After eating at Daikokuya in LA, I’m pretty sure that I could be a happy woman if all I did was travel around the world, tasting, comparing, and contrasting ramen joints. When I told my friend, Lee Anne, how much I love ramen (I switch off between ramen and soup dumpling fits), she told me that she would take me to a ramen place in LA’s Little Tokyo that would blow my mind. The verdict? Daikokuya is more than just ramen, it’s a beacon of deliciousness for traveling souls who find themselves wandering around LA.
When someone takes you to their favorite ramen spot, a place where they go time and time again to enjoy the comfort of familiar tasty treats, you should defer to them when it comes to the ordering. Sure, you could scour the menu to try and second-guess them, but I’m all about choosing the food-path of least resistance. I’m there for the ride and I love when someone else chauffeurs. And if Lee Anne Wong is your chauffeur, shut your mouth unless you’re opening it to eat the next decadent and exquisite bite of what she’s ordered for you.
We started with the Tsukemono – a plate of assorted tangy, sweet, just-right savory pickles sprinkled with sesame seeds. The acidity and crunchiness of the pickles made my already growling stomach even hungrier for the meal ahead. Luckily, a plate of hand-made gyoza appeared to keep me from stealing the bowl of ramen that the neighbor on my left was showily slurping, rubbing in my face the fact that he was already enjoying his main course. Tender, savory, faintly sweet pork filling was accented by the slight crunch and toastiness of the seared gyoza wrapper. Delicious, delicious, but where was my pork broth ramen and shredded pork bowl combo???
Finally, my ramen arrived – I could smell the sweet pork broth before I saw it placed in front of me. Floating on top was a layer of extra pork fat that Lee Anne expertly ordered to increase the tasty porkiness of the rich ramen broth. Did I need more pork fat? No Did I enjoy more pork fat? The answer to that is always “yes.” As Lee Anne deftly garnished my bowl for me – adding pickled ginger, scallions, an extra swirl of soy sauce – I breathed in the decadent aroma and allowed the steam to engulf my face like a ramen facial. One taste of the broth and I was instantly satiated, yet ravenous for more. The noodles were just chewy enough. Next time, I’ll probably order a more rigid noodle because I like a little more bite, but these were delightfully slurpable regardless.
What really wowed me was the custardy yolk at the center of the marinated egg. I’ve NEVER had a yolk like this in a ramen bowl before – it was neither runny nor sulfur-green ringed. It wasn’t created with an immersion circulator either; this baby was made the old-fashioned way and then cold-soaked in a soy sauce marinade overnight. After this, I’ll never be satisfied by a poached or hard-boiled-to-death egg in my ramen ever again. A custard-yolk adds intense creaminess and depth to a broth that you just didn’t think could get any deeper. It’s like having a conversation with a gorgeous, book-worm genius who then drops that besides being a NASA engineer, he/she also drums for a rock band on the side… Damn. This yolk-spiked-broth, like that rocker genius, just leaves you feeling inadequate.
Thank goodness I was such a jerk and took a million pictures of my ramen bowl, slowing me from gulping it down the way Lee Anne and my other friend, Colby did. He literally didn’t look up from his bowl until the thing was empty, gasping for air when he emerged form his own, private ramen party with his face drenched in sweat and ramen steam. I had completely forgotten about the shredded pork bowl when all of a sudden, there it sat, taunting me with its umami sweet & savory being. It was like Christmas – one minute your looking at an empty room and the next, it’s littered with presents… pork presents in this case. The shredded pork was broiled with an unagi-esque sauce until it was just a little dry. Some may not like that, but it reminded me of the meat on the end of a rib that gets singed by the barbecue. What the hell am I trying to say? It was freaking yummy. Tangy, bright pink, pickled ginger, sesame seeds, and scallions – always a good idea – covered the pork-topped sweet rice. My head was swinging back-and-forth like a cartoon character, trying to figure out what to take a bite of next. All the while, my stomach was expanding to the point of sheer pain. The beer that I was using to “palate cleanse” between bites probably wasn’t helping either.
You know how pregnant women get stretch marks on their stomachs from the skin pulling to make room for baby? Well that’s how the inside of my stomach looks from an equally impressive task of making room for things like more ramen and pork bowl. Sadly, I didn’t finish everything, but the lovely folk at Daikokuya wrapped it up for me to take home and have later for a snack. I never did have that snack since we never stopped finding something new to eat while I was in LA, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
So how does Daikokuya stack up vs. Ippudo? I wish I could tell you. I tried to go to Ippudo yesterday to do a fair comparison as I didn’t want to work from Akamaru Modern memories, but as usual, the wait was already over 1 hour. On a Sunday at 1PM. Oh, and since they don’t allow you to do ramen takeout or wrap up a doggy bag the way Daikokuya does, I may never be able to accurately measure these two up. Daikokuya wins by default, and may just win outright for that incredible custard egg and for creating something as magical as a “Pork Ramen & Pork Bowl” combo. Because at the end of the day, who doesn’t want a side bowl of pork with their giant bowl of pork?