The eggs at Ramen Champ are exceptional, but its primary focus—ramen—needs considerable improvement. And far less salt.
When talking about Ramen Champ, it is hard not to talk about Eggslut, chef Alvin Cailan's egg-centric stall in Grand Central Market that draws the market's longest lines, a stretch of hungry tourists and locals clamoring for one of his famed breakfast sandwiches. Cailan has reached celebrity chef status in LA because of his eggs, a status, I may add, that is well-deserved. But in the past year, his focus has shifted from eggs to ramen, teaming up with Nathan Asamoto (Men Oh Tokushima Ramen) to perfect the dish and testing it out on the public at various food festivals. The project culminated in January, when Ramen Champ opened on the second floor of Chinatown's Far East Plaza. There was a lot of fanfare, and Instagram went crazy, and I thought LA had a new ramen superstar on its hands. When a friend and I visited on a recent weekday night, though, we left more disappointed than anything else.
There are three ramen choices on the menu: tonkotsu, shiitake shio and chicken shio. I wish I could say good things about the tonkotsu, but the truth is, we couldn't finish it. Here, the traditionally thick base is a murky bowl of broth that coats your mouth with grease and oil, leaving a slightly metallic aftertaste that is not entirely pleasant. It is rich, sure, but in this case, rich does not equate to flavorful. The noodles (supplied by "local noodle artisans in Southern California") are firm, the tangle of seaweed sweet, but the chashu is bland—and that broth, with a swirl of black garlic oil floating on top, clings to every ingredient, giving each bite the unfortunate comparison to an oil slick. On the other end of the spectrum, Cailan's shiitake shio is a thin, watery bowl of ramen for vegetarians. Again: the broth seems to be missing something essential, instead relying on salt and sesame oil for flavor. Shio is salt-based to begin with, but here the seasoning is almost overpowering. A beautiful head of shitake mushrooms floating in the bowl is lovely to look at, but we spent too much time trying to disassemble the thing, and sharp bits of the stem made for an unpleasant chew.
What is so mind-blowing about Cailan's ramen is that, despite all of its shortcomings, the single egg that comes in each bowl is phenomenal, perfectly cooked and quite possibly the best damn egg I've ever had with ramen. Which makes sense. This is Cailan's pièce de résistance, a diamond in the rough that comes in the form of a soft boiled egg which, when split in half, reveals a golden, shimmering yolk that melts with each bite. There are other items on the menu that are good—the tako tots, which are crispy potato fritters featuring salted cod and octopus, and a drizzle of spicy mayo that lends a fantastic kick; or the fried chicken karaage, made from chicken belly and served with that same mayo dressing. But the egg, man, the egg. It's a beautiful thing, which is what I wish I could say about the ramen.
The issue is not entirely that the ramen at Ramen Champ is not great. It's that, in a city that wears its exceptional ramen selection as a badge of honor, there is much better ramen in LA than Ramen Champ. A couple weeks before visiting, I ordered the tonkotsu at Little Tokyo newcomer Ramen Manichi; a week after Ramen Champ, I had the spicy tonkotsu at Eastside staple Silverlake Ramen. In both cases, the ramen was just all-around better—and less expensive, too. I'm rooting for Cailan and all of his projects, and I hope that Ramen Champ continues to tinker with its recipes, which will hopefully involve less salt. But until then, I'd rather get in the Eggslut line.
What to Eat: The tako tots ($5.50). The fried chicken karaage ($5.50). The ramen egg?
What to Drink: A small list of beverages include hot and cold matcha, yuzu punch and Mexican sodas, but what you really want to get is Calpico ($2.95). A sweet, non-carbonated drink, the Calpico tastes like a mix of horchata and the Yakult yogurt drinks that tout probiotic properties. It's delicious.
Where to Sit: Ramen Champ is small, with a handful of seats around the kitchen counter and another row of chairs lined at a counter against the wall. During our visit, we were able to get a seat by the kitchenr; if you like watching your food being made and listening to kitchen banter, this is where you want to be.
Conversation Piece: You can make any ramen spicy for a whopping $2.35. "Ghost peppers," said our server, when asked about the ingredient bringing the heat.
|Venue name:||Ramen Champ (CLOSED)|
727 N Broadway
|Opening hours:||Daily 6-11pm|
|Do you own this business?|