Hi guys, I'm baaaaaaack!
I've been sick and these past couple months have been such a whirlwind, it was a bit challenging to keep my wits about me. What I once thought to be impossible has happened: my appetite was nowhere to be found and I couldn't really even eat more than one meal a day (gasp)! Taking this as a sign that my body needed to reset I took some time off, got a little R&R--basically just laid around in bed obsessively watching True Detective and freaking myself out by getting sucked into the blackhole that is /r/nosleep. Thankfully, I'm feeling much better now and to commemorate the return of my health I went to eat the best of what I was craving: ramen and tempura.
If you've been following along on my foodventures, you already know how much I love unassuming places; my preference for hole-in-the-wall gems and hidden establishments serve as a kind of delicious scavenger hunt. And if you know me personally, you know that I very rarely, and even less willingly, travel past the La Brea exit off the 10W. I'd drive all the way to Claremont for a great Spanish tapas place (ooh, sneaky hint) with no complaints but the westside?! Not to make it a Westside vs. Eastside kind of thing, but over the years that area has changed quite a bit. Gentrification is part of an inevitable chain of change when it comes to a city, I guess. However, that part of town lost a huge amount of color since the formation of "Silicon Beach" which, in turn, trickles down and spreads to neighboring districts and cities. It sucks to see people getting pushed out of places that they spend a great part of their lives in due to a steady rise in rent and cost of living. I wish there was a way to keep the growth of a city and the preservation of its culture balanced but alas, here we are. One thing's for sure though, with gentrification comes a plethora of more eating options so the glutton in me is pretty thrilled.
Anyway, about this place. A while ago I was on a ramen binge, trying to see which places in what area had the best broth + noodle combination and a couple of my friends couldn't stop singing praises about this ramen place inside a Japanese market on the westside. "Better than Daikokuya in Little Tokyo? Silverlake Ramen?" I asked, trying to get a sense of just how great this bowl of ramen would be. "Way better. Probably the best one, to be honest." Of course, this response piqued my interest. Every bowl of ramen I've had in Los Angeles, and I've had quite a few, never has the perfect combination--there's always something slightly off about it. Daikokuya, although the flavors are amazing, gives just a bit too much broth and the noodles are a bit soft. Silverlake Ramen, totally blew my mind the first time I had it, has really thick broth and so it feels they don't give enough of it in a bowl. There are some places with really skinny noodles, some places with too many fixings, the pork belly isn't tender, etc.
This place was always in the back of my mind, a hovering thought that I looked to just a little too late when trying to decide where to go eat. The fact that it was in Mar Vista contributed to the bit of discouragement I felt as well; 12.8 miles isn't a great distance but it definitely feels a lot more further when you have to sit in terrible traffic on one of the worst freeways to get there.
But yo! What better way to make a comeback by taking my ass to a side of town that I rarely find myself in to slurp on some noodles?
Mitsuwa is a Japanese market located on the corner of Venice and Centinela. Like many other Asian markets, there's the usual bakery, gift store, the grocery portion and the food court. It looks nothing out of the ordinary and if I were just a passerby, I wouldn't think that it was home to the best ramen in Los Angeles.
Santouka is the ramen restaurant my friends have told me about and because I'm rendered useless when faced with too many choices to choose from, I asked the employees what the most popular ramen was. "The salt (shio) ramen is the most popular and the second most popular one is the spicy miso." They replied, and I now realize that I forgot to ask what their names were due to my hunger and my eagerness to eat! (So sorry guys, how shameful of me!) I opted for the shio and what's cool about Santouka is that they have different sized bowls for their ramen. Since I wanted to try one other place beside there, I got the small one.
Hannosuke is a restaurant that specializes in tempura, with only tempura dishes on the menu, and I ordered the #5 (tempura box) to go along with my ramen.
The wait time for both orders was under five minutes and if I weren't dining alone, I would have broke out into my happy glutton dance! I did get a few funny looks from strangers though when I began to take photos of everything. Imagine what the response would have been like if I lugged a DSLR around...
I know, it's a lot of food, especially for one person who, might I add, just got over being sick and has a shrunken stomach as a result of it. However! Would I be able to call myself a glutton if I weren't able to handle this meal? Fuck no! Besides, if you ask me, it's always good to have more than not enough.
About Santouka having the best ramen in Los Angeles: I have to agree 100%. The broth was hearty but still light, the pork was soft, tender and flavorful, and the noodles had a great texture to them. The bonus, for me, was the bamboo shoots and ume! Plus the big, pink-swirled fish cake was something out of an anime (Naruto, anyone?) The small sized bowl was actually the perfect portion, it was totally just enough to get me full without the help of the tempura I ordered. To be honest, I didn't touch the tempura while eating the ramen--it was that good that it required all of my glutton attention.
Even though it was slightly cooled by the time I got around to it, I was extremely happy to find that the texture of the tempura was still crunchy! There were shrimp and eggplant among the fried battered goodness but I was especially taken by the broccoli, shishito pepper, white fish and nori. I've never had fried tempura broccoli, the thought of fried broccoli never occurred to me before seeing it here! And why haven't I? Fried broccoli is pretty delicious. I also have never had fish in any of the tempura I've ordered in the past and dude. It's so good. I'm not really much for fish that break easily when you bite into it but this was so moist with no hint of that weird fish scent you can smell if it's not cooked properly. The tempura also comes with two types of tempura sauce: original and spicy, and it's probably the most flavorful tempura sauces I've had so far. It wasn't too watery, like the ones that are more commonly used. There was a nice thickness to it with the right amount of umami.
My late lunch ended up being an early dinner--I was beyond full halfway through the tempura but still powered through it because I don't believe in leaving food unfinished. If you guys live in the westside or find yourself in the area, go grab lunch at the Mitsuwa Market food court! I plan on going back so I can try the other kinds of ramen Santouka has. I'm also going to try to make a point out of venturing into West LA more often; there are so many great places to eat and even more that are just waiting for me to find, it would be a shame to let the traffic keep me from them!
So if you have any places you think I should check out, shoot me an email or tweet me. Shit, we can even meet up and try these places together!
3760 S Centinela Ave
Open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM