With an explosion of ramen joints from West L.A. to the South Bay, you don't have to look far (or fork over much) for this coveted inexpensive food option. Stellar bowls of ramen can be found in upscale Japanese restaurants, hole-in-the-wall eateries and, well, all over Little Tokyo. Whether you like your broth tonkotsu (long-simmered pork bone), miso, shoyu (soy) or shio (salt) flavored—or are in the mood for ramen from Tokushima or any other given part of Japan—noodle options are aplenty. We've picked out our favorite ramen spots with bowls worth slurping.
Discover the best ramen in L.A.
This Japan-based chain has many stateside locations, including a Los Angeles outpost, oddly enough located in Mitsuwa supermarkets’ food courts—prompting folks to refer to Santouka as the McDonald’s of ramen joints. The analogy does a bit of a disservice to the noodle spot: This certainly is fast-food ramen, but a bowl of Santouka's shio (salt) ramen is better than a 20-piece box of nuggets on any day of week. The broth is a blend of pork stock—pork bones simmered some 20 hours—and seafood, seasoned crucially with a bit of salt to create a mild, almost creamy base. Chewy, curly noodles and a pickled Japanese plum complete a great bowl. Remember to hit the ATM machine before stopping by this cash-only joint.
This tiny South Bay ramen shop seems to fill up almost the second it opens its doors for lunch. While you can’t go wrong with any of the offerings here, we recommend the excellent tonkotsu shoyu ramen, pork and soy sauce-based broth served with thick, heavy noodles. Try adding a little fresh garlic for some zing—if you’re feeling particularly DIY, ask for a garlic press so you can mash your own clove. Add a side of the U.F.O. Gyoza, half a dozen dumplings pan-fried together, to create one massive, standout plate.
It seems as though you can't drive in any direction without stumbling upon at least one ramen joint boasting about its tonkotsu broth. Despite all the new shops spouting up in the city, one of the earliest tonkotsu specialists is still the best: Jinya offers a full slate of pork-based ramen, all of which smack strong with not only pork, but also what someone might tell you is an "industrial" amount of dashi and dried fish; purists can order the Tonkotsu Black for a garlicky and straightforward approach to this soup; for the adventurous, there’s the Tonkotsu Spicy, which stays true to its name. Locations include Studio City, Mid-Wilshire, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Burbank.
Spice seekers, rejoice: Killer Noodle says they sling the hottest noodles in town, and they mean it. Don't say they didn't warn you: Their list of restaurant rules includes "our restaurant aims for painful, delicious and spicy," and "Please take care of your bottoms when you complete your meal." Using a combination of Chinese spices—namely, Hana-Sansho and prickly ash—they season your noodle bowl from level zero to six. If you'd rather play it safe, they also offer small rice bowls topped with fried pork, char siu and tofu.
While Little Tokyo hasn’t had the same influx of new ramen shops that other parts of the city have experienced, you'll still find a newer place or two if you look hard enough. Case in point: Men Oh Ramen, 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.
Chef-owner Travis Lett's Venice izakaya and ramen shop veers in a different direction from his previous ventures, Gjusta and Gjelina, and it works. The small plates are a must, but so is the ramen, which can be found toward the bottom of the menu. L.A. more or less flipped at the thought of spending $20 per bowl, but with options like dungeness crab ramen—which includes a miso-heavy crab broth and pickled peppers—or the Peads & Barnetts ramen—still rich and incredibly flavorful despite a lighter shio broth—it's quickly become one of the Westside's most stylish and sought-after seats, higher price tag be damned.
It might be hard, at first, to get past the vegan aspect of Ramen Hood. Aren't fatty slices of pork and thick tonkotsu broth why most people crave ramen anyway? But Ramen Hood, which sits near the southeast corner of Grand Central Market, doesn't serve watery, flavorless bowls. Instead, you can choose from either plain or spicy ramen, both boasting a thick, sunflower seed broth filled with king oyster mushrooms, nori, scallions, bean sprouts and hearty noodles. A vegan egg, made from soy milk and nutritional yeast, can be added for $2—and while it doesn't taste exactly like an egg, it's pretty close. There are a few sides available as well, like crispy broccoli sitting in a pool of soy chili glaze, and tofu al pastor. But the ramen is the star, and well worth a try even if you're all about that fatty pork belly.
Nestled among other food joints and shops on the bustling streets of Old Town Pasadena is Ramen Tatsunoya. Communal wooden tables and some booths occupy the modestly sized restaurant with a giant trimmed tree trunk as the focal point in the room. Once seated, choose between koku (rich) tonkotsu, jun (light) tonkotsu or spicy tonkotsu as the broth base and top with egg, dried seaweed, green onion and chashu. The menu is straightforward and simple, but high in quality with an option to try their homemade silky coconut flan for dessert. A selection of beer is also available.
Sawtelle Boulevard may be home to a large number of newer ramen spots, but other parts of the Westside are starting to see their fair share, too. With locations in Culver City and Westwood, plus Torrance, Ramen Yamadaya is quickly gaining quite the foothold in its respective neighborhoods, and it’s just as popular as any noodle joint along Sawtelle. Twenty hours of simmering pork bones is what goes into Yamadaya’s signature tonkotsu (pork) broth, forming the base for one of the creamiest, cleanest, porkiest bowls of tonkotsu ramen in town. The thin noodles work well here; you’ll slurp them up much too quickly for them to lose their bite. Don’t miss the dip-and-slurp tsukemen, which is equally as good.
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, wontons, spare ribs, garlic ships, even cod roe)—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.