Ramen novice...where's the best in OC?
The only ramen I've ever eaten is the Maruchan stuff in plastic foam cups which is ok for a quick snack, but obviously not very good. Where should I go in the Irvine/Costa Mesa area (or nearby) for the real thing...and what should I order to begin to explore this dish?
You might look up fellow CH blogs: rameniac.com, goramen.com and exilekiss for their take on ramen. Goramen is currently in Japan apprenticing at a popular ramen-ya (ramen shop).
Personally, I really like the toroniku (fatty pork) shio ramen at Santouka (and the other broths in comparison taste flat) in CM (in the Mitsuwa food court).
What turned me off to the CM Daikokuya (while good), was that Mr OCAnn left a bowl of leftover kotteri tonkotsu ("unctuous tonkotsu") broth out on the counter one cold night; it had curdled by morning. The thought of consuming liquified fat (when hot) congealed our arteries. We've been to the Daikokuya in Hacienda Heights; that fared better in terms of variety of side dishes they offer--and some are really darned good (fried rice, potstickers/gyoza, and a couple others I've forgotten).
But when we want really good ramen, we head to Foo Foo Tei, also in Hacienda Heights. Not quite OC, but worth the trek when you're in the mood. They're the Baskin Robbins of ramen (they offer 31 different types) and a delicious assortment of other dishes. A couple of our fellow CH bloggers actually tried (and documented) their thoughts on all 31 flavours.
15018 Clark Ave, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
For Hakata Ramen go to Shin Sen Gumi (Ramen Side) in Fountain Valley on Brookhurst. This is a pork based broth, which I personally prefer over the Shio ramen from Santouka Ramen (although I do enjoy that one as well). You get to customize your ramen at Shin Sen Gumi, choosing the textures of the noodles and broth, etc. and selecting additional toppings For your first time, if you are not sure how you want your ramen, I'd recommend getting everything medium, and then throw in some chasu and whatever other toppings appeal to you. Then you can adjust the levels up or down the next time you go, because most likely there will be a next time
There's a Santouka Ramen in Costa Mesa I believe. I'd go for either the Shio (salt) ramen with extra pork or the Spicy Miso also with extra pork. Or you could get smaller sizes of the two and try both!
There's also a Daikokuya in Costa Mesa, but since I've never visited this branch, I can't say how it compares to the original in Little Tokyo. Either way, I always get their ramen kotteri style with katamen (firm noodles).
I'd try both places just to see how you like the different styles.
665 Paularino Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Daikokuya in Little Tokyo is amazingly bland and lacking in complexity period. Tonkotsu or otherwise. I went twice just because on my first visit the broth was so bland, I was utterly puzzled as to how the name keeps surfacing in "top ramen" discusions. My second visit was no different. The best thing at Daikokuya isn't the ramen, its the pork bowl.
Go to Santouka in Costa Mesa. Try all of the broths: shio, miso, shoyu, and spicy miso. Its a great beginner course and will provide you with a good benchmark. Each of their broths are distinct and you can figure out for yourself which style of broth you prefer in terms of ramen. Afterwards you can head up to Torrance for some of the more specialized variations a la Mottainai, Yamada, etc.
327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066
I'll agree with you that the broth is lacking in complexity. But that's not why I like it. I like it because every time I've gotten it, it just gives a punch of pork funk that I really enjoy, especially mixed with the pureed raw garlic. If given the choice, I'd even pick Daikokuya over Shinsengumi even when getting the "strong" broth, which I think only increases salinity and not flavor.
daikokuya in cm is not recommended. nor would i their monterey park branch. they're just not up to par with their lt branch, which is the best. i heard that their haciienda heights branch is slightly above the mp location but i never took the time to try the hacienda heights. there's speculation that it may be the water of the different cities.
so far the cm branch has been my worst experience of them
i'm not sure i agree about the blandness. i've been to their lt branch a couple times and waited hours like many others in the cold to get a table. the first was the best and hooked my little sister on the stuff. i personally like their light flavor. i don't feel as sick afterwards as i do with the heavier broth of santouka either.
i don't like their egg though. santouka's eggs are much better imo. i do however love their garlic sauce though, which has been the same no matter the branch
of course, there's always waiting for a food fair at mitsuwa to come around. you can try the visiting ramen, but between torrance and cm, it's a coin flip as to which will have the one better suited to one's taste