago, a Flash-Boiled, Organic, Seasoned Egg (the much better choice). :)

We also try the last of their 4 major styles of Ramen: Yukino Ya Miso Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Miso-Base Soup).

After the mixed results so far, I wasn't sure what to expect, but their Premium Miso Ramen turns out to be the second most enjoyable of the bunch, with a fragrant, balanced Miso Broth. Although sadly, it lacks the punch of even the *Pre-Packaged* Nama Ramen version of Sapporo's legendary Miso specialist Sumire, which packs such a heady brew of Pork, Fish, Chicken, and Miso in its Broth that I can still taste it to this day.

We finish with their Mixed Rice Bowl (Rice Mixed with Takana (Mustard Greens) and Chashu), which is salty, smoky and has potential, but it's a bit one note with the Shredded Chashu Pork flavor (more Soy Sauce than anything).

Service is just fine for this small, hole-in-the-wall Ramen shop, with 1 server taking care of the whole restaurant and Nakamoto-san in the kitchen. Prices range from $7 - $8.75 for their Ramen Noodles, with Toppings ranging from $0.50 - $2.50. Note that they charge $1 for Hot Tea (and they don't mention the charge until you see the bill).

For newcomer Ramen Yukino Ya, they seem to be have multiple good intentions, from advertising that they slowly cook their Tonkotsu Broth for over 10 hours, to using Kurobuta (Berkshire) Pork for their Chashu, to using Organic Eggs for their Ramen, all while trying to cater to local customers and their wishes. But they're trying to do too much: Serving up 4 types of the most popular Ramen styles, instead of focusing on 1 or 2; offering a substandard "Regular Ramen" menu, stripped of all the things they're trying to make standout (no Berkshire Pork, no Flash-Boiled Egg, etc.), and even compromising the ideal style of Noodle because some of the locals prefer the standard yellow, curly Noodle.

In the end, if you happen to be in the area, and enjoy MSG, Yukino Ya's Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen (Premium version) is worth a try, as its probably the best Tonkotsu Ramen in the immediate area. Their Miso is decent as well, but avoid their Shio Ramen (Salt-Based Ramen), especially since you can get a pure, focused, wonderful version just down the street at Foo Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights), with melt-in-your-mouth Pork Belly Chashu that's always fresh. :) Chef Nakamoto needs to ask himself what's most important: Does he want to make Yukino Ya into a great specialist that's unyielding in its focus and recipe? Or do they want to make whatever the local customers desire at a certain price point? (Their "Regular Ramen" (cheaper, stripped-down, Non-Premium) seem to be more popular than their Premium offerings.) Yukino Ya's goals seem to be conflicting with each other, but ultimately their desire to cater to the local clientele and what they're willing to pay is what ends up defining and limiting them.

*** Rating: 5.0 (out of 10.0) ***

Ramen Yukino Ya
18230 E. Gale Ave.
City of Industry, CA 91748
Tel: (626) 581-8420

* Cash Only *

Hours: Tues - Sun, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. / 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Ramen Yukino Ya
18230 E. Gale Ave, City Of Industry, CA 91748

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    1. Dammit EK! Scooped me by a few hours! My review of this exact place will be up later tonight. Not that anyone will want to read it anymore... I felt it deserved at least a 7 or 8, though... PLUS, they now offer straight noodles for any of their ramen (just had my 3rd visit last week). Did you try their spicy tan tan men?

      3 Replies
      1. re: J.L.

        Hi J.L.,

        Sumimasen! :) Actually, I could've written this review ~2-3 weeks ago, but I was so bummed about this place I held off. 2 of my Ramen Hounds were actually trying to tell me not to waste my time writing about Yukino Ya as well. :(

        Your thoughts are always valuable and welcome J.L. :) We usually see eye-to-eye on most restaurants, but for Yukino Ya, I think it's partially how much one is averse to MSG, as well as getting lucky on when they got their ingredients (e.g., was the batch of Chashu made that day (to use for the rest of the week)? etc.).

        Over my 3 visits, we were lucky to get 1 bowl that was pretty good (for those of us that liked MSG) (the Tonkotsu), and 1 that was ~OK (Miso), and the rest of the bowls and visits ranged from average to downright horrible (Shio Ramen was really, really bad (multiple times)).

        Given Murakami-san's great Shio Ramen down the street, that makes it tougher for me to recommend their Shio to anyone even in the area.

        Oh? They added a *5th* new Ramen flavor to the menu now? They haven't nailed their 4 basic styles, I'm worried. No, I haven't tried it. How was it?

        1. re: exilekiss

          Hi EK,

          I considered against adding yet another new review thread to Yukino Ya, since you've already done a lot of the legwork, and also to not clutter up the Chowboard. BUT I have additional thoughts (and a few differing opinions) about this place than you had...

          1. MSG - I can handle some, but not too much. Mrs. J.L. & I both get MSG headaches when we reach a certain biological threshold with our MSG receptors. However, Yukino Ya did not cause nay headaches for us - literally. Even their shio broth was OK with us, in this respect.

          2. The house special ramens at Yukino Ya are better than Foo Foo Tei, hands down, in my opinion.

          3. Why order the "regular" ramen when the "House Specials" are available? You were being thorough, and we readers appreciate that. But in the end, the Specials win out over the Regulars here. I very much enjoyed their tonkatsu House Special ramen (hold the ginger, please - it tends to conflict with all the other good stuff in the bowl).

          4. The chashu on my 3 visits were consistently warm and tasty.

          5. Straight noodles are available with all ramen orders now, and this is something I do recommend.

          6. Their tan tan men (cold spicy noodles) is a tad greasy, but really well-balanced in terms of flavor - The noodle have an extra "bite" to them when cold (not surprisingly). I also recommend this, with summer coming up. The menu there comes with a single large laminated page, detailing the tan tan men.

          7. The hanjuku egg at Yukino Ya deserves its own merit. They were so good that I ordered extra egg with each bowl - Damn the torpedoes!

          8. I, too, liked the fresh pickled garlic at each table, complete with crusher... Extra mojo for my bowl of ramen!

          9. As a business owner, you'd be crazy to ignore the local audience (a majority of which are Chinese-oriented palates) when you open shop in City of Industry.

          All in all, I think Yukino Ya is indeed worth a trip, which makes it already at least a 7 out of 10 in my book. Their tonkatsu ramen is better than the current incarnation of Daikokuya (BTW Daikokuya succeeds in giving me a headache).

          OK... this saved me from having to clutter up the Chowboard with a competing review of Yukino Ya. Now, this gives me time to try another new eatery. Thanks, EK! Yoroshiku onegashimasu!

          1. re: J.L.

            Hi J.L.,

            Thanks for the detailed review! :)

            1. Definitely agree that the MSG use by Nakamoto-san is very slight (I barely had a reaction), and is nowhere near the horrendous levels used by Daikokuya.

            2. Wow, are you saying you think Yukino Ya's Premium Shio Ramen is even better than Foo Foo Tei (all 4 flavors)? If so, then I'd say Nakamoto-san has some serious consistency issues (if you had their Shio Ramen multiple times and you think it's better than Foo Foo Tei's Shio, while each time I ordered Yukino Ya's version it was downright bad (and I don't mean to use that word lightly).

            If you're just talking about their Premium Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork Bone), then I agree, as Foo Foo Tei has no Tonkotsu Ramen to compete with them, and I think their Tonkotsu is the highlight of the menu.

            3. Great point! :) I also agree that for food lovers like you and me, it would be better to spend the extra ~$1 - $1.75 (depending on the flavor) and go for their Premium version ("Yukino Ya Ramen"). But I was surprised to see many tables ordering their "Regular Ramen" versions of all 4 flavors (it seemed more popular than the Premium ones). For some, they'd rather save the extra dollar I guess.

            5. I'm very glad to hear that they're "standing up" for themselves and carrying Hakata-style Noodles now. Thanks for the FYI.

            7. Yes, their Hanjyuku Tamago was great. :) Sorry if I wasn't clear enough above, but I definitely agree; they probably have the best Tamago of the So Cal Ramen Ya.

            9. Yah, it's an unfortunate problem to be faced with. But now that they carry both Noodles, that might help.

            Overall, if I was *only* rating their Yukino Ya (Premium) Tonkotsu Ramen, I'd say my score would be around ~6.5 (close to your thoughts). But I was also scoring their entire menu (4 styles of Ramen, Shio, Shoyu, Miso and Tonkotsu), and the "Regular Ramen" offerings and their premium "Yukino Ya Ramen" offerings, as well as their 2 Rice Bowls (which were ~OK / decent) and Gyoza. So that's why my score is a bit lower considering as much of the menu as possible.

            And I agree: If given the choice of going here or Daikokuya, like you, I'd rather go here. :)

            But I'm a major Shio Ramen fan, and at least for my visits, both versions of their Shio Ramen were shockingly bad. :( So that factored in to my final thoughts.

            One FYI (small thing :) - It's "tonkOtsu" with an "o" = Pork Bone base Ramen.

            "tonkAtsu" with an "a" = Deep Fried Pork Cutlet. :)

            It's like the delicious Downtown LA Yucatecan restaurant Chichen Itza.

            I've had at least ~4 different friends think for the longest time it was "ChicKen Itza" when in fact it's "ChicHen Itza". (^_^) LOL.

      2. EK,
        I tried this place for the first time today after reading your review. Despite the low rating I wanted to give this place a try, mainly for the Yukino Ya Tonkotsu Ramen. I actually thought it was pretty good. I would give this place about 8 out of 10 based on this ramen. I went with the hakata style noodles instead of the curly noodles and also paid $0.50 extra to make the broth spicy. I thought the broth was very smooth and creamy with a nice kick from the spicy option. My only complaint is the lack of option on firmness of noodles. I like my noodles firm; I don't think they have that option. The chashu could also be a bit softer but I liked the flavor so it wasn't too bad. I still prefer Gardena/Torrance ramen houses like Asa, Santouka, or Horon over this place, but it's certainly better (IMO) than Shin-Sen-Gumi (except for the noodles) or Daikokuya.

        Thanks for the detailed review. Now I finally found a decent ramen place in the Industry area.

        5 Replies
        1. re: LeS2Ki

          Hi LeS2Ki,

          Thanks for the report back. :) Glad you enjoyed their Yukino Ya Tonkotsu Ramen. I agree that their broth currently is better than Shin Sen Gumi's.

          1. re: LeS2Ki

            I was there with LeS2Ki, and my opinion is roughly the same. I ordered the same thing, minus the spicy option. I am admittedly biased toward the Hakata/northern Kyushu style.

            1) Noodles were good, but overcooked - not horribly so, just not katamen like Asa or SSG, even though it was asked for. Flavor-wise, not as good as Asa, and perhaps equal to or slightly better than SSG.

            2) Soup was better than SSG but not as good as Horon. Creamier/thicker than the soup at Asa (I'm liking their new shio ramen a little more than the kotteri shoyu, BTW), but I still prefer Asa on a good day. It went cold rather fast though.

            3) Chashu that day seemed good but not great. The round cuts of pork reminded me of what you'd get at Orochon, but smaller. I didn't like it as much as the long pork belly-type chashu at Santouka or Asa when it's good. Extra chashu was served on a separate plate. It was served room temperature, but then again, isn't the toroniku chashu at Santouka? I couldn't really tell the difference after a few minutes in the soup anyway.

            4) The tamago was also a little overcooked. I think somewhere in between theirs and Asa's very soft egg would be ideal. The marinade was good, not as overpowering as I remember Santouka's being.

            5) I really like the tableside garlic press. I wish Asa would do the same (a tableside sesame seed mill would be even more welcome).

            6) The server forgot our spoons, but otherwise the service was pretty good, considering there was only one server, and the restaurant was near capacity.

            I rarely venture into that part of LA, so I doubt I'll go there much when my favorite South Bay ramenya are both better (IMHO) and more accessible, but I'd say it's definitely one of the better places in LA. To continue the use of the 10-point scale, I'd score it around a 7 or 7.5 for LA, 6 otherwise, or if you count Tatsuno-ya visiting Mitsuwa for a few days out of the year. ;-)

            1. re: mrhooks

              Hi mrhooks,

              Thanks for the nice, detailed review. :) Great points. I, too, enjoy Horon's surprisingly good Tonkotsu over this. Did they put it back on the menu, BTW?

              1. re: exilekiss

                I haven't gone back yet. I'll check it out again after the Mitsuwa food fair. ;-)

                1. re: mrhooks

                  According to some reviewers on Yelp, Tonkotsu ramen is all they serve during their lunch hours. Not sure if it's just during weekdays or if it also includes weekends. Will have to go back and try soon.

          2. Thank you for your review; while it's great to know where to try, it's equally great to know where not to go.... =)

            1. Sounds like it's better to stick with Foo Foo Tei EK. It's about the same nieghborhood.