Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle – West Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Tsukemen ramen, or “dipping noodles,” is no ordinary bowl of noodles. In fact, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that that noodles have no soup in them at all! In this style of ramen, hailing from Fukuoka’s Hakata region like some of our other favorites, the soup is dense and served on the side (either hot or cold) as a sauce. Lift the noodles with chopsticks and dip them into the sauce to savor the melding of flavors that only 60 hours of simmering could produce. This 60-hour tonkotsu broth, and the unique serving and eating method, is what brought us to Tsujita LA on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Tsukemen Ramen - the setup

Tsukemen Ramen – the setup

We met our friends Lilia & Anthony there and wow, was there was a crowd! There’s quite a wait during lunch, likely because it features ramen prominently on the menu. Dinner at Tsujita LA transforms into izakaya style fare, although they expanded across the street to add Tsujita Annex, serving up ramen all day long. On the bright side, the wait staff took our order ahead of time so the food arrived shortly after our table was ready. We were finally seated at a secluded outdoor 4-top, almost as though we had our own private patio. Best seats in the house! (Well, outside…).

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen

First off, the traditional ramen that one usually thinks of — thin, pale noodles swimming in a creamy, fatty broth and topped with thick slices of chashu. Martin was in the mood for soupy Hakata ramen and slurped away this deceptively filling portion. He commented that he liked how the broth did not have a cloying aftertaste like Yamadaya’s, but that it was too salty and not quite as rich as Daikokuya’s. Good but not life changing. Mine on the other hand…

The Noodles

The Noodles

Well let’s start at the beginning. The noodles are thick with an excellent texture – firm, chewy, toothsome. Or as the Taiwanese slang goes, very QQ. There’s a suggested method to eating tsukemen ramen in three phases. First, dip the noodles, as is, into the thick and very decadent sauce-like soup.

The Soup

The Soup

This is the soup. If we refer to a regular ramen soup as “broth,” then this by comparison is practically a demi glace. Intensely flavored and incredibly seasoned with the pork bones (which, according to their website, had stewed for 60 hours). However, because it was so concentrated, I found this sauce-soup to be a bit on the salty side as well. After polishing off about a third of the noodles, proceed to phase II – squeeze lime over the noodles and enjoy a whole new explosion of flavor. It’s a different experience entirely, with the bright citrus cutting through the unctuous sauce. No bite is exactly the same.

The Egg

The Egg

All three of us (aside from Martin’s tonkotsu) had the ajitama tsukemen ramen. Ajitama, literally “flavor ball,” refers to the soy sauce marinated soft-boiled egg. The egg at Tsujita LA completely blew me away. I mean look at that show-stopping ooze of gorgeous bright orange yolk. AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. I would return just for the chance to split open another one and experience the joy of a perfectly cooked egg all over again.

Extra Menma (Bamboo)

Extra Menma (Bamboo)

Anthony mixed things up with extra noodles and Lilia made sure to ask for extra limes (proudly described as “FREE!” on the menu), so I wanted an extra of my own — bamboo! I love menma in my ramen, and you can tell by the dark color of these that they are nicely seasoned. Note that the regular order does include a few slivers of bamboo by default.

Sesame Grinder

Sesame Grinder

While we were all personalizing our individual bowls, our friends demonstrated a nifty little item on our table. See that red thing in the middle that kind of resembles an upside-down bird feeder? It’s a sesame grinder! Crank the little knob and you’ll end up with broken up goma dust to add a pleasant nutty flavor to your noodles. (They like it so much they bought one for home use!)

Pickled Mustard Leaves

Pickled Mustard Leaves

My favorite garnish, hands down, was the spicy pickled mustard leaves. Dark brown wilted leaves coated in fire engine red chili oil, a forkful of these really pack a punch. The picture above illustrates my first tentative taste, but rest assured, after I discovered how awesome they are, I piled it on high and turned all of my noodles a festive red hue. Sniffling through my nose and sucking in air to cool my tongue, I really, REALLY enjoyed my tsukemen ramen with that addition!

Oh, yes – the third phase of eating tsukemen (which we actually didn’t get to participate in.. possibly since we were sitting outside, away from the kitchen). The staff provides hot water to dilute the dense sauce into a drinkable broth. Sounds like it would really round out the meal! More reason to return and enjoy a complete experience.

As we mentioned last week, the Best Ramen in LA is a contentious topic among diners, bloggers, Yelpers, anyone who enjoys patiently lining up to slurp away some form of this Japanese noodle soup. For me, Tsujita LA just rose to #2 on my list, edging out Shin Sen Gumi and second only to Daikokuya. Martin will may disagree but just shoot him a quick message and I’m sure he’ll be happy to share his personal list with you. ;) I’d venture to guess that every Angeleno has a ranking of favorites. But if your idea of ramen is simply soup and noodles in one bowl, you’ll definitely have to try tsukemen ramen for an experience unlike any other.

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Check out Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle: tsujita-la.com

2057 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. As a lover of ramen and all things noodle, I’m a little ashamed to admit that I had never tried tsukemen ramen before going to Tsujita LA. But I tried it, I really liked it, and I’m a better noodle-eater thanks to this experience.

This month is hosted by Becky at My Utensil Crock. Cheers!

Daikokuya – West Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Time to tackle a contentious topic — the best ramen in LA. Los Angeles is teeming with authentic, hole-in-the-wall ramen joints that have attracted quite a cult following. We used to hop in our car and brave the network of freeways all the way to Downtown LA, only to viciously fend off muggles in our search for precious street parking. And for what? To stand out on the sidewalk in the cold (because of course, ramen tastes best when it’s cold outside) for HOURS, awaiting a coveted seat in the shoebox-sized Daikokuya location off 1st Street. But with the popularity of ramen rising, all of the greats have made the move to Little Osaka. We were most excited, of course, for the advent of Daikokuya. Rejoice, Westsiders!

The Interior... that looks like a busy Tokyo street!

The Interior… that looks like a busy Tokyo street!

This Westside location off Sawtelle has just about everything going for it — the parking is free and easy (the shopping center has a multi-story structure), the wait is considerably less as the venue can accommodate a bit more seating, and the food is just as good as the original Little Tokyo location. Winner winner, ramen dinner. Just remember to sign up on the clipboard just inside the door; otherwise you’ll end up standing around looking confused among the throngs of visitors. If you get nothing else from this blog post, I hope we can at least help prevent you from looking like a newbie.

Kotteri Ramen

Kotteri Ramen

As we’ve mentioned before, there are many styles of ramen in Japan. Tokyo style ramen is different from that of Sapporo or Kyoto, and they’re all delicious in their own ways. But if pressed to choose a favorite, Martin and I would have to give a nod to Hakata style tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu, not to be confused with tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork chop – also delicious), refers to a broth made from stewing pork bones for a very long time to render the fat and yield an unctuous, guilty-pleasure experience. Cue the namesake Daikoku Ramen. Make yours even more decadent by ordering it kotteri-style… Japanese for “rich” or “thick” but I translate it as extra fatty. The presence of extra fat globules is even enough to turn the broth opaque in color, but the sensory overload from this flavor boost is so worth it. The noodles are of the thicker variety and are always al dente. Add in thick slices of tender chashu pork, strips of bamboo (menma), a hardboiled soy sauce egg (ajitama), and a generous handful of green onion (negi) and you have what I personally believe to be worthy of the title Best Ramen in Los Angeles.

Gyoza

Gyoza

Ramen is not the only dish worth ordering here. If you have the stomach space, make room for an order of gyoza. Hand rolled, rectangular-shaped potstickers that are wok fried and always end up with plenty of extra crispy browned edges. Served under a mountain of green onions and alongside a tiny pitcher of sweet and savory gyoza sauce. If I remember correctly, one order is comprised of an odd number of dumplings, leaving us to duel to the death over the last one.

Pork Fried Rice (Chahan)

Pork Fried Rice (Chahan)

For the extra hungry (or for those who want to save leftovers for the next day’s lunch), you can also add on a “side dish” and make your meal a ramen set. Oyakodon (chicken and egg, over rice), chashu pork over rice, and our favorite — pork fried rice (chahan). A side order is one giant scoop, and an a la carte order is two giant scoops. If we’re both in the mood for extra chahan, we’ll split the a la carte order (I think it comes out to $0.50 cheaper or something like that). Wok fried rice sprinkled with bits of pork, corn, and green onion and served with pickled red ginger (beni shoga), the only thing better than eating this on the spot is bringing it home and drizzling sriracha over a reheated portion for the most awesome brown bag lunch ever.

The Little Tokyo location will always be our first love, but this closer and newer Westside Daikokuya, with its interior decor that resembles a Tokyo street, is really winning us over. Plus, they have takoyaki. I haven’t ordered it yet, but that’s one of my favorite things in the world so you can bet I’ll be trying it soon. The food is stellar and the service is so friendly; they’re very attentive about refilling drinks (including the iced green tea!). I even left behind my camera here once, and they very kindly held it for me by the closely guarded cash register for safe-keeping. Run, don’t walk, to my pick for Best Ramen in LA.

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Check out Daikokuya: daikoku-ten.com

2208 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

See their Yelp reviews here!

Hide Sushi – West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Yet another adventure in Little Osaka lies in this hole-in-the-wall joint Hide (pronounced hee-day) Sushi. I must have driven by it hundreds of times since moving to the Westside. It’s in an unassuming little corner near Tsujita Annex and gr/eats, immediately across the street from the Giant Robot Store. The perfect little meeting place for me and S to rendezvous for her belated birthday dinner.

Ankimo at Hide Sushi

Ankimo at Hide Sushi

Hide Sushi has a sizable a la carte menu, but S and I love going out for omakase when we can get it. Luckily, the chefs behind the counter were happy to oblige. Omakase here is generally $40, very affordable for the amount and quality of fish we would receive. Since we were celebrating, I requested a $50 per person “budget” instead (boy – that turned out to be a TON of food!). There were 3 or 4 sushi chefs behind the counter, but our chef was very excited and S even commented at the end of the night that he seemed to like me and my use of Japanese. (Funny, just when I think my Japanese has all but disappeared, I manage to carry on a coherent conversation without even thinking about the sentences — what’s that saying about riding a bike?)

Before we started, he asked me just one question, Nan de mo ii? (Is anything okay?) Hai, iin desu, I replied in response. With a knowing smile, he focused on his craft.

Hamachi (Yellowtail)

Hamachi (Yellowtail)

First up, maguro (tuna; not pictured — we were too excited… a theme throughout the evening, actually) and hamachi (yellowtail). Generous cuts of familiar fish — a simple, delicious start.

Tai (Red Snapper)

Tai (Red Snapper)

Tai (red snapper): Dipped in a citrus-y ponzu sauce, the red snapper tasted slightly fishy (in a very, very good way).

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (sweet shrimp): The shrimp were HUGE, probably the largest amaebi I’d ever had, but oh so sweet and succulent. Our chef made a hilarious gesture to inform us that the fried shrimp heads were forthcoming. I can’t even begin to describe it — the next time you see me, remind me of this story and I’ll have to demonstrate for you. :)

Amaebi no Tama (Fried Shrimp Heads)

Amaebi no Tama (Fried Shrimp Heads)

Amaebi no atama (fried shrimp heads): Just as promised, one of the servers brought out a magnificent plate of crispy fried shrimp heads. Some places prepare them tempura-style, but these were au naturale and ever so simply salted. Every single part is edible, even the “skull” and eyeballs – and check out the marvelous height on those antennae! Don’t be shy.

Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Aji (Spanish mackerel): One of S’ favorites, this fishy, oily cut was excellent and dressed with just a touch of ponzu.

Uni (Sea Urchin)

Uni (Sea Urchin)

Uni (sea urchin): Sweet and creamy, the sea urchin was silky smooth with just the right touch of briny, rich flavor.

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)

Ankimo (monkfish liver): This has to be one of my absolute favorite pieces of sushi – the must-have any time I see it on the menu or specials board at a sushi restaurant. I had asked our chef specifically if he had fresh ankimo today, and his eyes lit up as he answered with a definitive YES! The nigiri was PILED HIGH and it was so good. The foie gras of the sea…

Ikura (salmon roe)

Ikura (salmon roe)

Ikura (salmon roe): Pop pop pop! I thought we were near the end when we were served those rich pieces of sushi, but we were just getting started! These salmon roe were briny and bright. great to wash down the creamy uni and ankimo that preceded it.

Ebi (Shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (Flying Fish Roe with Quail Egg)

Ebi (Shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (Flying Fish Roe with Quail Egg)

Ebi (shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (flying fish roe with quail egg): The steamed shrimp nigiri was not particularly special, but fresh nonetheless. But the “double egg”… this was the most unique presentation of nigiri we had today, And it was utterly delicious and thoughtful. The tobiko were crunchy and briny, while the creaminess of the quail egg yolk mellowed out the flavors nicely. Loved it.

Hokkigai (Surf Clam) and Sake (Salmon)

Hokkigai (Surf Clam) and Sake (Salmon)

Hokkigai (surf clam) and Sake (salmon): The surf clam was huge, enveloping the rice as if it were a sleeve of inari. Crazy! The salmon was sweet and glistening with its natural fattiness, a very reliable standby.

— Not pictured because we were too excited and dug in right away —

Tako (octopus): A thick and generous slice that was tender in the center but a bit chewy on the edges. Sadly, not our favorite.

Unagi (freshwater eel): Drenched in its sweet caramelized sauce and toasted just a tad, this was a delectable morsel and one of my favorites of the evening.

Tamago (sweet egg): Like “sushi dessert,” this was our final piece of the night. Funny story — just before it, the chef looked over at me inquisitively and I responded “onaka ippasugi!” (we’re too full!). He chuckled and then said, just one more! This was the one he presented to us to end the night, and boy were we pleased.

By the end of the experience, we were so full! The total came out to just over $92, and it’s cash only so be sure to visit your local bank beforehand (but in case you forget or spontaneously decided to visit, they do have an ATM right when you walk in). Also, when ordering omakase for two, the chef will ask if you would like one piece each type of fish or a full pair per person (nigiri sushi, I’ve learned, is always made in pairs). We were glad we opted for one piece per; this way, we get to try a large variety of fish without getting too full off duplicate pieces.

Two more things. One – when you first enter, hug the right wall as you walk toward the side of the restaurant where the whiteboard is. Most places have a clipboard for waiting lists, but Hide Sushi has a whole whiteboard. Add your name, party size, and seating preference (S for sushi bar, T for table). Easy peasy. And two – unlike other places on Sawtelle, Hide Sushi has its own (free!) parking lot.

So if you’re wandering around in Little Osaka and craving sushi, definitely make a stop at Sawtelle’s best kept secret and let the Chef choose your adventure. Whatever it is, it will be hontou ni oishii (really delicious)!

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Check out Hide Sushi: hidesushi.com

2040 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

Blockheads Shavery – West Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Shaved ice comes in many forms — piled high and topped with fresh fruit and condensed milk a la Guppy House, scooped into a cone and flavored with a rainbow of syrups, and lastly, a dessert whose fans will vehemently exclaim is spelled without the d – Hawaiian style shave ice. And then there’s Blockheads Shavery.

Blockheads Shavery

Blockheads Shavery

The cute square penguin joined the Little Osaka / Sawtelle scene in 2011 and brought with it a frozen treat they call snow cream. Combining the best traits of creamy ice cream and fluffy shave ice, snow cream is shaved to order from giant ice blocks here at Blockheads and comes in at least five flavors at any given time: plain/original, green tea, strawberry, black sesame, and a seasonal flavor or two that varies from cantaloupe to cappuccino to peach.

Penguin Plushie!

Penguin Plushie!

If the menu offerings seem daunting, have no fear — you’ll have plenty of time to decide. There is always a long line out the door, especially on Friday nights when UCLA students flock to Sawtelle to congregate at SushiStop and a Blockheads dessert afterward. While waiting, take a look around at the adorable penguin paraphernalia, including the Andy Warhol style artwork on the walls. And the soft, soft plushie. Yes, I splurged on one.

Toppings Guy

Toppings Guy

I like the build-your-own shave ice. Just pick a flavor, a few toppings, and a drizzle. The pricing model starts at $3.50 for a regular bowl of just the ice and one drizzle. Add $0.50 for each topping, so choose wisely. The variety of toppings include fresh fruit, mochi, jelly, rice cakes, red bean, and so much more. There are about half a dozen drizzles as well, but I think the most noteworthy ones are the condensed milk and the chocolate syrup. In case you get overwhelmed, they do have a menu of “favorites” that feature popular combinations of toppings.

Green tea, almond jelly, condensed milk

Green tea ice, almond jelly, condensed milk

After hugging my newly purchased plushie and admiring the doodle wall for a few minutes, I finally heard, over the din of grinding ice blocks, my name called to pick up my order. Matcha (green tea) shave ice topped with cubes of almond jelly and a generous drizzle of condensed milk. Keepin’ it simple. The almond jelly reminds me of childhood and the condensed milk adds just the right touch of sweetness to the light and fluffy ice.

Strawberry ice, mango, condensed milk

Strawberry ice, mango, condensed milk

Dining Companion #1 ordered the strawberry snow cream topped with fresh mangoes and drizzle of condensed milk. The fruity combination was like a taste of the tropics on a hot summer’s day.

Black sesame ice, azuki, condensed milk

Black sesame ice, azuki, condensed milk

Dining Companion #2 assembled the black sesame snow cream with azuki (red beans) and drizzle of condensed milk. She remarked that the flavor combination was distinctly Asian and reminded her of some of her favorite desserts growing up. Black sesame, surprisingly, is one of Blockheads’ most popular flavors — clearly there’s a demand for their supply.

With the weather warming up, Blockheads Shavery is a great place to beat the heat and grab some sweet frozen treats. Gather a group of friends with similar tastes and order the large – it’s pretty massive and looked like tons of fun to dig into.

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Check out Blockheads Shavery: blockheadsla.com

11311 Mississippi Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

Gottsui – Sawtelle, West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is often translated as a Japanese “pancake” or “pizza” with a cabbage & batter base, assorted toppings that range from octopus legs (たこ, tako) to cheese (チーズ, chiizu) to bacon, and typically drizzled with the sweet and viscous Worcestershire-based okonomi sauce. And for such delicious comfort food, okonomiyaki is pretty hard to find in LA (though there is no shortage of sushi, ramen, and izakaya joints if you know where to look!). So when we found Gottsui in one of the busiest plazas on Sawtelle, we were super excited. It’s appropriate that this Kansai-based dish had found its LA home in Little Osaka.

Yosh - ready for okonomiyaki!

Yosh – ready for okonomiyaki!

I was so thrilled that I went twice in one week, bringing along different friends each time.

After being greeted with a loud and hearty irrashaimase ( いっらしゃいませ), we were seated immediately and presented with heavy, laminated menus with cute illustrations depicting each of the many, many okonomiyaki and yakisoba dishes and their toppings. This lowered any language barriers and made it easy to point & choose as needed.

White Peach Chu-Hai

White Peach Chu-Hai

On my first visit, we were celebrating the end of a long week, so the boys ordered steins of the Kirin draft and I had a white peach shochu cocktail (もも チューハイ, momo chu-hai), sweet and balanced with just the right amount of shochu (a Japanese vodka).

The Chefs

The Chefs

As we sipped away, we could observe the chefs preparing other diners’ okonomiyaki on the huge teppan grill behind the counter. Nothing like the sizzling hiss as the cabbage and batter mixture first hits the griddle to really whet our appetites.

Seafood Okonomiyaki with Wasabi Mayo

Seafood Okonomiyaki with Wasabi Mayo

With so many options to choose from, I was a bit overwhelmed but decided to settle on the Seafood Okonomiyaki, substituting wasabi mayo for the regular. And boy was I glad I did! Filled with bits of squid legs, shrimp, and scallops and topped with seaweed (のり, nori), copious swirls of okonomi sauce and pale green wasabi mayo, AND dancing bonito flakes, this was really heaven on a skillet. The base was full of wilted cabbage, barely held together by tasty batter. I’m not a huge fan of cabbage but I LOVE okonomiyaki. With flavors reminiscent of my very favorite snack takoyaki (たこ焼き), this was so good that I ordered it again on my return visit!

Trio Mushroom Okonomiyaki

Trio Mushroom Okonomiyaki

Martin ordered the Trio Mushroom Okonomiyaki, topped with a combination of shimeji, eringii, and white button mushrooms along with green onion (ねぎ, negi), nori, and wasabi mayo. Deliciously earthy and vegetarian, I really enjoyed this one, especially since Martin opted to add one very crucial topping – a perfect fried egg with crispy edges and an oozy yolk.

Gottsui Okonomiyaki - the flag says Kokoro wa Hitotsu, or One Heart.

Gottsui Okonomiyaki – the flag says Kokoro wa Hitotsu, or One Heart.

At each visit, one of the people in our group ordered the original Gottsui which comes with pork belly, shrimp, squid, potato, fried egg, and mayo. Basically, it was an okonomiyaki with the works. This was also quite good and the potato, which I was skeptical about, was an excellent starchy vehicle for the okonomi sauce.

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

The last one that I was able to fortuitously sample thanks to friends who love to share was the Hiroshima – the only okonomiyaki with a soba noodle base (not the dark buckwheat kind, but the yellow noodles that put the soba in yakisoba). It was topped with pork belly, green onion, daikon radish, and nori and drenched in sauce that was sweeter and stickier than okonomi sauce. The texture was pretty interesting, although the noodles made the okonomiyaki more difficult to cut into.

Served like this, I can see why people call it "pizza"

Served like this, I can see why people call it “pizza”

My phone now will try to autocorrect “ok” to “okonomiyaki” when I type up text messages, thanks to that fateful week of coordinating not one but two visits to Gottsui. Now that I know where to find some yummy, hearty okonomiyaki on the Westside, you can bet I’ll be coming back!

Love the cute menu illustrations!

This was mine – the Seafood. I love the cute menu illustrations! (Source: gottsui-usa.com)

Also, if you’re going to be in the LA area this weekend, be sure to check them out at 626 Night Market. They will be one of the many vendors this Saturday & Sunday (June 8-9th)!

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Check out Gottsui: gottsui-usa.com

2119 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!