You think Daikokuya is the shit? You perhaps prefer the minimalist shoyu blend of Gardena Ramen? You fail.
I'm a Hebrew...plain and simple. And even if I'm a self-hating Jew, if things are going absolutely miserably - if the Yankees just lost the World Series on a soft single off of Luis Gonzales' bat in the bottom of the ninth, if I have a 104 degree temperature, if within a decade AN ENGLISH PATIENT, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, A BEAUTIFUL MIND and CRASH all win the Oscar for Best Picture - even then, (very) patient reader, a Heeb (especially of the Ashkenazi varietal) should find complete solace in a bowl of matzo ball soup. Well apologies for the sacrilege (although not a surprise to anyone who came to my Bar Mitzvah and listened to my speech titled, "Do I Believe in God?") but I have never understood matzo ball soup. I don't dislike it, I just don't get how people claim to have the best matzo ball soup when you're combining the blandest base imaginable, schmaltz, with a dumpling that is particularly well, uh...bland.
Ramen is my matzo ball soup. I eat it at least twice a week and sometimes I'll do a four day stretch of only ramen lunches. Like most gaijin, my experiences with ramen during the early years all came from one distinct path - Momofuku Ando, widely thought of as the creator of Instant Noodles, the founder of Nissin, and therefore the man directly responsible for Cup O' Noodles. Some of my earliest memories of food revolve around Dorothy, a Jamaican woman who worked for my parents as a housekeeper and spent much of the rest of her time looking after me. Dorothy ate pretty much nothing but Cup O' Noodles (mostly the Shrimp Gourmet type) and since I thought Dorothy was the most awesome person on the face of the planet, I ended up eating pretty much nothing but Cup O' Noodles. This phase of my ramen eating ways lasted through childhood and college and into my arrival in Los Angeles working as an unpaid intern (what meal in a cup is better valued than the 14 cent Cup?).
As the years progressed however, I ventured out into the world of ramen, no longer a chain to sodium and starch in a Styrofoam (thank you spell check for informing me that Styrofoam is trademarked - I had no idea) cup. And boy am I glad I did. I discovered the wonders and the intricacies of the many different types of ramen; shio, shoyu, miso and tonkotsu. I marveled at the various textures of the noodles themselves; thick yet melt-in-your-mouth tender, wrinkled, thin but almost impossibly firm. I drove all over Southern California trying everything in search of that elusive perfect noodle soup.
Color me surprised to find said perfection three years ago on the West Side in what basically amounts to a mini food court contained within a Mitsuwa Marketplace. Santouka, like Daikokuya and Shin-Sen-Gumi before it, serves a tonkotsu based broth with a choice of shio or miso flavor. I almost always go for the shio with an absurd amount of chili powder dumped on top (I don't consider ramen successful unless the front of my shirt is soaked in sweat thirty minutes in). The pork chashu is always so buttery, the noodles are perfectly firm to the bite and the other ingredients (naruto, green onions, a pickled plum umeboshi) are fresh and delicious, but the real star here, the reason I widely consider Santouka ramen to be in my top ten dishes worldwide, is the broth.
Shio Ramen before and after adding an egregious amount of chili powder
It is hard to describe the feeling you get two slurps into the broth and nothing short of nirvana encompasses you by the end of the meal. And I mean meal when I say meal. While the $6.95 cost of the regular shio ramen (often expanded to just short of ten bucks by yours truly through additional chashu and super-sizing the bitch) isn't quite the bargain of that fourteen cent Cup O' Noodles, it is a blood cousin - you could easily sustain yourself for an entire day on the heartiness of this beauty. I suspect many do as I often see the same faces descending upon Centinela and Venice midday.
3760 S. Centinela Avenue
(inside the Mitsuwa Marketplace)