If you Yelp it you’ll notice many positively glowing reviews of Santouka Ramen. I’ve read these somewhat perplexed, as my sole experience a few years ago fell short. I only remember it as being…unmemorable. I’m not sure why I didn’t respond to it with enthusiasm at the time (was the food the problem or was I not in the mood or did I order wrong or what?), but that one mediocre experience meant I steered clear of it for a good long while. It’s a shame since I’ve probably missed out on a great number of fantastic steaming bowls of noodles.
Please don’t pity me; I’ve been scouring the city for great noodle soups and I’ve had killer ramen (all different) all over the place. But Santouka is only a couple of miles from my house and it would be crying shame if I couldn’t get a great lunch so close to home. On a whim I went twice this week and I am ready to proclaim Santouka delicious and addictive! I’m back in the fold. It’s everything they say it is.
|The plastic ramen display is quite nice, if not as flavorful as the real thing.|
|A simple menu, a simpler order window.|
Santouka is tucked into a small food court adjacent to Mitsuwa, one of the better Japanese markets on the Westside. In addition to this ramen place, there’s a Japanese bookstore, a video store, some sort of general store selling cheap pans, Hello Kitty crap, and plastic robots, and two other restaurant stalls. It’s a busy little shopping nook most of the time and at lunch, especially on a chilly, rainy day like it was two days ago, pretty crowded. Santouka seems by far the best-regarded food establishment there; there has been a line there every time I’ve been to the supermarket or eaten in the food court.
They’ve got an simple system going — you stand in line for a few minutes with the other hungry noodle-maniacs. You choose from the display of completely un-ironic plastic recreations of menu items — hmm, salt broth, miso broth, shoyu broth, how about spicy miso? Do you go for the combo with rice bowl topped with braised pork or plumb salmon roe? It’s your turn, you order at the window, you’re handed a ticket, you move to the side. You hunker down with the others, clutching your ticket and glancing at it too often. Your stomach rumbles as numbers are called and other customers walk by bearing steaming bowls of fabulous ramen. Your number is called!
You get your bowl and the heady aromas sweep over you. Ah, ramen!
|Salt broth ramen with extra pork. Sooooooo satisfying.|
I order the salt ramen with extra pork for the first of my two visits. The perfectly al dente noodles are topped with wood-ear mushrooms, slabs of tender and fatty braised pork, slivers of wood-ear mushrooms, sweet bamboo shoots, a slice of kamaboko (fish cake), a fistful of green onions, and a tiny pickled red plum. I added a healthy dash of schimichi togarashi (Japanese chili powder) and enjoyed the hell out of it.
|The noodles were tasty and cooked perfectly al dente.|
The broth was absolutely delicious, a combination of pork and chicken (I think) with some dashi going on too. It was fairly salty but not overly so. The noodles were superb — firm, a little chewy, fresh-tasting, and flavorful in their own right. The pork was very well cooked and quite tender, if perhaps a little bland. The wood-ears and bamboo shoots were pleasant both in flavor and texture. The lovely little plum was a nice surprise — sweet, salty, and tart all together. A very nice bowl and not too large. I’d ordered the medium, which was plenty of food for me.
|Spicy miso broth with extra pork and marinated boiled egg.|
I went two days later for another bowl. I ordered the spicy miso with extra pork and a boiled egg. The broth was delicious for sure, but unlike the more refined salt broth, was a bit oily (authentically oily) and a bit heavy for a large bowl. The pork this trip, however, was even better than the first visit — meatier, more robust in flavor. The other garnishes were the same as before and equally as good. They marinate the boiled egg in soy and mirin for a day or two after cooking, resulting in lovely brownish hue and a tasty egg. The yolk was a little too set for my tastes, though. I like a fragile, gooey, soft-boiled egg atop my ramen!
All-in-all, two very good bowls of ramen at Santouka! I’ll certainly return, especially as colder weather encroaches in the coming weeks as Autumn deepens. This stuff will warm you.
|73% of repeat Santouka customers have bald or shaved heads.|
They only take cash. The beverage selection is bare-bones. Parking is sketchy. Go anyway.