Must-Try

Slurp Up LA's Top Ramen Spots

By Lesley Balla  |  March 10, 2015
Credit: Tsujita Annex

There's no denying the beauty of a great bowl of ramen. The springy noodles. The rich, porky broth. The slow-cooked egg and supple chashu pork. When done right, and so many times it is, it's pure bliss, even on the hottest of days. Over the last few years, ramen shops have proliferated the LA dining scene with shops popping up all over Little Tokyo and Little Osaka, from the San Gabriel Valley to Torrance and Gardena, but also in more central locations like Hollywood and even South Pasadena. Because everyone loves ramen. Here are 10 spots, including a few newcomers, that should be on everyone's noodle list. 

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Tsujita Artisan Noodle and Tsujita Annex: When this Tokyo outfit first opened on Sawtelle, it only served its tsukemen (dipping noodle) and tonkontsu ramen at lunch, with a more izakaya-style menu for dinner. The lines to get those perfectly springy noodles, whether the thicker, chewier tsukemen noodles or the curlier ones in ramen, and rich broth, which slowly simmers for 60 hours, were endless. So the chef and owner opened the Annex, which serves ramen all day seven days a week. While both serve ramen and tsukemen, the major difference is the broth: it’s a heavier porkier broth at the Annex, and a lighter seafood-tinged one at Artisan Noodle (the original). 

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Daikokuya: When the first shop opened in Little Tokyo, there weren’t that many ramen shops, if any, around LA. Now more than a dozen years later, there are a lot of noodle houses around the neighborhood and city at large, plus several more Daikokuyas in the San Gabriel Valley and on Sawtelle, but that hasn’t lessened the lines at the original one bit. It looks weathered, the staff yells in Japanese and the spicy ramen is as spicy as ever.

Shin Sen Gumi: Most locations of this mini-chain (there are 16 locations throughout LA and Japan) are pretty boisterous, but none more so than the Little Tokyo shop. Only a noodle’s throw away from Daikokuya, the lines can get just as long here as the other popular spot, with people milling about outside planning how they’re going to doctor up their bowl of hakata ramen. Thin or thicker noodles? Soft or harder noodle? Egg? Chashu pork? Yuzu koshu? It’s a have-it-your-way kind of place. Once inside, the noodle cooks are working over vats of steaming pots, others ladling out the broth. It’s a work of art.

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Ramen Champ: The Eggslut team — chefs Alvin Cailan and Johnny Lee, along with new partner Nathan Asamoto (Men Oh Takushima) — debuted their new ramen shop in Chinatown Far East Plaza, the same mall with Chego, Pok Pok Phat Thai and Scoops ice cream. Located on the second floor of the complex, it’s a small space with about 20 seats and an open kitchen where the crew mans steaming pots of tonkotsu and chicken broth, vats of noodles, immersion circulators to sous vide thick slabs of pork belly, and more. Line up outside (this is Eggslut, after all; there’s always a line), order with the staffers before walking in, and once at your seat, big bowls of ramen show up miraculously. The menu is limited for now: just thee bowls of ramen, a few rice bowls and appetizers like fried mushrooms or chicken karaage, plus nonalcoholic drinks. Read and see more here.

Santouka: It’s said that the founder of this international chain, Hitoshi Hatanaka, opened his ramen palace after watching the Japanese classic Tampopo. He didn’t find any noodles that quashed his cravings, so he opened his own restaurant. Now almost 30 years later, the noodles are served at a counter in the Mitsuwa Market Place in Torrance, Santa Monica, Orange County and San Diego (as well as San Jose, Chicago and New Jersey). The most famous is the shio ramen with its 20-hour pork-bone broth.

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Ramen Jinya: The first location of this Japanese chain landed in a strip mall along Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, and ever since its presence around LA has ebbed and flowed with a few openings and closings (and is now called Jinya Ramen Bar under new ownership). But the original location still attracts hordes of people for the tonkotsu, a richer broth from hours and hours of slow simmered porkiness, and  the “white” version, which has some chicken broth mixed in. There’s also spicy chicken ramen or a really garlicky bowl with chasu pork. You can also get some dynamite karaage chicken here and delightful gyoza. Look for new locations in Burbank and Santa Monica soon.

Silverlake Ramen: The parking is the worst for this hipster haven located in the Silversun plaza, but the rich tonkotsu broth and good noodles make up for it. Other good bets include the shoyu ramen, made with a rich soy-drenched chicken broth, and the tsukemen. It’s the perfect place for locals to satisfy their ramen cravings without having to drive too far.

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Ramen Yamada: With locations in Torrance, Sherman Oaks, Culver City and Westwood (and a second Torrance location opening in May), this growing chain takes great care to produce its rich and creamy pork-bone broth for its tonkotsu ramen, the thing to get here. After simmering for 20 hours on the stove, it’s the perfect pool for thin springy noodles and toppings like chashu pork, scallions, soy-marinated soft-boiled eggs and crunchy bamboo shoots.

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Tatsu Ramen: With locations on Sawtelle and now on the corner of Melrose and La Brea, you can customize your Bold, Soul, Naked or Black ramen via a large iPad screen, which adds a fun twist. The new location is open and mod, with lots of counter and communal seating, geometric shapes on the ceilings, blond woods with pops of bold primary colors and a room where you can see the noodles themselves get made. And it's so central! 

Modan Artisanal Ramen: Dangling lightbulbs, slate-gray metal chairs, different shades of polished woods — this ramen restaurant follows the design trends du jour. Tucked behind the Bristol Farms in South Pasadena, Modan serves twists on traditional tonkotsu, soy (shoyu), vegetarian and spicy ramen. Karrage wings, pork sliders and Brussels sprouts also make appearances on the small menu. What they won't tell you but we will: there is a last call for noodles at lunch. Don't show up 10 minutes before closing and expect to order lunch; they just won't do it. Plan accordingly.