It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of thing: Last week, chef Takehiro Tsujita of Tsujita L.A. (a.k.a. Nidaime Tsujita), or rather, his ramen, popped up for one week only in Mitsuwa Marketplace. Serving as Tsujita's temporary training ground, Tanaka Ramen offered the same ramen that will be served at the Sawtelle Blvd. restaurant, according to Grubstreet LA.
The first three days, Tanaka served chuka soba. The next two days, the shop served their acclaimed tsukemen dipping noodles made with a broth of pork, fish and chicken. The last three days, they dished out tonkotsu (not to be confused with tonkatsu) ramen. We popped in for a bite and to compare it to Santouka Ramen, which is just spitting distance from Tanaka. It was a ramen rumble inside the Mitsuwa Market food court.
Scan Mitsuwa's food court during lunch or dinner, and you'll notice there's one shop that always seems to have a line: Santouka Ramen. A cash-only establishment, it specializes in rich, delicious, porky ramen, best when ordered with a sidecar of extra pork and, for true pork gluttons, a small bowl of pork fried rice. It's our go-to dining destination on those cold Mar Vista nights.
Tanaka Ramen had an uphill battle swaying our loyalty from Santouka. Opened in the former Tamaya, look for the sign with charmingly mangled English. ("The most popular Ramen Noodle shop in Tokyo has been people line up in front of the shop for ten years." Indeed.) The tonkatsu (or as they spell it, "tonkotsu") ramen was tasty, rich and satisfying with perfect noodles and excellent (though not many) slivers of pork, but the broth wasn't as tasty as we'd hoped.
Broth: The broth at Santouka is better. It's richer, more flavorful and more intense. The broth at Tanaka was a little bland.
Noodles: The delicate squiggles at Tanaka were far superior to Santouka's thicker, more plain noodles.
Pork: This one's a toss-up. The pork at Tanaka was slightly better than the pork at Santouka, but at Santouka, you get more of it -- and you can always order the pork sidecar.
Verdict: Split decision. If someone could, like Dr. Frankenstein, combine Santouka's broth and generosity with Tanaka's ramen and pork slices, they might just achieve ramen nirvana.