Just north of the intersection at Western and Eighth, where Pollo a La Brasa spits Peruvian fire onto its roast chickens, there's a strip mall where live fish swim precariously close to your table. It is a strip mall where a man from Bangladesh makes Japanese ramen, and where a corner storefront has been serving only one dish, seven hours a day, for 17 years. This is what the strip mall life is like in Koreatown.
As we've seen before, ramen and strip malls seem to work well together. The warm, satisfying homeyness of ramen fits the dark, low-slung aesthetics of most strip malls perfectly, and Isa Ramen is no exception. The space is mostly wood-paneled, with a small run of bar seats if things get really crowded. Otherwise, pull up a table in the side room, under the faded Japanese movie posters and large color photos of the food on offer. There are curries and sushi rolls, a few fried appetizers and the namesake Isa ramen, among eight or nine other variations on the dish.
The hearty, brothy noodle bowls here are regionally specific, with a Tokyo pork and bonito ramen, a miso Sapporo version, and fatty Hakata ramen available. The Isa ramen is a personal mix from the owner, Isa Moinuddin, a Bangladeshi transplant who emigrated to Japan at a young age and has sought to re-create the flavors he found there. His personal ramen arrives in a thin chicken broth, which lacks the density of other ramen options around town but won't leave you soggy after lunch. Speaking of which, the lunch specials at Isa Ramen will set you back less than $10, and come with a full portion of ramen, a side salad and sticky California roll. That's a good deal in any culture. Isa Ramen is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and accepts credit cards, with a $1 surcharge for anything below $10.740 S. Western Ave., Ste. 116, Koreatown; 213-382-9020.