A few months ago I wrote about how I was having issues with an old boyfriend. Well we've made up and have had a pretty good relationship ever since. But I never said this was a monogamous relationship, so once again I went out trolling for good ramen elsewhere.
This time, my trolling (and Food Cabbie duty!) took me to Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi in Gardena, one of the several branches of the well known Shin-Sen-Gumi restaurant group scattered throughout Gardena, Fountain Valley and Rosemead. Shin-Sen-Gumi, in case you didn't know, is named after a 19th century Japanese samurai group who served the country and its people during a period of internal conflict in Japan; the restaurant group's motto, therefore, strives to live up to their name's reputation which is probably why Hakata Ramen's customers are greeted with this when they walk in:
Best Japanese noodle I've ever tasted huh? That's a bit of a confident statement. Well, we'll see.
Enter Hakata Ramen and you'll see that these folks are serious and very, very, confident. "IRASHAIMASE!!!!" they screamed as we entered the restaurant. They are loud, and I mean LOUD. Had I been a little more out of it, I would have flinched and then fallen all over the place like Kramer on Seinfeld. But luckily, I was able to stand strong on my feet.
We were seated at a communal table in the front with other parties of two already slurping away at their ramen. Small stacks of order sheets and a few No.2 pencils sat in front of us. "I'm assuming we have to write our orders down?" I asked my friend. We flipped through the laminated color menu for a couple minutes and proceeded to jot down our order in the grid provided on the order sheet.
I feel like I'm at the Service Merchandise store
What kind of Ramen or Set?
"A" set (Hakata ramen with a side of gyoza). My friend got the "C" set (ramen with a bowl of the restaurant's takana fried rice.)
(How am I supposed to fit all this into the little box?) Cha-siu, boiled egg, spinach, bamboo shoot, bean sprout.
Firmness of noodle?
Amount of soup oil?
Strength of soup base?
A server was along shortly to drop off some iced green tea and collect our sheets. *Phew!* It appeared that we had done this correctly with the exception of the fact that the restaurant does not serve spinach, bamboo shoot or bean sprouts as toppings at lunch, so we had to cross those out. Damn, you mean I could have written bigger?
Our Hakata Ramen arrived quickly...two big bowls of thin ramen submerged in beautiful, milky tonkotsu broth and adorned by bright pinkish red pickled ginger, finely chopped green onions, slices of fat-striped cha siu and a halved soy sauce soaked boiled egg. You probably already know that I'm a little partial to tonkotsu-style ramen where the luscious, milky broth is made by boiling pork bones for hours on end, so needless to say, I was very, very happy. OK, maybe not as happy as I get when I experience utter ramen euphoria at Daikokuya--I like Daikokuya's soup and thicker noodles more--but Hakata's tonkotsu ramen did manage to float my boat. The thin noodles were firm and snappy, its broth milky and oily with delicious pork flavor. I do wish that the cha-siu was a little more tender--it was a bit on the gristly side-- and that I could have added bamboo shoot to make the flavors a little stronger, but no matter. I still enjoyed my ramen.
Nothing's more beautiful than murky, milky tonkotsu broth
The other halves of our lunch sets took a little longer to arrive, but we were kept on our toes while waiting as every few minutes, the booming sound of "IRASHAIMASE!!!" being screamed to entering customers would suddenly wake us up. Finally a plate of six of the tiniest gyoza you've ever seen and a bowl of their takana fried rice arrived at our table. Small, but full of pork, onion and pepper flavor, those itty bitty gyoza made for a nice ending to our big bowls of ramen. I was even more impressed with the takana fried rice, flavored with egg, little bits of pork and takana, a pickled salted mustard cabbage. Noticing a leftover pool of broth in my ramen bowl, one of the loud Irashimase-yellers asked me if I wanted to add more noodles for $0.95. I was stuffed so I politely refused.
Warning: Gyoza not to scale!
Hearty takana fried rice
Add ALL the toppings and you'll be broke!
Depending on how you look at it, Hakata Ramen's not a cheap date. Daikokuya's ramen is a bargain at $7.50 considering it already includes cha-siu, bamboo shoot, bean sprout and boiled egg. Hakata Ramen's bowl is $6.95 and doesn't include any of those toppings. Cha-siu is added on for $2.00, bamboo shoot for $1.00, bean sprout for $0.50, and boiled egg for $1.00, making a bowl of Hakata ramen cost over 11 bucks. Don't get me wrong, I liked Hakata Ramen alot, but there's a reason I keep running back to Daikokuya!
Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi
2051 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. #C
Gardena, CA 90247