123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St #108
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 1/28/13
Ikemen is the latest ramen chain to open up shop in Little Tokyo (following other notables Shin-Sen-Gumi and Men Oh Tokushima). Located in Weller Court (the plaza shared with super-spicy Orochon), it kind of replaces the recently-closed Chin-Ma-Ya. Ikemen’s first location opened up in Hollywood in late 2011; I’d read mostly positive things about the shop but never made it out to Hollywood.
Ikemen isn’t your traditional ramen shop; it’s actually kind of weird (modern?). The philosophy is very clear (it’s painted on the wall) – they aim to create edgy and stylish ramen.
The specialty is what Ikemen calls ‘dip ramen,’ essentially a tsukemen where you dip noodles into a warm broth before eating. Except, they call the soup au jus here, and an option for the Ghostbuster Dip Ramen combines this jus with heavy cream, truffle oil, roasted marshmallows. Yep. My coworker and I weren’t quite brave enough to go that route, and stuck to some of the slightly more conservative options.
Ikemen Dip Ramen tonkotsu au jus mixed with green onions and artisan bonito powder
The ramen came out with a heap of freshly shaved katsuobushi – dried, smoked bonito flakes. It’s a signature ingredient here at Ikemen, melting quickly into the soup at the table. One sip and the strong depth of smoky flavor was evident; the tonkotsu broth itself was on the milder, less rich and fatty side than others I’ve come across. The chashu was tender with a fairly subtle flavor. I liked the noodles too (served warm but dry) with a nice chew to them, though found the starchy noodles to cling together a bit.
Zebra Dip Ramen tonkotsu au jus mixed with green onions and zebra garlic seasoning
My coworker got this variation of the dip ramen, with a “zebra” garlic seasoning enhancing the porky broth. This one clearly had much more depth and character than the last dish without being overly garlicky, with the same noodles and chashu. He loved it.
Premium Ramen espresso-steam prepared artisan au jus, green onions, thick noodles, chashu pork
Just for variety’s sake, I also got a bowl of the ramen. I’m not sure what all the hoopla about ‘espresso-steam prepared artisan au jus’ was, the soup tasted like a sort of soy/tonkotsu mix not unlike the one at Men Oh Tokushima. It was good enough, though not particularly special. The first bites of noodle were kind of hard and gritty, but they softened up as they sat in the hot broth for a minute or two. Similar to the dip ramen, I really enjoyed the thicker noodles, adding much more chew to each bite.
Relatively speaking, we left Ikemen feeling a bit lighter than neighboring tonkotsu spots Daikokuya, Men Oh Tokushima, and Shin-Sen-Gumi. It’s hard to compare across shops because Ikemen is trying to do something very different. I guess I’m more of a traditionalist and prefer the more straight-lined approach. However, I think Ikemen has a niche here for something less ‘normal;’ perhaps one day I’ll sum up the courage to order (or convince someone to order!) the cream, truffle oil, and roasted marshmallow Ghostbuster Dip Ramen.