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Food In Little Tokyo

October 19, 2011

A while back I posted this photo, which was of my very first bowl of ramen:

As someone who gets his kicks from trying new foods (not to mention Naruto), I have no idea how I went this long without eating ramen. This was the beef curry variety offered at Mr. Ramen in little Tokyo, and it was really, really good. The broth was dense and thick, with a pungent curry flavor that never really ventured into spicy territory. The noodles had an excellent snap, and the beef, while slightly tough, was flavorful. I was left highly satisfied by this bowl, but, having not had ramen before, could not develop an idea of how it compared to other dishes.

Enter, this bowl:

 

 

The second bowl is Daikoku ramen from Daikokuya, a few doors down from Mr. Ramen. I had read about this bowl on the new “Chef’s Feed” app, and besides that recommendation, I was pulled in by the description in the menu:

Concentrated pork bone broth? Secret blended soy sauce? It is obvious why I couldn’t pass up a chance to try this. For what it’s worth, I really dug the atmosphere of Daikokuya. It’s tiny, crowded, hot, and filled with the yells of Japanese workers. I sat at the bar, which I mean come on. It seems like you have to have a bar in a ramen place.

Anyway. Initially, I was slightly disappointed in the lack of concentrated pork flavor in the broth. I don’t really know what I expected it to taste like (bacon?), but after I was able to clear my expectations, I found the stuff fantastic. It is more subtle than I anticipated, with a more delicate consistency than the curry ramen. Still, there is a great depth of flavor in the broth, and the boiled egg was a great addition; the yolk was still a tiny bit runny, and it soaked up all the flavors of the broth. The noodles were very similar to Mr. Ramen’s, but the pork was quite different. While the former was dark, tough, and flavor-forward, the latter (pork belly) was soft and subtle, with rings of fat melting into the soup. I preferred Daikokuya’s, but Mr. Ramen gave me a lot more of it.

While we’re on the subject of pork belly, let’s talk about a newcomer to little Tokyo, the much anticipated brick and mortar incarnation of a famous LA food truck, the Flying Pig Cafe. The cafe is manages to feel slick without feeling formal. The outdoor seating helps, but so does the giant chalkboard covered with customer comments and a giant white pig. It’s definitely a good vibe, a small cafe ideal for congregating after work.

The truck is famous for its pork belly buns, and they were on a $3 happy hour special when I arrived at the cafe. I grabbed one of those with a Flying Dog IPA for an additional $2 and treated myself to the best small meal I’ve had since the octopus.

The pork belly bun is a marvel of texture and flavor, a perfect harmony in which all of the components are discernable even as they contribute to the whole. The bun, for one, is amazingly soft, and it melts almost as soon as you touch it. That and the pork fat provide the creamy element, while the crispy skin of the pork gets together with the tangy pickled red onions and cucumber for the crunch. Meanwhile the “death sauce” elevates everything with spiciness and it all comes together perfectly.

Finally, dessert. I tried a red bean doughnut, a cinnamon doughnut with a dense, nutty bean paste inside; mochi ice cream, a small ball of mochi filled with ice cream instead of bean paste; and my absolute favorite, imagawayaki:

 

The more “touristy” part of Little Tokyo is charming. A cluster of shops and cafes with outdoor seating create the feel of a small square, perfect for strolling lazily after a meal. Next time, I’m going for sushi.

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