Sawtelle and Little Tokyo have their fair share of tempura houses, sushi bars and izakaya spots, making them the go-to neighborhoods for Japanese food for most Angelinos. But to enjoy the broadest (and quite possibly the best) selection of Japanese cooking in Los Angeles, one must venture to what is essentially Japan's 48th prefecture, the city of Torrance in the South Bay. With the US headquarters of the top three Japanese automakers and countless other stateside offices of Japan-based companies, the city boasts a rich ex-pat and Japanese-American culture, reaching far beyond the corporate world.
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1) Kotohira Restaurant:One of the few restaurants in the United States that makes traditional, handmade udon, Kotohira is the ultimate destination for those thick, slippery white ropes. From the austere preparation of cold noodles (on the requisite bamboo mat) served with dipping sauce to lacquered bowls full of tempura lace, bonito shavings, spring onion and a rubbery slice of fish cake--available with or without broth--the light-yet-chewy udon are addictive and delicious. For a rather daunting textural experience, there's udon topped with grated mountain yam and quail egg, but if you can't deal with okra, look elsewhere on the menu.
Kotohira Restaurant; 1747 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena; (310) 323-3966
2) Otafuku Noodle House: Hidden along a nearly deserted stretch of Western Ave., Otafuku looks like a victim of the Great Recession form the street, with the windows covered up and only a small sign above the door denoting its existence. Inside, the restaurant is all welcoming blonde-wood paneling and Japanese men in business suits slurping soba noodles. The house specialty is handmade soba crafted from white buckwheat flour. Purists enjoy these thin white noodles cold, with sparse applications of dipping sauce. After your noodles are gone, a server will present you with a teapot full of the hot soba cooking water. Poured into the remaining dipping sauce and sipped down, it's an incredibly revitalizing end to a meal.
Otafuku Noodle House; 16525 S Western Ave, Gardena; (310) 532-9348
3) Ramen California: Considered one of the top ramen chefs in Japan, Shigetoshi Nakamura has a decidedly global, postmodern approach to noodle soup. Taking cues from Italy and California, Nakamura's simple dark chicken broth, organic noodles and plethora of just-cooked-through farmers' markets vegetable get a umami boost from stirring a platter-like spoonful of housemade parmigiano reggiano-inflected tofu into the broth.
Ramen California; 24231 Crenshaw Blvd. #C, Torrance; (310) 530-2749
4) Santouka Ramen: Angelinos are no strangers to eating fantastic food in less than traditional surroundings, what with our love of taco stands, taco trucks and any number of ambience-lacking hole-in-the-wall restaurants. But food courts chain restaurants? Housed in the back of the Mitsuwa Marketplace, Santouka Ramen is part of a Japanese chain that serves the quintessential bowl of ramen. Their specialty shio ramen is replete with slices of chasu pork, pink-swirled naruto, spring onions, a pickled plum and perfectly-cooked noodles--all in soul-warming stock flavored with shellfish and pork bones.
Santouka Ramen; 21515 Western Ave, Torrance; (310) 212-1101
5) Sanuki No Sato: Another hidden noodle haven on Western Avenue, Sanuki No Sato is well known for both its handmade noodles and frequent Japanese celebrity sightings. In case no stars are there on your visit, a wall of fame has plenty of photos to clue you in to who might show up next time around. The udon and soba can't beat out Kotohira or Otafuku, it's still definitely worth a visit.
Sanuki No Sato; 18206 S Western Ave, Gardena; (310) 324-9184
6) Asa Ramen: With pork lard-spiked broth, thinner-style noodles and a wide variety of toppings available--including spicy cod roe--for a customized bowl, Asa Ramen can give Santouka Ramen a run for its money as the best traditional ramen in the South Bay. An indie, family run spot with its own space and a 2:00 AM closing time, Asa already has Santouka's food court location and international chain status beat.
Asa Ramen; 18202 S Western Ave, Gardena; (310) 769-1010
8) Gardena Ramen: With a menu offering nothing more than ramen with miso or shio broth, extra noodles, gyoza and soda, Gardena Ramen is all about simplicity and excellence. After simmering for a number of days, the broth takes the headline here, the noodles and toppings seemingly just an afterthought.
Gardena Ramen; 1840 W 182nd St, Torrance; (310) 324-6993
9) I-naba: Known more for its tempura, I-naba serves top-notch handmade soba noodles as well. Run by the same folks responsible for the noodles at Ichimi-an, the soba here is made with the same sense of artisan skill. Try them with some of the house specialty tempura and wash it all down with soba water-diluted dipping sauce. The offering of a teapot of buckwheat broth is a sign of a soba chef who makes their noodles with pride and care, which they certainly do at I-naba.
I-naba; 20920 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance; (310) 371-6675
10) Sishen Ramen: Known for a style of ramen called tan-tan men, Sishen Ramen brings the heat with their chili-red broth. With toppings like shredded cabbage and fried pork, the ramen learns more towards the dish's Chinese roots. Not your quintessential bowl of noodle soup, but a tasty, tongue-numbing twist.
Shishen Ramen; 1730 Sepulveda Blvd #6, Torrance; (310) 534-1698