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 cheap 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 (pork), 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.
Much digital ink has been spilled over Tsujita’s tsukemen: how kurobuta pork bones are simmered for no less than 60 hours to create the dipping broth, how the noodles are thick, toothy and dense, and how ramen is served only at lunch so the wait for a seat can fluctuate between tolerable and formidable (unless you’re dining solo, in which case, you’ll be seated at the counter in no more than 15 minutes). Suffice to say, in a rare instance of hype living up to reality, all that ink bleeds true—this is the best tsukemen in the city. This West L.A. spot’s noodle bowl is the one to which you’ll forever compare all others, much to your chagrin. Because after you’ve eaten here, you’ll be resigned to the fact that when the mood for tsukemen strikes, you’ll have no choice but to go to Tsujita. Put your name down. And wait…and wait. It’ll be worth it. (Though, the comparable Tsujita Annex across the street usually has less of a wait.)
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 in L.A. 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 (Japanese soup base) and dried fish. Purists can order the Tonkotsu Assari to appreciate the remarkable umami of 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.
Arguably the most popular ramen spot on the Eastside, Silverlake Ramen consistently draws lines for its addictive tonkotsu. Start, though, with a light bite—try the cucumber salad with slivers of crab, sprouts, sesame seed and house vinaigrette—before moving onto heartier Japanese staples. Chicken karaage (marinated and fried chicken) is paired with a Sriracha mayo, while handmade grilled gyoza are filled with juicy pork, cabbage and green onion. Yes, there is a California roll on the menu, but stick with the house specialty—spicy tonkotsu ramen boasting thick cuts of pork belly, green onions, spinach, bean sprouts, dried seaweed, garlic sauce, chewy noodles all bathed in a rich pork broth, cooked for 16 hours. Trust us, it's worth the wait.
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 new 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.
Ramen Hayatemaru’s ramen menu is short—just seven types of ramen, including tsukemen. Of these, the white miso bowl, with its creamy, nicely salted broth, is a standout, and the rich jjigae ramen is worth a try if you’re curious to taste Korean mashed with Japanese in a bowl. There are also half-sizes available, perfect for those with small appetites or to pair with a side of pan-fried gyoza or fried chicken.
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.
Sawtelle Boulevard may be home to a large number of new ramen shops, but other parts of the Westside are starting to see their fair share, too. With locations in Culver City and Westwood, 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.
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.
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.