Little Tokyo's best noodles
Among the multiple standout ramen shops in Little Tokyo is Men Oh, tucked away in Honda Plaza. A small shop with a handful of tables and a long bar, Men Oh hails from the Tokushima region of Japan, where the dominant industry is pig farming. Thus, the signature item, the Tokushima Ramen, is an unctuous, deeply pork-flavored bowl, with toppings that include not only lovely slices of tender chashu, but also strips of stir-fried butabara pork. Those additions, plus the pork bone and soy sauce-based broth, make this bowl one of the more complex ones in town.
Upon entering this Hakata-based chain, you’ll be met with a chorus of “Irashi”. You’ll then be handed an order sheet, where you can customize your bowl to your exact specifications—choose the intensity (i.e. saltiness) of your broth, the doneness of your noodles and toppings (egg, garlic chips, even spare rib)—and combine chicken rice balls, deep fried cheese egg rolls and gyoza additions. Half the fun is ordering too many toppings on your first visit, which will arrive one after another in a parade of bowls.
Walk into Marugame Monzo and you'll immediately be mesmerized by the open-air noodle action. Ask for seats at the counter so you can watch the udon noodles being made up close: Behind a large glass, the udon master will roll out the dough and cut strands and strands of the thick, chewy noodles for each order. The traditional bowls are great here; try the hot kitsune udon topped with fried tofu or the cold plum shiso bukkake udon. For a fun mash-up of Japanese and Italian cuisines, go for the popular miso carbonara udon.
If the lines are too long at other old-school ramen restaurants in Little Tokyo (we're looking at you, Daikokuya), head over to Manichi Ramen, the Los Angeles installment from one of Japan's best ramen companies. The #1 Manichi Special is a rich, fragrant bowl filled with tender bits of pork, a soft egg boiled to perfection, black garlic and spicy miso. Portions are hefty enough to leave you full after one bowl, but you'll want to precede your meal with a plate of the restaurant's beloved gyoza.
This buzzy Little Tokyo spot—which has four locations in Los Angeles with a devoted following—is a ramen mecca. A wrap-around counter faces the open kitchen, providing a social atmosphere to dig into piping hot bowls of flavorful pork broth and chewy noodles; we love the specialty Daikoku Ramen. Chijire-style egg noodles sit in a rich tonkotsu soup and are topped with slices of kurobuta pork belly (pork fans can amp it up with fatty kotteri-style), boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and green onions. Add an order of pan-fried pork gyoza or crispy tonkatsu (pork cutlet) to make the line worthwhile.