The 2nd Annual Los Angeles Ramen Yokocho Festival took place last weekend March 29-30, 2014 at the Santa Anita Park. My cousin sent me a link about this event knowing I was going to be in LA for the Mayday concert, and this just could not be any more perfect. There were 14 different ramen restaurants from San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Japan. And of the 14, I’ve only been to 3 of these restaurants; Tajima from San Diego, Shin Sen Gumi from Los Angeles, and Daikokuya from Los Angeles. That is still 11 bowls I need to try.
I went with my sister Yunti and my cousin PengZi, with just the three of us we knew we were not going to be able to try 11 bowls of ramen (maybe next year). We decided to try the ones that are not in LA, since I can always make another trip to LA anytime. Of course we were not the only ones that had that idea, and therefore the restaurants from Japan had the longest lines.
How it works
Parking was $4 at the Santa Anita Park. $5 per person to get into the park. It is free for anyone 17 and under, and with the $5 fee you can watch the races and place a couple bets. The Ramen Festival itself was located in the infield (is that what it’s called?). We actually didn’t really know where to go, we just happened to walk through a big tunnel and miraculously found what we were looking for. Once there, check out the flyers with what ramen shops are here and get your tickets. $8/ticket = 1 bowl of ramen. You’ll see booth set up for each ramen shop, but you’re better off looking for volunteers who are standing at the end of each line with a sign indicating what ramen shop that line is for.
I’d have to say, it would not be as fun as it was if you go by yourself. Bring a small group of friends, so that you won’t have to wait in line by yourself. You can also keep a couple people in the long lines and send others to some of the shorter lines or grab other things to eat (or place a bet or 2). If we didn’t do that, we probably would not have been able to get four bowls.
I’m no ramen specialist and I probably don’t really know the main differences between the different types of ramen, but I do know I love ramen. The bowls are not big, but that’s enough when you want to try more. You can always get seconds, if the lines aren’t crazy. We waited 2 hours, 1 hour, 30 minutes, and 10 minutes for each bowl…
Mattao Siemen – Toyama Black Mapo Ramen – Japan
This was my very first bowl of Ramen of the day (Yunti and PengZi started eating my next bowl – Horaiya Wonton-men – before I reached them). This is one of the four ramen shops from Japan, and it was a little more unique compared to the others. Instead of the typical egg or chasu cut, this bowl came with bean sprouts, some greens, and mapo pork. It was a good combination of ramen and mapo tofu. Don’t be turned off by the dark soup, it wasn’t as salty as I thought it would be. Though I didn’t drink all of the soup. Oh, and there a tiny tiny kick to it – a little more of a kick would be nice too.
As I was approaching the front of the line, I noticed a big sign with the Iron Chef on it. The guy on the right is the guy that created this bowl of ramen (not the actual iron chef dude). Too bad I can’t read Japanese, but if anything that sign indicates that it was sure to be something yummy and different right?
Wait time: 1 hour
Horaiya – Miso Wanton-men – Japan
This was one that I really wanted to try and we were determined to find it. It’s booth was located right next to Mattao Siemen but they did not have a volunteer standing at the end of its line. Yunti and PengZi walked around a couple times trying to find that sign, and just as Yunti was going to give up she found it! We also found out that it was one of the two shops that were sold out by the end of the day (Tsujita Tokyo Artisan Noodles from Japan was sold out before we even arrived). We only waited about 30 minutes for this bowl; probably because it was not easy to find. Yunti thinks it might have been because they knew they were running low, and therefore did not post a volunteer at the end of line – sneaky.
Another fusion type of ramen, and I liked it. On top of the ramen soup flavors we usually get, you also get a whiff of some traditional Chinese wonton noodle soup flavors too. We cleared this bowl, we didn’t even leave any soup. The cut of meat that was included was just to die for. The fat and the meat practically melted in my mouth. There was just one piece of meat for the three of us to share, so that was kind of a bummer. I can’t imagine how much better that would be if we were sitting properly at an actual restaurant. Too bad the actual wontons are forgettable.
Wait time: 30 minutes
Hyatemaru – Hokkaido Shio Ramen – Los Angeles
While still in line for our forth and final bowl of ramen, we managed to pick out one with a relatively shorter line. After studying the program for a little bit, we chose this shop because the soup looked relatively light – I was hoping for a bowl of ramen with mild flavors. This bowl ended up being the most traditional with the the seaweed, bamboo, green onions, boiled egg, and a meat. At least this is what call traditional. It’s very similar to the Shio ramen I usually get at Santoka (my local ramen stand inside of the Mitsuwa market in San Diego), the biggest difference being the noodles.
What struck me with this bowl was that the noodle tasted very different. I don’t know if it was because we just had the Horaiya Miso Wonton-men but the noodles reminded me of Chinese wonton noodles. It has a type of “soap water taste” – which is how my Dad had always described the type of noodles he likes. Anyone know what I’m talking about?
This also the only shop we went to where we had to wait a couple minutes for the noodles to cook. At every other shop, the noodle was ready when we stepped up to the little window where we picked our ramen.
Wati time: 10 minutes
Tatsunoya – Tonkatsu Ramen – Japan
According to the flyer, Tatsunoya Ramen is “Super Duper Delicious! Tonkatsu ramen that ranked num. 1 in Kyushu.” With the longest line at the festival – yielding a two hour wait, all I could think of was that this better be worth it!
Topped with a couple chunks of chasu, seaweed, and lots of green onions this bowl was worth the wait. Instead of the fatter noodles we had with our first three bowls, this bowl of Tatsunoya Ramen served thin noodles. When it comes to tonkatsu ramen, I go to Daikokuya (I was so tempted to grab a bowl, their line didn’t look too long) and always add the kotteri flavor (back fat) for a richer flavor. I’m going to guess that there is some kotteri in this bowl as well.
The only negative thing I could say was that it was so salty. Yunti said it was probably because it was the end of the day and we were getting to the bottom of the pot of soup, not to mention tonkatsu ramen is often on the saltier side already. So I would say, try to get to the Ramen Festival earlier next year, that way you’ll have more time to eat more.
Wait time: 2 hours
Overall, I think we managed to try a good variety of ramen, but I definitely want more – even though I was already completely stuffed. I’m probably going to make my way to other ramen shops in the LA area soon. Follow the Ramen Yokocho website and on Facebook for updates on their next Ramen Festivals – I’ll probably be there next year!