While there are plenty of places around L.A. to get soba — thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour — one name comes up first and foremost: Otafuku. Located in an older building along Western in Gardena, Restaurant Otafuku has been the premier soba stop in Greater L.A. for nearly 20 years.
What makes Otafuku stand out from other soba spots is the quality of its noodles, all made from flour imported from Japan. The restaurant serves three distinct sobas. First, and most basic, is zaru soba, a light brown noodle made from a mix of buckwheat flour. Next is the unique seiro soba, a white noodle made from flour refined from the first milling. Chewy yet silken, with the slightly earthy flavor of buckwheat, these are the Rolls-Royce of the noodle world. (If car analogies don’t work for you, insert any other high-quality item of your choice.)
Last, and far from least, is the rarest of the rare around these parts: kikouchi, dark brown noodles made of 100 percent pure buckwheat flour from Nagano. While other soba are made primarily of buckwheat, most also use a small amount of wheat flour as a binding agent. Making pure buckwheat soba is an art form, as the lack of gluten requires a true craft to come up with something that holds together. As you might expect, the texture is different as well. Currently, Otafuku prepares only 10 servings for lunch and 10 for dinner, so one would be well advised to show up early for lunch or dinner or call ahead. The latter is especially true if you're making any sort of drive. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Sobas are served either hot or cold with a variety of other items, such as tempura. Cold soba is served on parchment paper atop a bamboo tray, accompanied by a dipping sauce (tsuyu). A small plate of wasabi and scallions is provided, to be added to your taste in the dipping sauce. If you’re not up on soba etiquette: Take a small amount in your chopsticks, dip, then slurp. At the end of your meal, the water in which the soba was prepared is brought to your table. Pour it into the remainder of your dipping sauce and enjoy!
The sobas here aren’t cheap, running from $9 to $12 for lunch. But that’s in keeping with the true artisanal nature of the product, and the serving sizes are large.
While cold soba is perfect for the recent weather, hot soba also is available, for when temperatures cool down. The dashi broth, which uses bonito imported from Kyoto, is served in a variety of soup bases. The restaurant has a lunch menu and also serves some yakitori items at dinner.
16525 S. Western Ave., Gardena; (310) 532-9348.