I am a junkie - a noodle junkie. It is my favorite food and carb of choice. I could probably give up bread, and maybe even rice, but never noodles. This month, I took over for Yoko for our monthly club Sake Gumi, and decided on the theme of Sake + Noodles. You can read about the different noodles I paired with the sake offerings for the month. I am passionate about noodles and beverages, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a brilliant pairing.
Oh, and let's not forget my annual round up of the Bay Area's best bowls of ramen. With so many great ramen shops opening up here, it's not an easy list to put together. Check it out!
On a recent trip to LA to take my Shochu Advisor exam, I ate noodles exclusively. LA is a Japanese noodle wonderland – from soba to ramen to udon, and beyond. Since I was solo, I didn't have a nagging husband telling me I had to stop eating noodles ("Noodles... again?!?!"). That's five meals - all noodles!!! You could imagine my glee.
Coincidentally, all of the noodle joints I walked into in LA are transplants from Japan. Restaurants in Japan continue to look to the U.S., especially LA and NYC, to expand their empire. I actually think that LA has more Japan-based restaurant companies in all of the U.S. - likely because LA has a huge Japanese-American population and is a city that greatly appreciates Japanese cuisine in general.
I would recommend all the noodle joints mentioned here - mostly in the Little Tokyo/ downtown area, with one on the west side (recently dubbed "Sawtelle Japantown"). In LA, you can get your noodle fix wherever you may be!
366 E 2nd St #368, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hailing from Kyushu, birthplace of Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, Ikkousha is rapidly expanding in LA with three locations. Randomly, I had eaten at Ikkousha when I visited Fukuoka last year. I had not realized this until their iconically monogrammed bowl of ramen landed at the table. The broth is gamey compared to Ippudo's - perfect for a cold day but not so much on a scorching summer day in LA. No matter - the place was packed every time I walked by.
The noodles are thin and chewy, in the traditional Hakata-style. A basic bowl comes with negi, woodear mushrooms and chashu pork slices. It's a solid bowl of ramen that fits in well, and delivers something completely new, even in the overcrowded ramen scene of Little Tokyo.
735 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90017
I read that Gentaro was in a food court of a shopping mall so I was skeptical. But I also had read that Gentaro makes fresh noodles from scratch, so I wanted to give it a chance. A fresh soba noodle joint in a mall? Only in LA. I went for it.
When I showed up, all the staff were twiddling their thumbs and totally unhelpful. Gentaro is the Chipotle of soba noodles - you get a base of noodles, then you can add all sort of toppings - tempura, vegetables, meats, etc. The cashier was surprised that I wanted mine plain.
I watched the sad-looking noodles get ladled out of a bath of water. They weren't boiled to order - warning bells went off in my head. This was going to be a disaster.
But you know what? They weren't bad at all. The tsuyu (dipping sauce) had a good backbone of dashi. The soba came with plenty of negi and nori. They slurped right through my mouth and I was done in three minutes. While I would not tell you to make a special trip to go to Gentaro, for $8, no wait, hand-pulled noodles, in the middle of LA, I'll take this any day over a deli sandwich for lunch.
Gentaro is a company that is originally from Tokyo. Despite the weird location in LA, I think it's pretty great that these Japanese companies are just going for it. Even if it's in a food court.
Pasta e Pasta by Allegro
432 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
I'm a total sucker for Japanese-style pasta and think someone needs to open a spot in the Bay Area. It would be a huge hit. I absolutely love Basta Pasta in NYC and Trattoria Nakamura-ya in Las Vegas. Mentaiko (cod roe) pasta, uni pasta, ikasumi (squid ink) pasta - I love pasta with a Japanese twist.
I walked by Pasta e Pasta a few times in Little Tokyo and loved their sign. The restaurant is based in Hyogo prefecture, and the chef is apparently big in Japan.
The location in Little Tokyo is still quite new - they just opened earlier this year. The space is cozy and I waited about 10 minutes for a seat at the bar. The staff were all bilingual and knowledgable about the menu and wines. I was a bit disappointed that they did not have sakes on the menu - I absolutely love to pair sake with spaghetti.
I ordered the simple pasta peperoncino with shirasu (baby anchovies) and fresh cherry tomatoes. The dish was soupy, topped with nori, shiso leaves, and grated daikon. It was a hot day in LA so this was a nice refreshing dish. It is a good alternative if you don't feel up for a richer dish like mentaiko cream or uni pasta. And the portions are huge here.
2119 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025
Chinchikurin hails from Hiroshima and specializes in the prefecture's regional dishes. They put a spin on Japanese staples like tsukemen and okonomiyaki. The tsukemen, or dipping ramen, is a very fresh, salad-like dish, with a spicy, tangy accompanying sauce. The okonomiyaki is a deconstructed style that differs greatly from the Osaka version. This style from Hiroshima incorporates noodles and cabbage, with a fried egg on top. It's a stellar dish that everyone in LA should try. Absolutely perfect beer food. Read my full report on Chinchikurun here.
29 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
It was a scorcher on my last day in LA. By 9am, it was already 85˚F. The only way to get through days like this are cold noodle dishes. I say this because it's so hot that you have no appetite and have zero desire to cook. But boiling noodles takes five minutes and slurping down ice cold noodles is just so damn satisfying.
There was a large line at Muragame Monzo when I arrived for lunch. Even solo, I waited 15 minutes. But once seated, the food came quite quickly. I ordered the cold udon with grated daikon and ikura. It was just what I wanted. The noodles were unctous and had a glowing sheen to each strand. The marriage of flavors - the negi, daikon, ikura and noodle, was harmonious, as were the textures.
Of course I could not turn down the fried chikuwa for an extra buck fifty - just like how I had my udon in Osaka.
Of course I don't live in LA so don't know everything there is to know about Japanese noodles in this fair city. I do know that Tsujita remains the golden standard for ramen in the area, and I also enjoyed Otafuku for soba (and tamagoyaki) in Gardena.
What did I miss? Comment below on your favorite Japanese noodle spots around LA!