There’s a new ramen in Little Tokyo: Shin Sen-Gumi!

I watched the movie Tampopo for the first time and now I can’t stop craving ramen… a specific ramen I had last week. But first, let’s talk about the movie.

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to see Tampopo. This movie was made for people who love food porn – and for those who love ramen. Several stories about each person’s relationship to food weave in and out of this classic 1985 Japanese film. Here’s the original trailer:

As soon as the film ended, I was craving ramen. Go figure. Actually, I started to crave the new ramen place I went to last week in Little Tokyo – Shin Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen. They have locations in Gardena and Fountain Valley but this is the first in the Los Angeles-area that I know of. They serve ramen from Hakata in the Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. I dropped in last week without knowing it was their grand opening. Check out all the flower arrangements at the entrance from other businesses and family/friends to wish them luck.

When you arrive, sign your name in the notebook on the small podium outside their main door. Then wait… and wait… until they call your name. When my friend and I entered, everyone in the restaurant gave us a gregarious welcome. The restaurant space is open – you can see exactly what the chefs are doing and you can see what everyone is eating and drinking. I loved how there was a lot of light in the place.

One of the reasons this place is different from Daikokuya is how you order. There’s a base ramen bowl that is your typical pork broth that is $7.50. You get to choose the noodle you want (hard soft firm), thickness of the noodle (thick or thin), and how strong you want the soup base (strong, medium, or mild). For my ramen, I chose firm, thick, and medium.

I dunked my spoon into the bowl and brought the broth to my lips. I stopped and smelled the savory steam brushing my face. I opened my mouth and took a sip. Wow. The broth has a salty flavor that tickles your tongue but them transitions into a sweet and creamy taste. I couldn’t figure out the flavors at first so I had to quickly bring another sip to my mouth… and another… and another. I was addicted because it felt like the broth’s flavors were flirting with my taste buds. And the noodles? The noodles were perfect – not too chewy or too soft… perfectly firm. I could have eaten another bowl of just noodles if I had the space in my stomach.

You can build your own ramen by adding sides. I ordered nori (seaweed) that I crumbled and put on top and the flavors boil egg. My friend ordered extra chashu (pork) which I regret not doing. The pork was thinly sliced and flavorful in the broth.

I’ve always said Daikokuya was my favorite ramen place in Little Tokyo but after going to Shin Sen-Gumi, I have to reassess my go-to ramen restaurants.

TIP: Yogurtland is right next door so you get to have your ramen and eat your yogurt too!

A must: The Not Unhappy Hour at Spitz

It was lunch time and I found myself in Little Tokyo but not having a craving for Japanese food. This rarely happens. I wanted something savory and hearty and when I looked down the street, nothing appealed to me. Then I remembered Spitz.

The official name on their website says Spitz Restaurant – Home of the Döner Kebab. The place opened up in 2009 by a couple guys who went to Occidental College – apparently one of them discovered the tasty döner kebab while studying abroad in Spain.

Located in the heart of Little Tokyo, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Can this place actually be good?” I walked in and it was happy hour (Weekdays it’s 3p-7p and all day Saturday and Sunday). Actually, they call their happy hour “The Not Unhappy Hour.” I figured I’d partake in it and ordered the rose sangria that has mint, lime, and apple.

The flavor of the rose sangria was crisp and light – perfect for a summer day. It was paired well with the beef and lamb kebab wrap I got with feta, pepperonicinis, and hummus. There’s a nice warm flavor from the pepperoncini – they definitely don’t skimp on the fillings. The ratio of meat to veggies and sauces had the right balance. The best part of this place was how their portions are realistic. Right when I felt full, I had taken my last bite.

The combos come with either a wrap or sandwich with a side. Here’s the beef and lamb wrap with tzatziki and chili sauce and skinny fries that my dining companion had. The plain fries were surprisingly good… really good.

The fries had a great crunch and was seasoned perfectly – I was sad when I reached for one more and they were all gone. But I guess with all good things… you gotta leave wanting a little more so you know to come back. Next time, I’m coming back for the falafel sandwich and street cart fries!

Locations: Little Tokyo / downtown LA and Eagle Rock