I heart ramen!: Santouka Salt Ramen

If you’re looking for good ramen in Los Angeles, you’ll often be referred to Daikokuya or Santouka. Both are Japanese chains but Santouka is located in a food court in the Mitsuwa Japanese market in West LA and Costa Mesa and Daikokuya is a stand alone shop. But don’t let the location of Santouka fool you because at lunch, people line up in the food court for over an hour for their noodles… like me.

My mom thought I was crazy when I told her I was craving Santouka when I was in Costa Mesa with her. She doesn’t believe in waiting long for food – especially ramen. She doubted that any ramen was worth an hour wait. I talked her into it and she begrudgingly agreed to wait with me. We each ordered the Salt Ramen – probably the most popular dish on their menu. I like how you can order the ramen in three different sizes. Here’s my medium sized bowl.

The broth isn’t as thick as Daikokuya. Santouka’s broth has a more clean salt flavor but don’t get the wrong idea – this ramen has it’s share of pork fat. The pork that’s served with the ramen is super fatty, tender, and delicious. Also, the texture of the noodles at Santouka is spot on. If you’re in West LA or Costa Mesa, this ramen place should be at the top of your list to try. Apparently, the hype was right.

By the way, my mom took one slurp and looked at me and said she now understood why people waited in line.

Note: Santouka is cash only.

Orange County Eats

I live in Los Angeles but grew up in Orange County. Why does this matter to you? I get to explore food not just in LA but I often trek down south to visit my family and friends and… to taste what the OC is serving up. This is the REAL OC – not the fictitious world that Fox’s The OC or Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County. Let me take you on a tour of some of my favorite eats that span from Garden Grove to Buena Park and Costa Mesa. Let’s start…

1. Brodard Chateau is a Vietnamese-French restaurant right by the 22 freeway in Garden Grove. The food is good but what brings me back to this place are the spring rolls – more specifically, Nem Nuong. What is Nem Nuong? It’s grilled Vietnamese pork that is savory and has a nice crunch on the outside. It’s wrapped with rice paper and inside is a crispy surprise (which I think is actually a piece of fried egg roll skin) and fresh veggies. But the best part is the orange dipping sauce – it’s a family recipe and they won’t give it up. Trust me… I tried and I’m still going to try to get it out of them.

To the left you’ll see the dipping sauce. Know what’s in it? PLEASE let me know.

2. Yoko is in a unassuming strip mall in Buena Park next to a Korean Spa. A couple of my friends took me here to feast on dongkatsu (also often spelled as tonkatsu) – it’s one of my favorite foods. Dongkatsu is a breaded pork cutlet served with the katsu sauce. Note: It’s a Japanese dish but also very popular with Koreans. At Yoko, you crush your own toasted sesame seeds to make your katsu sauce. Take a look…

After my friend crushed the sesame seeds, the waitress came by and poured the katsu sauce on top of it.

The portions are huge so be sure to go on an empty stomach. This was my platter and I didn’t share it with anyone because it was that good.

3. Nidaime Tsujita Ramen is located inside the Mitsuwa Market in Costa Mesa and usually serves up your average ramen. But I made a pilgrimage to this specific location on a weekend in November because they were premiering a very special type of ramen: the Tsukemen. I wouldn’t have known about this if it wasn’t for my foodie comrades, Gregory and Emily – thanks, guys!

Direction on how to properly eat the noodle were posted by the cash register. The Tsukemen is served in parts – you get a bowl of noodles with a couple lines and a bowl of a thick sauce. You pick up the noodles and dip it in the rich sauce, then you take a bite. You don’t want to pour the sauce all over your noodles because the flavors are intense and will ruin the experience. You want to take each bite and savor it one slurp at a time.

Once you’re halfway done with the noodles, you squeeze the lime on the noodles and continue dipping and eating. I admit, next time I eat this, I am going to break the rule and squeeze the limes early on because it adds a crisp flavor to the dish that is right for my palette.

Note: This specific Tsukemen was served a limited time here. According to my source, the chef who creates this Tsukemen will be opening up his own restaurant on Sawtelle late spring of 2011.