Jonathan Gold Reviews Tsujita L.A. 

Ramen and Tsukemen at the city's new noodle lover's paradise

Thursday, Dec 1 2011

Click here for Anne Fishbein's slideshow.

Last year was L.A.'s year of ramen, if you're keeping score, the year when the utility noodle bowl became a fetish object, and even casual eaters began to go on about tonkotsu broth and flavor bombs, kotteri and fresh negi, and my friends seemed to be divided between those who insisted the font of desire lay in the food court of a Mar Vista supermarket and those who believed it was next to the Marshall's in a Studio City mini-mall. If your broth wasn't made with Berkshire pork bones, and you weren't boiling it for at least 12 hours, your noodle shop wasn't in the running.

But back in the primordial days of 2010, I had barely heard of tsukemen, a Tokyo-born dish of bare, cooled noodles, served with a superconcentrated dipping sauce of reduced, fish-scented pork broth, which apparently is the next stage in ramen's evolution, the way that plasma screens are giving way to LED. (I didn't even realize that the dish was more or less pronounced "skeh-men," almost but not quite rhyming with "lemon.") Tsukemen is hip in all the usual ways, including obscurity, a stylized consumption ritual and flavor of an intensity that can be overwhelming the first few times out, like Skrillex or Scotch whisky. You can get tsukemen all over town now, at Yamadaya in Culver City, Ikemen in Hollywood and even at the old standby Daikokuya downtown, although even in those places you see nine out of 10 customers eating ramen the old-school way.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANNE FISHBEIN - Char-siu tsukemen

Location Info

Related Stories

  • We Wish We All Could Be Caprice's Kind of California Girl

    “This is myself with my best friend at the time, frying my skin," says the across-the-pond celebrity Caprice Bourret while looking at old photos, nibbling a scone at high tea at the Culver Hotel. "I used to be such a California girl. I used to fry. Hawaiian Tropic, no sunscreen at all."...
  • 5 Colorful Things to Do in L.A. This Week for $10 or Less

    The big event of this weekend is the L.A. Pride Parade, but we've got plenty of awesome things to carry you through the rest of the week on a rainbow slide of fun. Once you've marched through West Hollywood, you deserve a break. Sit back and watch others work their...
  • Men Oh Tokushima Ramen: From Little Tokyo to Torrance

    In Los Angeles, the geographical trajectory of ramen shops is usually from south to north: A ramen-ya opens in the Japanese-intensive neighborhood of Torrance or Gardena and then, after the noodle gods deem it worthy, it expands into Little Tokyo, or Sawtelle or even further afield. In the case of...
  • L.A. Map Attack

    Google Maps recently rolled out a new feature that essentially lets you travel back in time by accessing street views from as far back as 2007. That wasn't so long ago, but it's pretty remarkable to see how our streets have changed in just seven years. Remember 2007? It was...
  • L.A. Is No. 1

    We sometimes feel like L.A. gets no respect. This megalopolis of billionaire media moguls, extraordinary global food and influential SoCal culture is still often treated by New York media as a backwater of undiscovered delights. See also: 5 Times the East Coast Media Got L.A. Dead Wrong But at least the...

Still, even in the middle of this newfound abundance, the appearance of Tsujita L.A. — a branch of Nidaime Tsujita, considered one of the best in Tokyo — was a big deal to the noodle cognoscenti, a noodle shop so revered that it got away with a months-long soft opening during which no noodles at all were served. It still serves its ramen and tsukemen only at lunch — at dinner it becomes a fancy izakaya with a killer list of rare sake and soju, a small specialty in ochazuke served with raw tai, bream, imported from Japan's Inland Sea, and sea urchin shooters that may provide the most intense three seconds of pleasure you will ever find in a champagne flute.

The first time I visited the restaurant, on the third day it served ramen, Tsujita was filled with L.A.'s noodlerati, and the blogger who calls himself Rameniac, who was stuck in London at the moment, was observing his friends eat noodles on Skype. Takehiro Tsujita, the chef, is apparently the man.

When you slide into a booth at night, across from the quilted-wood wall and beneath a ceiling sculpture in which thousands of dowels have been massed to resemble billowing wooden clouds, you will hear the waitresses explain to at least a dozen men that ramen is served only in the daytime, that they can dine on sashimi and simmered beef tongue and special chicken teriyaki instead, and you will see a dozen groups of people walk down to one of the more conventional ramen parlors on the street instead.

You probably will not be unhappy with an evening omakase at Tsujita, an abbreviated kaiseki menu nicely adjusted to the season, although the prices of $55 and $80 may seem a bit high for a meal that seems a bit like a pop-up, even if it is a nice one.

A recent meal included a glass of sweet sake infused with the fragrance of baby plums; spoonfuls of tuna tartare flavored with chile and with caviar; a jigger of beef stewed with radish; tiny wedges of omelet; and a delicate wad of spinach flavored with bonito flakes — that was just the first course. There was sashimi of salmon, yellowtail and tuna, served with freshly grated wasabi and a bit of soy sauce flavored with ground sesame; and a pan-grilled silver cod with miso glaze, a lot like the izakaya standard kasu cod but sweeter and silkier. The blackened pin bones of the cod poked up from the filet like nifty buttons; I assumed the effect was intentional. There was a course of lobster "dynamite,"' blanketed in an overly floury white sauce, and an uni shooter. Slices of tai were served with a mound of rice, and the waitress instructed us to eat some of the fish as sashimi, drape the rest over the rice and pour broth from a steaming kettle into the bowl to eat as soup.

But the revelation at Tsujita, what separates it from every other Japanese restaurant in town, is the lunchtime ramen — specify hard-cooked — that float in soup made from chicken, fish and long-boiled kurobuta bones. The gossamer noodles act more as texture than as substance; they add little weight to the broth. Or better yet, get the tsukemen: thicker, burlier, more slippery noodles, pure chew, with the tensile strength of hand-pulled Lanzhou mian; with syrup-dense dipping sauce porkier than pork itself.

You may have chashu, fat pork simmered until it nearly falls apart of its own accord, or a special egg simmered at low temperature, which droops from your chopsticks and whose yolk is liquid and impossibly orange. You will taste the spicy mustard leaf condiment — in fact, you'll probably polish off the jar. You are instructed to eat one third of the noodles with the dipping broth, the second third with a shake of powdered chiles and the final portion with a squeeze of lime. The menu for the Tokyo restaurant specifies sudachi citron, a more fragrant fruit, but even the ordinary California lime reveals a new dimension of the noodle's depth. When you are finished, the waitress takes your thickened sauce and tops it up with hot water. It has become soup.

Tsujita's noodles, you understand, come with rules. Ramen and tsukemen will not be packaged to go, no matter how tearfully you beg. (You are permitted but not encouraged to take home leftovers.) Only canned, cold tea is available at lunch, although black tea is served at dinner, and if you insist on drinking your tea hot, somebody will heat your aluminum can. If you try to taste the tsukemen dipping sauce alone, somebody probably will stop you before the spoon makes it up to your lips.

A few weeks ago, I sent a couple of visiting friends, who run one of the best three or four restaurants in the East Bay, to Tsujita, telling them that they might find the tsukemen life-changingly good. It must have been. The next day, they were contemplating a move to West L.A.

TSUJITA L.A. | 2057 Sawtelle Blvd, W.L.A. | (310) 231-7373 | tsujita-la.com | Lunch daily, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner Wed.-Mon, 5 p.m.-mid. (Last orders taken 30 minutes before closing time.) | MC, V | Beer, wine and sake | Street parking | Lunchtime noodles, $8.95-$14.95; rice bowls $3.99; dinner: small plates, $6-$18; sashimi plates, $10-$32; set-price omakase dinners, $55 and $80

Related Content

Related Locations

Now Trending


  • Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar
    Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar, with chef Jason Fullilove at the helm, is in the two buildings at the pier’s entrance that used to be Beachcomber Cafe and Ruby’s Diner. Those buildings, which have been overhauled completely, reflect both the pier’s 109-year-old history and the cultural import of Malibu itself.
  • The Tasting Menu Trend
    In Los Angeles especially, but increasingly across the country, restaurants are either switching to tasting menus, putting a greater focus on a tasting-menu option (while offering à la carte items as well), or opening as tasting-menu operations from day one. The format that used to be the calling card of only the fanciest of restaurants is becoming ubiquitous, even at places where the waiter calls you “dude” and there isn’t a white tablecloth in sight.
  • Milo's Kitchen: A Treat Truck for Dogs
    Milo's Kitchen, a part of California-based Big Heart Pet Brands, is taking its homestyle dog treats on the road this summer with the "Treat Truck." The dogified food truck is making stops all over the country, ending up in New York early September. The truck stopped at Redondo Beach Dog Park Friday morning entertaining the pups with treats, a photo-booth and play zone. Milo's Kitchen Treat Truck offered samples of the line's six flavors, all with chicken or beef as the first ingredient, and all made in the U.S.A. with no artificial colors or preservatives. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.