132 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 9/8/11
Little Tokyo has a lot of places that serve ramen, but the only really notable option has been Daikokuya. For me, the greatest downside is its own popularity – there is always a line outside, often very long.
Enter Shin-Sen-Gumi, one of the other super-popular chains in the LA/OC area (I tend to think of Daikokuya, Santouka and Shin-Sen-Gumi) which finally opened in Little Tokyo. They opened today, in fact, thus the dozens of flower pots outside the restaurant. I’ve been to the Gardena and Rosemead locations of Shin-Sen-Gumi’s ramen shops, and I’ve still liked Daikokuya better. At the very least, I thought, it would bring another legitimate option and maybe help alleviate the long wait times at Daikokuya.
The set-up is not unlike other locations of Shin-Sen-Gumi. The kitchen is wide open, with probably about 14 seats around a long counter.
These were pretty small. Bite sized. The wrapper was a chewy al dente and I liked the filling, which achieved a nice balance between meat and cabbage. However, I thought they were too browned, to the point where the dumplings were starting to burn, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste.
A solid variation of the dish. The chicken was lightly fried and kept pretty moist.
One feature about Shin-Sen-Gumi is that the ramen is customizable. There are a couple dozen different toppings, as well as choices for the doneness of the noodles, amount of oil in the soup, and strength of flavor in the soup. There are even boxes asking if pickled ginger, green onions, and sesame seeds are desired. Sometimes I think it’s just too many options, but I appreciate the kitchen’s willingness to create what they call a “dream ramen” for each customer.
Special Pork Belly Chashu
Keeping it simple, I went with one topping (served on the side). While the Hakata Ramen comes with thin slices of chashu, this one is on a totally different level. Thick chunks of pork belly are braised until almost breaking apart, and the fat seems to just melt in the soup leaving a really flavorful and tender piece of pork. Having it served cool on the side, I just wish I didn’t see all of the coagulated fat. But man, it was tasty.
Ah…the featured item. In my previous visits to Shin-Sen-Gumi, I’ve struggled with the noodles. “Normal” was a little too soft for me and “hard” was just too hard. I created my own checkmarked box right in the middle of the two (“kind of hard?”) and the kitchen was happy to oblige. They came out perfectly. The broth was milky, with an expectantly deep porky, salty flavor.
I’m going to have to reconsider which is my favorite bowl of ramen in the city. I finally got the noodles just the way I wanted them, making for a really good bowl. It was comforting, satisfying and full of flavor. I’ll be sure to drop by again soon and often (it is in my neighborhood, after all) to make another determination.
Clearly, Shin-Sen-Gumi is already a big draw (and given the popularity of the other locations, it likely will be for the indefinite future). By the time we were done eating, there were already about 20 people outside waiting for a seat.