LATE NIGHT RAMEN CRAVINGS
NAME: Daikokuya, Original noodle and rice bowl
PIG SCORE: 4.0 / 4.0
WHAT: Ramen - Japanese noodles
CITY: Los Angeles
ADDRESS: 327 E 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
HOURS: M – TR 11am – 12am / F – S 11am – 1am / SUN 11am – 11pm
PAYMENT ACCEPTED: Cash / Credit
I’m researching Ramen, not the dried noodles in little plastic packets with a flavor pouch that you ate in college, but original Japanese noodle bowls. I went about my normal routine: web search, books, an old lucky peach magazine or two, build up enough information to be dangerous, then on to field research. After I finished my background study on ramen, I decided it was time to get my feet on the street and track down some Asian noodles. The best place to research ramen in person is Los Angeles. Everything I had read directed me to a restaurant called Daikokuya, a small noodle shop in the little Tokyo region. It was already 10pm this particular night as I strolled up to the glowing yellow awning storefront with a crowd. The fact that there were more than twenty people waiting to eat at this time of the night didn’t seem odd to me, I look for places like this. What did strike me were the other two empty Ramen shops I walked past only a block away to get here, and yet people are willing to wait for 45 minutes at 10pm on a Tuesday night to get a bowl of this particular soup. It intrigued me as much as much as it puzzled me; this must be damn good noodles. I slid my way to the hostess area and scribbled my name on the self-serve wait list. Somehow, at 10 pm on a Tuesday, there were ten tables ahead of me! After the relatively quick wait, the hostess guided me back to my seat at the shallow counter that runs alongside the kitchen; my favorite place in the restaurant to eat, because I can always learn a lot from the chef(s) sitting there. At this point, it was almost 11pm, Daikokuya was buzzing, and judging from crown still outside they had another turn ahead of them. The bustling waitress quickly took my order of two ramen and a Sappaoro beer. I tried to ask a few questions about the ramen, but she ignored my queries and walked away; obviously she was in no mood for small talk that night.
Diakoku (tonkotsu style): Rich pork broth, pork belly chasus (a Asian version of pork bbq), soy sauce marinated egg, bamboo shoots, egg noodles, bean sprouts, and green onions.
Spicy miso: Three types of miso, rich pork broth, egg noodles, marinated egg, green onions, and pork belly chasus.
In ten minutes my soups ended up in front of me. Steam was rising off the bowl as she set it down. The broth was rich and murky, noodles were randomly breaking the surface, braised pork sinking beneath a pile of scallions loitering in a pile, and a delicious soy sauce boiled egg floated in the middle, with a partially runny eye staring right at me. Broth is the corner stone of ramen, and Daikokuya’s was deep and rich, which is by far the best I have ever tasted in all my travels. Immense pork umami (chefs call this the fifth taste) flavors danced on my tongue, with incredible levels of fat for added flavor. Unlike most broth soups, fat is highly prized in ramen, and is often added to the individual bowls during the final preparation. I could immediately tell Daikokuya’s broth was slowly extracted from the bones and meat over long hours on the stove.
Great ramen noodles are both tender and resilient at the same time. These were spot on. Daikokuya makes homemade Chijire, (a medium thickness Chinese style egg noodles) which is a little touch that sets busy Ramen shops apart from the empty store fronts like the ones I passed.
Beyond the broth and noodles, the ingredients in a ramen are more than mere supporting rolls. They can separate good from great. By the time I ate my bowl, Daikokuya had been open for hours and was winding towards the end of their evening, yet every ingredient was handled meticulously and built upon the already amazing flavor. This tender pork, juicy and rich egg, with scallions all amounted to one amazing, flavorful dish.
In not only one of the largest food cities in the country, but also one known for ramen, Daikokuya stands out of the sea of noodle shops and is well worth the wait in line even at 10 pm on a Tuesday. Like a dutiful research chef, I will continue my field research for great Asian noodle soups across the country, but this little place will be the one all ramen shops will get measured against for the foreseeable future.
The Pig is formally trained in the culinary arts, a graduate of the C.I.A., worked in the food industry for over 40 years and currently travels the country as a research chef searching food trucks, street vendors, little restaurants and hole in the walls seeking out the best this country has to offer. For more great articles, culinary travel guides, and tips on travel and cooking follow us to our website.