Ramen Rising

From limited-edition lobster to burnt miso paste, exotic ramen dishes deliver in the Valley.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY TAMEKA JACOBS

Ramen, the comforting Japanese noodle soup featuring broth typically coaxed from slow-simmered pork or chicken bones, hasn’t been popular in the warm climate of the San Fernando Valley. But over the past couple of years, ramen eateries have flooded the Boulevard. And now with the announcements that high-profile chefs Andre Guerrero of Ramen Room and Phillip Frankland Lee and Luke Reyes of Oh Man! Ramen will soon be joining the fray, the trend is reaching new levels. As we anticipate those openings, here are my three favorite ramen spots—along with some honorable mentions.

JINYA RAMEN BAR

Tomo Takahashi helped launch the local ramen craze when he debuted this eatery next to a Marshalls in 2010. Jinya has atypical bowls like ones with seafood and truffles as well as my favorite bowl—a luxe lobster version that is limited to 10 orders a day. In this dish, a murky pork broth cooks for eight hours every morning. Three lobster and shrimp wontons float on top, joining the crustacean’s decorative red shell. Brussels sprouts, thin-shaved scallions, a soft, runny egg and thick noodles fill out the bowl. The motto on a triptych of photos featuring a ramen eater confirms how you feel after devouring this dish: “No Ramen No Life.”

KAI RAMEN

Kai Ramen, a simple space limited to eight chairs at a wood counter and a dozen two-top tables, belies all the thought that’s gone into their ramen. Tokyo native Tomo Nishimura seems to have a thing for dragons. “White dragon” ramen incorporates corn kernels and a pat of butter. “Red dragon” packs heat from chile paste. “Black dragon” is moderately fierce, featuring a pork broth cooked for 12 hours, a float of black sesame oil, complementary accompaniments like bean sprouts, sesame seeds, scallions and wood ear mushrooms, and a medium-cooked egg. Thin noodles come standard, but you can sub in thicker “jumbo” noodles that tend to hold the broth a bit better.

RAMEN BY OMAE

Chef Takeshi Omae takes the concept of low and slow to extremes at his eponymous ramen bar that debuted in a Sherman Oaks strip mall in 2013. In the kitchen behind a sleek blonde wood counter, the crew of this Michelin-starred chef from Japan boils pork bones for 40 hours to yield rich, flavorful broth. Burnt kogashi miso ramen features a flavorful patch of burnt miso paste in the center of the bowl. Ground pork joins the mix, along with soft egg, scallions and crunchy bean sprouts. Chicken broth has become standard for this bowl but you can sub in pork broth and score a blast of richness for an extra buck.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Gokoku Vegetarian Ramen Shop utilizes a secret blend of slow-cooked vegetables to produce broth. Build your own bowl from four different bases, or better yet, opt for a prescribed combo like the popular mayu garlic jalapeño. Fried garlic slivers and roasted jalapeños (seeds and all) deliver a one-two punch, with balance courtesy of baby bok choy, earthy black beans, fibrous slabs of jicama and wood ear mushrooms.
Iroha Sushi of Tokyo is a Japanese institution set back from the Boulevard in Studio City. Over the years, sushi has ceded menu space to ramen, but diners now revel in more than a dozen soup choices, including soy sauce-stained pork broth with crimped noodles, fish cakes with pink spirals and juicy chunks of chicken karaage. Iroha is equivalent to ABC when learning Japanese, but this bowl is anything but basic.
Tamashii Ramen House, by JINYA graduate Akira Imamura, offers spicy miso ramen with plenty of pop and utilizes pork in at least three ways (that we know of). Still, I recommend the black tonkotsu. The dish’s pork broth requires 15 hours to prepare and gets bolstered by black garlic oil, wood ear mushrooms, a gooey soft-boiled egg and braised pork chashu.

 

ramen2 BOWLED OVER Burnt Kogashi Miso Ramen at Ramen by Omae

 


RAMEN RUNDOWN

GOKOKU VEGETARIAN RAMEN SHOP

4147 Lankershim Blvd.,
Studio City, 818-505-8113

IROHA SUSHI OF TOKYO

12953 Ventura Blvd.,
Studio City, 818-990-9559

JINYA RAMEN BAR

11239 Ventura Blvd.,
Studio City, 818-980-3977

KAI RAMEN

15030 Ventura Blvd.,
Sherman Oaks, 818-789-3944

RAMEN BY OMAE

14425 Ventura Blvd.,
Sherman Oaks, 818-784-8981

TAMASHII RAMEN HOUSE

14531 Ventura Blvd.,
Sherman Oaks, 818-990-1268

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