Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 3), we'll be bringing you periodic lists of some of the best things we've found to eat and drink around town. Ice cream sandwiches and bowls of tsukemen, fish tacos and dan dan mien, cups of boba and glasses of booze. Read on.
Los Angeles has been in the midst of a ramen craze for the last few years, a glorious trend that has made it somewhat easier to dream our Tokyo dreams without actually getting on a plane. More recently, those ramen shops have been serving tsukemen, a variety of ramen in which the noodles arrive separately, cold or at room temperature, along a bowl of intense broth into which the noodles are meant to be dipped. The customary ramen accouterments -- chashu, boiled egg, menma, nori, etc. -- are usually nestled ontop of or alongside the noodles, and the happy diner dips the lot into the extraordinarily rich broth.
Tsukemen (pronounced TSKEH-men) is kind of like ramen deconstructed, with the added bonus that you don't have to rush to eat your noodles before they lose their chewy bounce in the hot broth. Of course you'll eat them just as quickly anyway, since they're astonishingly good. It's a modern variation on a favorite old Japanese dish which first started showing up in Tokyo about five years ago, when some brilliant noodle practitioner decided to get creative, further reduce tonkotsu broth, and serve it separately with the noodles, rather as one serves soba.
Happily there are now a considerable number of local noodle shops that serve pretty terrific tsukemen, not only in the heavily Japanese neighborhoods of Gardena and Torrance, but also closer to the center of town, in Sawtelle Blvd.'s Little Osaka and downtown's Little Tokyo. Turn the page for seven of the best.
When Ikemen opened in a Hollywood strip mall in 2011 -- there are two branches now, both the original and another in Little Tokyo -- it was one of the few places serving tsukemen in L.A. The dip ramen is Ikemen's speciality, and the little shop likes odd variations on the dish, based less on tradition than Hollywood itself -- which is probably fitting, considering that "ikemen" roughly translates to "metrosexual." A tomato and basil iteration is called Johnny Dip, for example; and one called the Ghost Buster Dip comes with cream, sauteed mushrooms, truffle oil and roasted marshmallows. You can order not just ramen but, of all things, a burger and a side of Hollywood (read: truffled) french fries. The basic tsukemen is fairly mundane, with medium-sized noodles, chashu pork, a bowl of broth pretty heavily spiked with bonito -- it's dropped into the broth tableside, the bits of shaved cured fish curling up prettily -- and an odd garnish of lettuce. 1655 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; 323-800-7669.
Trek down the 405 or 110 to Gardena, and you'll find much more traditional tsukemen than you will in, say, Hollywood. Mottainai serves pretty classic ramen, pork-intensive and with the happy sides of pickled ginger, minced raw garlic and lots of chile sauce to elevate the heat to your own tastes. In the colder seasons, you can get a nice hot bowl of broth with your tsukemen; in the summer season, which this year began on July 17, the tsukemen broth is served cold. Dip your noodles, thin and nicely chewy, into a smal bowl of the broth, which is made not with pork but fish, both bonito and niboshi, the tiny dried sardines that give the name to Mottenai's dish. 1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena; 310-538-3233.