November 28, 2012

The Ramen Shaman: Daikokuya (LA)

by Will VanderWyden

If you know anything about ramen in Los Angeles you’ve heard of Daikokuya, the original LA noodle institution. There are throngs of people waiting outside its bright yellow awning at almost any hour of the day, despite several other shops within viewing distance.

It was my first-ever ramen love.

I’ve written before about how I got into ramen – from being totally unaware of its existence (just two years ago!), to finding awesome English-language ramen blogs that I read through faster than the Harry Potter series, starting my own blog, and visiting Japan (twice).

But Daikokuya was the first bowl that really made sense to me. After just a few sips I felt I finally understood the ramen obsession I had been reading about. I wrote this about Daikokuya a year ago (apparently during my bourgeois phase):

You know how some art is nice to look at, but other art just speaks to you, be it a certain visual symmetry or a piece of music that serves as a personal emotional trigger? That’s Daikokuya to me. Once I added some of the tableside pickled ginger and fresh garlic — the key to the bowl in my opinion — I was in heaven.

Since then I’ve downed probably fifty new bowls of ramen, from LA to Denver to Tokyo to Fukuoka. So I figured it was time for another trip to the Big D. My last visit was a few months ago to try their tsukemen and it did NOT turn out well.

I showed up at 3pm on a crisp Sunday afternoon and even then the line was massive. I was solo and it still took a full hour to get seated at the counter. You’ve been warned.

I ordered the original Daikoku bowl, a shoyu-tonkotsu ramen. Your only other noodle options are a kotteri (heavy) version of the same – as the menu puts it: “Made with broth extracted from the back fat,” (this might be my favorite ramen explanation ever), and the aforementioned tsukemen.

After all the great new bowls of ramen I’ve eaten, I had begun to think of Daikokuya as a quaint old place, that gee-shucks bowl I used to love back when both life was simpler and there weren’t so many of them city folk running around all business-like. Just a good old-fashioned bowl of tonkotsu ramen. But either my memory is shot, Daikokuya stepped up their game, or someone told them I was coming, because this bowl rocked!

Man, I really don’t remember it being so good. I’ve had quite a few tonkotsu bowls lately that seem to fall into two camps – thick broth or thin broth – and Daikokuya is the first thin broth to really pack a huge flavor punch. The bowl is rife with deep pork umami balanced by the shoyu. Killer. Just killer.

For the first time I noticed that the noodles, a seemingly generic, medium-thickness curly variety, lent a welcome eggy flavor to each bite. The bean sprouts and negi (green onions) tasted super fresh, and the chashu… well let’s just say it was almost perfect. I definitely don’t remember it being of such high quality. There were a few random slices of menma (bamboo shoots) and an average tamago (soy marinated soft boiled egg) too.

I added some of the tableside pickled ginger halfway through the bowl but didn’t even need the crushed garlic. The bowl was just working too well.

I enjoyed every last sip and I know anyone reading this would too. If you’ve never had ramen before just think of it like a slice of good pizza or a delicious home-grilled burger. It’s impossible not to like, and a shop like Daikokuya serves up a bowl that will become instant comfort food. It’s that good.

Damn you Daikokuya! That line outside your door is well earned.

DAIKOKUYA
327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
T: 213.626.1680 

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