329 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/5/13
I’ve always been surprised that Little Tokyo (or LA really, for that matter) didn’t have any udon specialists. Ramen is big here, of course, but there aren’t any shops dedicated to the thick, white noodle (I have heard there are a couple in Gardena/Torrance though). Whereas ramen is typically served in a richer, fattier broth (pork-bone tonkotsu, soy sauce shoyu, miso, and salt shio are most popular in LA), udon is usually served in a much lighter dashi-based clear broth.
Of course, most of the jack-of-all-trades Japanese restaurants serve their variation of the noodle soup, but it’s typically in very basic form using frozen or dried noodles. In fact, it was in one of these do-all Japanese restaurants where I fell in love with the thick, chewy noodle at a young age. Tempura udon (tempura on the side) was one of my favorite dishes growing up, back when I thought ramen came in packages of dehydrated noodles with an oh-so-addicting salty seasoning packet.
However, just in the past couple of months, two udon specialists have opened up shop in Little Tokyo featuring fresh, handmade noodles and a menu centered on (if not exclusively on) the noodle. Tsurumaru Udon opened in February in the quiet Little Tokyo Galleria Mall, serving a cafeteria-style menu often seen in Japan. You pick a base udon, a size, and customize toppings and are usually eating within 5-10 minutes of entering. It’s cheap, quick and they make a very satisfying bowl. Marugame Monzo, next door to ever-popular ramen joint Daikokuya, replaced Fat Spoon last month with a sit-down affair.
Marugame Monzo’s menu features about a dozen hot ramen and half-dozen cold ramen with even some ‘salad udon’ options. Not really sure what that last one is. They also have a handful of rice bowls (which I’ve heard are quite good), but I was here for the udon.