Ramen Champ, possibly Los Angeles' most contentious new ramen shop, opened in January but has been closed since at least mid-August, when a sign placed in the window simply read “vacay.” Friday, the Chinatown ramen-ya that quickly became famous for its polarizing tonkotsu broth — which Alvin Cailan (of Eggslut fame) called “liquefied pork” — is reopening with a new owner and a pared-down, ramen-only menu.
The restaurant was the work of Cailan, along with business partner Michael Sudjati and chef/partner Nathan Asamoto, who previously worked at Men Oh Tokushima. The new owner is another local figure in the ramen scene — Yoshimasa Kasai, former director of L.A.'s Ramen Yokocho Festival, which since 2013 has drawn more than 30,000 people to its occasional noodlepaloozas.
At first glance, Kasai hasn't changed much about Ramen Champ. It still occupies the same 22-seat space on the second floor of the Far East Plaza (where Roy Choi's Chego and Andy Ricker's Pok Pok also reside). Its walls are still covered in the comic book–esque ramen art from New York artist Mike Houston. Its tonkotsu, as sampled during a recent media tasting, is still milky, gravylike and full of more porky goodness than one may want in a giant bowl of soup.
But there are some things that Kasai is doing differently, including tweaking the tonkotsu's recipe to include a few more bone parts. Also gone are the chicken and shiitake mushroom shio (salt) ramen options, as well as the rice bowls and snack-y appetizers. The result is a streamlined, more traditional ramen-ya menu with only four options: original tonkotsu, tonkotsu tan tan, hot-and-sour ramen and a vegan ramen.
Tan tan is a Chinese-Japanese hybrid ramen that uses medium-thick noodles, minced pork and Sichuan peppercorns (see: Chinese-style dan dan noodles, which are usually served sans broth). The new vegan ramen broth is meant to mimic a Tokyo-style shoyu ramen and gets much of its flavor from a combination of edible kelp, mushrooms, onions and garlic. Kasai's kaeshi (seasoning liquid) was redesigned with a smokier profile.
For now, none of Ramen Champ's bowls include egg (Cailan had his own seasoned-egg recipe). Customized noodles now come from Sun Noodles' L.A. factory.
The new ownership says Cailan will remain involved with Ramen Champ as a consultant.
727 N. Broadway, second floor, Chinatown; (213) 316-8595, ramenchamp.com.