Santouka Ramen, West Los Angeles – Where “Pork-forward” and “Porkiness” Make Complete Sense

santouka ramen, mitsuwa marketplace, west los angeles, ca - shoyu ramen with char siu

Santouka Ramen

(in the Mitsuwa Marketplace)
3760 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066
310.391.1101
www.santouka.co.jp

I have eaten Santouka ramen in the Mitsuwa Marketplace, in more than one location, on more than one occasion. I even ate there before it was Santouka.

I have relaxed my neck to let my head fall forward, holding my bangs back away from my eyes, face deep down into the bowl. I have slurped and sucked and slurped and sucked and slurped and sucked up noodles; I have grasped the bowl with two hands, tilted it up toward my face and noisily lapped up broth; I have let the boiling hot burn hit the back of my throat; I have swallowed the broth in a single, spice-filled gulp, then wiped the tiny glittering greasy splashes of thick, opaque oh-me-so-spicy gloss dripping down my chin with the back of my hand.

I have.

In more than one location. On more than one occasion.

However, I am not ready to expose all my filthy little ramen-whore secrets to you just yet.

But RT is!

RT is a frequent reader (is “frequent” too bold an assumption?), occasional commenter, and now first time VIP guest blogger. While one could convincingly argue that RT’s post about Santouka is appearing on The Delicious Life because his thoughtful comments on everything from sushi to cupcakes impress me enough to want a full essay on my main page, the real reason I invited RT to guest blog is that I just wanted an excuse to say “the Wolverines suck” on my blog and have it really mean something.

Oooo. K.

Santouka, anyone?

* * * * * the following post is written by RT * * * * *

I love Mitsuwa.

For those of you who don’t know, Mitsuwa is a small chain of Japanese/Asian supermarkets (six in Southern California, three more elsewhere in the the country). Like its larger competitor 99 Ranch Market, Mitsuwa not only has great Asian food that you’re not going to find elsewhere, but much of the meat, seafood, and produce is often priced cheaper than what you’ll pay at Ralphs or Vons, but the quality is just as fresh and good as you’ll get at Whole Foods or Sprouts. You want sushi grade fish so you can make your own sushi or sashimi? Mitsuwa is the place to go. You want one of the gigantic Japanese apples that are about the size of a baby’s head (if William Tell was using one of these apples when he shot one of his kid’s head, it would have been a rather pedestrian feat)? Mitsuwa is the place to go. You want soy sauce? Mitsuwa has to have at least 20 different varieties.

santouka ramen, mitsuwa marketplace, west los angeles, ca
stocked market
santouka ramen, mitsuwa marketplace, west los angeles, ca
it’s suntory santouka time

But what I love most about Mitsuwa Marketplace is the food court and specifically, the ramen shop, Santouka. Quite frankly, Santouka sells the best ramen as well as the best soup I’ve ever had.

Actually, I’m underselling it.

Santouka is a revelation.

It’s a bit disconcerting to have a revelation while sitting in a food court. Yes, Mitsuwa’s food court is nice, pleasant, and clean, but it’s still a food court. It was a revelation nonetheless.

The menu has a pretty limited set of options. There are three sizes (small, medium, and regular **Delicious Note that I just can’t resist: how are “medium” and “regular” two different sizes?!), four different types of soup base (shio, soy, miso, and spicy miso), and a choice of whether you want extra slices of pork (chasu). No chicken, beef, or anything else. There are also a few rice-based sides, and, of course, soda.

santouka ramen in mitsuwa marketplace, west los angeles, ca - shio ramen with char siu
shio me the money

I always get a regular shio chasu. The large is the same size as the bowls at places like Ramenya, but the regular size is more than enough. I keep meaning to try the side dishes, just like I keep meaning to try the other restaurants in the food court, but I never manage. Why?

Because the shio chasu is so good.

Let’s start with the broth. The shio broth is very rich, and you can see a layer of oil over the ramen. But it’s oh-so-delicious and complex. It’s very pork-forward, but the porkiness is balanced by an undercurrent of seafood, a decent bit of salt and a pleasant sweetness (as I’ve learned from Rameniac’s review of the place, that’s exactly what the broth is made with: a pork and seafood stock). Combined with a downright sublime mouth feel, I linger over the broth for a very long time. The only other broth I’ve tried is the spicy miso. It’s good, but the spice overwhelms all of the other flavors. Compared to the other ramen places in West LA, there is no comparison. Santouka crushes them.

I swear, it’s liquid crack.

santouka ramen in mitsuwa marketplace, west los angeles, ca - spicy miso ramen
obviously Spicy Miso is just too much for a Michigan fan

As for the rest of the soup, the noodles are quite good, although on one occasion they weren’t fully cooked and I had to let them sit in the broth for a little bit to finish cooking through. The veggies add a nice texture, although I can’t identify everything (what are those yellow stringy batons?). I don’t really know what the fish cake and the Japanese plum add, but they’re a nice little bonus.

santouka ramen, mitsuwa marketplace, west los angeles, ca - char siu pork in shoyu broth
char siu. bless you!

The pork, on the other hand, is what really makes the ramen sing. I like to keep the pork slices and about half of the broth for last, because it destroys the standard law of diminishing returns with eating (you know, the more you eat something, the less enjoyable each subsequent bite is). How? Well, some of the the fat melts into what’s left of the broth taste better the longer the pork resides in it. The broth returns the favor, adds a bit of flavor to the meat; it’s like an echo chamber in a bowl. You’ll notice that the regular ramen comes with a few slices of pork, but make sure you order it “chasu” so you get the extra slices.

Now for the (potential) negatives. First, Santouka only takes cash and they don’t do take away. Second, the ambiance is less than stellar; I mean, you’re eating in a food court. And if it hasn’t been blindingly obvious by now, it’s pretty much all pork all the time. If you don’t like pork, this place is not for you (that’s what the other three restaurants at Mitsuwa are for, I guess). Third, the place closes early. I’ve heard reports that it closes as early as 8 pm sometimes. Fourth, it’s a pork and salt soup, which is not exactly health food. But I figure it’s worth the extra couple miles you’d have to run to burn it off.

And finally, the soup is liquid crack. You might become another addict, itching for the chance for when you can get your next hit.

I know I do.

* * * * * the previous post was written by RT * * * * *

Who Else Tried Santouka’s Porkiness?
[West Los Angeles]
~ 127 Yelpers give Santouka an average rating of 4½ stars
~ In the Top 5 for Rameniac’s LA Times list (Jan 2008)
~ Wandering Chopsticks was “like really disappointed” (Jan 2008)
~ World is My Oyster went twice, and is already ready again (Jan 2008)
~ Rameniac calls Santouka “Best in Shio” (Feb 2007)
~ Noodles with Attitude, LA Weekly (Jan 2007)
~ For Daily Gluttony, “It was good.” (Jan 2007)
~ Oishii Eats Santouka on opening day (Dec 2006)

[Torrance]
~ Two thumbs up from Foodie Monster (Sep 2007)
~ Always a stop for Taste-Buzz (Apr 2007)
~ Kirk of mmm-yoso wants a Santouka in San Diego (Feb 2007)
~ Even after Goin to Lucques and Hungry Cat, Santouka was top for Life Begins at 30 (Nov 2006)
~ ~ Potatomato gets cravings after watching Tampopo (Nov 2006)

[Costa Mesa]
~ RamenRamenRamen rates the Shio an 8(Mar 2008)
~ Professor Salt calls it “liquid pride” on OC Weekly (Feb 2005)
~ Elmomonster says it’s “worth it” (Feb 2005)

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  • StickyGooeyCreamyChewy

    I’m so jealous! What I wouldn’t give to have a place like this around here. I’m drooling just looking at the pictures!

  • Anonymous

    santouka is the king. everything else i’ve tried pales in comparison. this might be blasphemy to some ramen freaks but ridiculously better than daikokuya in downtown LA’s little tokyo and more recently in the OC.

    an even greater blasphemous comment might be that jonathan gold doesn’t know what he’s talking about (re. daikokuya)… or he just hasn’t tried santouka.

  • akatsukira

    >(what are those yellow stringy batons?)

    If it’s thin, yellow and stringy, probably golden straw mushrooms aka enokitake. If it’s chewy and about an inch across, probably young bamboo.

    I love Santouka! A trip to Mitsuwa is not the same without their ramen; I’m the same and have never found the desire to visit the other stalls (not that they’re bad; just the lure of good ramen is too much). Plus, they use my favourite childhood fishcakes: naruto!

  • Doowite

    Mitsuwa on Centinela: where you can actually find Asian guys with white girls… on occasion. “Shio” her how u luv her, RT!

  • sarah j. gim

    sgcc: isn’t that piece of pork just obscene?

    anonymous: you can swear, curse, talk trash about me, call me names, even make vicious racist, offensive, slanderous comments…

    but don’t ever take The JGold’s name in vain. ;)

    akatsukira: i’ve never seen enoki mushrooms in the ramen at santouka.

    by “stringy,” i think RT might have meant “fibrous.” if you look at the photo of the spicy miso, you can sort of see the beige-colored slices or “batons” as RT calls them. i think you’re right – they taste like subtly pickled bamboo to me.

    doowite: rice on white? what is this world coming to?

  • Anonymous

    Ann Arbor blows.

  • U

    So, I’m assuming that everyone here has seen Tampopo?

  • sarah j. gim

    anonymous michigan hater: i {heart} you.

    u: u will smack me, won’t you? i even went to the ramen place when it was tampopo before it was santouka, blogged about it, talked about how i should watch the movie, and STILL HAVE NOT SEEN IT.

    ok, maybe i will go rent it tonight.

  • KirkK

    You have great timing….today was Santouka’s grand opening of their San Diego store!

  • jkru

    I whole heartedly agree with the hating on Michigan. Besides, I don’t think you need an excuse to say that the Wolverines suck if it’s always *true*!

  • RT

    Wow, “VIP?” I’ve made the big time! =D Thanks Sarah! I guess I have to forgive your blasphemy about Wolverines. This time, at least. And no, ‘frequent’ is not a bold assumption; TDL is a daily visit for me (along with about two dozen other websites).

    By the way, I made an error that I just caught (sorry Sarah!): the sizes are small, regular, and large; the photo captioned “shio me the money’ is of the regular.

    akatukira: yes, fibrous is a much better word.
    Anonymous, jkru: Your jealousy is so transparent. =)

  • lillian

    Ooh! RT that looks amazing. And don’t listen to the Michigan haters, ‘Hail! to the victors valiant’! :-D

  • George

    The fibrous stuff is indeed, bamboo shoots. It’s called menma.

  • Tarie

    Where can I get some of that santouka ramen?! I am a ramen whore, too. Whereeeeeeeeee? Ok, calm down, Tarie. You are IN ASIA. This shouldn’t be too hard… Thank you, Sarah, for sharing! I hope you had a fabulous weekend. :o)

  • adventure.N.introspection

    Why is it in LA-LA land, some of the best food has the worst ambiance? Some of the best Mexican food is in hidden holes-in-the-wall where you’re not sure you’re in the right place. I have to go back and try Santoku again as I only had a sip from the person I was eating with. I still remember goint to Sushi Nozawa, and being blown away by the sushi but thinking that atmosphere was a little lacking. Even though J. Gold can be off on his review at times, he encourages all of LA to go out and try something new. I’d still take J. Gold over I. Virbila (I Vilify as I like to call her) ANY DAY, ANYWHERE.

  • Anonymous

    To RT and all the ramen lovers, you must partake of the Ramen Festival that Mitsuwa hosts every year (rameniac has reviews of past years and a heads up for future events). I love Santouka, but I was lucky enough to taste some of the guest ramen from northern Japan in Torrance a few months back, and man-o-man, it’s practically ruined me for anything else. I suppose I will only find solace in a trip to Japan…

  • jen maiser

    I was *just* craving Santouka so badly today. Unfortunately, I’m not in LA right now. Someone please have a bowl for me.

  • Rayfil Wong

    I just went to try Santouka three weeks ago. I read about it from Rameniac.

    As a food writer in San Francisco, the best ramen place we have up here is Santa Ramen.

    Santouka resmembles ramen I had in Tokyo.

  • the-paulk

    is it weird to be turned on as much by your description of ramen as eating it?

    Santouka’s been one of my favorite spots since it opened at the Torrance Mitsuwa.

  • I-want-to-slurp-with-Sarah

    I share the-paulk’s reaction….

    This undoubtably says much more about me than it does about you/r blog posting, but, to put it quite crudely:

    Sarah, this post gave me a raging hard-on. The opposite of ‘cooked noodle’. I mean, huge, hard and incessant.

    You are clearly talented. And I am hopelessly smitten.

    Write an entire book like this post and you’ll become rich and famous.

    :*

  • Dazzie

    I like it with purple, have you people tried ramen with purple? Well, try it it tastes yummy! All the celebrities are having it like Paris Hilton and it was on Oprah Winfrey too because of it’s great taste, alone and with everything else. Not that I like Paris Hilton or anything… It has a strong anitoxidant punch of 7 fruit juices and as we know anioxidants help fight anti-aging and cancer so you know… I thought may be you people would like to try slurping ramen with something….go ahead and try it and please let me know :)

  • Dazzie

    Sorry that was Premature ageing :)

  • Dazzie

    hey sorry people in case you want to check out the site it’s http://www.drinkpurple.com and i’ll be waiting for your comments, whether you like it with ramen or not.

  • Fred

    I have tried Purple and I love it. It has such a unique taste and by that I mean a really good taste :o)

    I know that you can buy Purple at GNC stores but when I went on line to the website at http://www.drinkpurple.com they have an area that tells you where they have distribution.

    Ramen and Purple sounds a little strange together but they probably thought that about chocolate and peanut butter at one time. :o)

    See ya
    Fred

  • Anonymous

    Yummy, looks a bit like Kim Chi Chigue, no?

    Those pictures made my mouth water.

    Bruce
    Westside Apartments

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