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.
Hiroshima-style DIY pancakes okonomiyaki, a wide variety of charred yakatori and homey, dashi-soaked oden can all be found, but in the spirit of the ultimate spaghetti western, Tampopo--with some udon and soba added into the mix--Squid Ink brings you the top 10 noodle joints of Torrance (and Gardena).
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