While in LA for work I decided to research some great Ramen close to where I was staying and DAIKOKUYA ORIGINAL NOODLE & RICE BOWL kept appearing in all my searches. After five minutes, I came to the realization that this is one of the most popular and well-reviewed Ramen joints in the City of Angels, so far be it from me not to give it a fair shake. Located in LA’s “Little Tokyo”, DAIKOKUYA is a blink and you’ll miss it Ramen spot and that is really only visible by the line-up outside and man is it a wait to be seated. The three of us waited 105 minutes to be seated, 105 minutes!!!! Most would have given up after 45 minutes but this was my one night to try fabled Ramen in LA, I was not be deterred by a measly line-up! My Ramen cohorts were getting antsy and we were all getting hungry but I could not be persuaded otherwise, I was here for DAIKOKUYA RAMEN and by god, I was going to get it! After the polar ice caps melted and mankind inhabited Pluto, we finally got to sit at our table and order away.
DAIKOKUYA offers three types of Ramen: Daikokuya (the signature Tokutsu base that is infused with a secret blend of soy sauce), the Spicy Miso (a mild spice level with a blend of three types of Miso) and Tsukemen (think of deconstructed Ramen with all the ingredients served separately). I went for the signature DAIKOKUYA RAMEN and asked for it Koterri style which means richer broth made from pork back fat. With a bunch of flavorful appies ordered to satiate us while we waited for our bowls, we dined on some great Gyoza, Tokoyaki, Edemame, and pickled Veggies all of which were enjoyable. Finally the Ramen arrived!
My Koterri Daikokuya Ramen looked impressive. Korubuta Pork, Chashu, marinated egg, bamboo, sprouts, green onions and sesame seeds, plus a silky creamy looking broth. My mouth was salivating but disappointed. This special broth? This additional Koterri? BLAND. I was shocked! Where’s the richness? Where’s the complexity? Where’s the flavor? I looked up at my cohorts and their expressions said exactly what I was feeling, this broth is not very flavorful. What a shame, the broth is fine but the way it’s sold led me to believe I was in for a much more of a flavorful mouthful. Alas, I was not. All the toppings were fresh and tasty but I was really thrown off by the blandness of the broth. All these people lining up for this Ramen and this is what their signature is? Maybe it was an off night? Maybe I should have ordered the Spicy Miso Ramen? Who knows but I can honestly say, this was the first time since I’ve been reviewing Ramen joints that my expectations were not met and I left disappointed… I still ate the whole bowl though.
Obviously my review of DAIKOKUYA is far from the norm as there are line-ups every day and online reviews singing the praises of this tiny joint in Little Tokyo. Unfortunately for me, broth is of upmost importance to me and the lack of richness & depth in the broth with the almost two hour wait to get it in my belly left me unsatisfied with this jewel in the LA Ramen crown. Would I eat there again? Sure, I am a sucker for Spicy Miso and would love to give it and DAIKOKUYA another shot. Would I wait another two hours to do so? Probably not.
- Dish: Daikokuya Ramen, Koterri-style
- Location: Daikokuya Original Noodle & Rice Bowl
- Address: 327 E 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
- Price: $9.50
- Extras: Koterri-Style
New to San Franciso but not to the ramen game is Ramen Yamadaya. Originating in L.A. Ramen Yamadaya opened it’s first spot in San Francisco’s Japantown back in December 2013. Located on the walking street between Post and Sutter it is on the second floor of one of the many buildings lining the street.
Famed for its 20 hour Tonkotsu broth, Ramen Yamadaya’s main entry way has a massive hand written banner explaining the process and time required to make their broth. Naturally I had to go for my absolute favorite the Spicy Tonkotsu. Again the kitchen was exposed to the seating area and it provided a wonderful glimpse into the making of each bowl. Cooks scooped and poured and tossed all the goodies required to make each bowl with gusto.
The bowl arrived at the table and instantly I knew this had the potential to be a game changer. The broth was thick and fatty and had a robust scent that filled the area around the bowl. In the center was a nice ball of the spicy chili paste surrounded by the corn I had added as well as green onions and 2 halves of seasoned boiled egg.
First taste brought an overwhelming rush of flavor to my palette. Rich and heavy the broth was phenomenally seasoned with a nice layer of saltiness that complimented the creamy fatty undertones. A slight hint of sesame and garlic carried over to the end and won me over with each slurp of the spoon. The toppings all fit very well and the spicy chili paste gave it just enough heat to liven up an already spectacular bowl of noodles.
Easily now one of my top 3 ramen shops in the Bay Area, Ramen Yamadaya is a must go if you are a fan of Tonkotsu ramen. They are open late too which is great.
- Dish: Spicy Tonkotsu
- Location: Ramen Yamadaya
- Address: 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94115
- Price: $9.45
- Extras: Corn $1.00
Another newish establishment in San Francisco, Fujiyoshi started as a small pop-up in 2013. They eventually moved into their full time spot on Post St. just up from Union Square. The restaurant itself isn’t anything super trendy or fancy but reminds me much of the small ramen shops in Tokyo. Kitchen is right up at the front when you first walk int with part of it being in a window looking out on the street. All the noises and smells fill the small seating area and gives it a great atmosphere.
They offer several different dishes, which span the range of the usual suspects. My choice was the Spicy Tonkotsu which is hands done my favorite variety. Fujiyoshi allows you to customize your dish a bit more then most places which is really nice. You have a choice of spice level, noodle type (thin, thick, wavy), and how the noodles are cooked. I opted for the thin noodles cooked normal (tender but with a little bite to them) and spicy (out of mild, medium, spicy, and very spicy) for my main choices. I then also added corn to the dish.
The bowl arrived nice and piping hot seemingly almost boiling. The spicy chili paste bright red in the center of the bowl flanked by some nice green onions and a gorgeous half of seasoned egg. The broth was noticeably clearer then most Tonkotsu broths I am used to but it had the telltale fat floating right on the top along with some garlic and sesame seeds. The broth flavor was rich and salty with a sticky hint of fat. It had a nice robust range and really was deceptive for how clear the broth was.
The noodles were exactly as ordered and had a really nice tender bite to them. Flavor was good and they really complemented the broth. Add to that the nice fresh toppings and a killer seasoned egg and this dish was a winner.
As a new place in town I think Fujiyoshi really stands out. The atmosphere was good and the ramen very satisfiying. I’d highly recommend visiting if you are in the area. While not quite at the top of my list, this was a damn fine bowl of noodles.
- Dish: Spicy Tonkotsu
- Location: Fujiyoshi Ramen
- Address: 639 Post StreetSan Francisco, CA
- Price: $11.00
- Extras: Corn $1.00