Daikokuya (Little Tokyo)
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One of the top ten Ramen places in all of L.A. But is it worth waiting to get into?
It’s a weird, counterintuitive impulse we all have when it comes to food: See a long line, get in it.
After all, all those people waiting must know something you don’t.
I have been seeing lines in front of Daikokuya for months now. Every time I’ve gone to Little Tokyo, no matter what the hour. And even I, your humble publisher just had to know…what the hell was the big deal. So, like any sensible person would, I took a crowbar to my schedule, found me some time, and got in line.
First things first, what’s going on it front of Daikokuya isn’t so much of a line as it is…well, a gathering.
Uhhh, isn’t that the same thing as a line?
Shaadup, and lemme explain.
The “gathering” of which I speak are actually people who are waiting for their name to be called. Getting in is pretty simple all things considered. Walk inside, sign in, and…well…wait. And you’re going to be waiting for a bit. Got in at 11:43 on a Monday Afternoon, and still had to wait until 12:20. You wouldn’t think that Monday afternoon would have a lot of people, but…there you go.
Now, Daikokuya is a cash only establishment. Make sure you hit the ATM before going in, and they have a number of very strict rules that you might adhere too before sitting down and gettin’ your Ramen on. One, Your party must all be present to sit. Two you cannot add people to your party once you sign in. and three you have the option of waiting for all your party to arrive before being seated. The last one has a “customer’s bill of rights” feel to it, in that it seems Daikoyuka won’t kick your ass out if your party hasn’t all gotten there you. They’ll let you wait…but even that’s a bit of a gamble.
But the feel is really old world, a little bit of the old Little Tokyo in it. There are a mess of old Japanese Movie posters hanging on the walls from the 50s and 60s. One gets the feeling they weren’t added for kitsch.
Funny thing. Like all Ramen joints, you may find yourself squeezing in there once they let you in. It reminded me of my last visit to Tjusita. I was at the far end of the counter. I was stuffed in there. Still they took care of me very well, and quickly. The soup was great, and came with a bit of a unexpected surprise (see below), and of course, their sausages sent me right to my happy place, despite having waited for so long.
So yes, it’s a great Ramen shop. Yes, it’s a little hard to get into (then again, aren’t they all?), but they make it worth your while.
WHAT SHOULD YOU GET?: You’re kidding, right? You’re going to walk into a top flight, well-regarded Ramen place…and have the nerve to ask what to get? Are you freakin’ kidding me?
Okay, let’s start off with the non-Ramen portion of the menu. I went with the Sausage (I know, what a shock). I flashed back to my Days at the late, lamented Tokyo Table. Nice little nubbins of perfectly cooked sausage and a little mustard to go with. Perfect kickstarted for my meal.
Then I moved on to the Daikoku Ramen, the house speciality, and the reason they are “still in business”…at least according to the menu.
It’s funny, I’m eating away with my still somewhat limited Ramen chops. I’m enjoying it, I’m liking it. I still like Ajisen touch better, but then again…that’s my joint. It reminds me a bit of Tsujita for some unexplained reason—…
Well, it can’t be the stock. This is Miso and as I recall Tsujita does a Chicken stock kind of a thing…
…and then it hits me.
It’s the texture.
This is the smoothest broth I have ever had. Period. No lie. I’ve had Miso based Ramen, of course. It’s impossible to escape it. There’s a grit to it, a sandy feeling. It’s just part of the dance. You get used to it. But this stuff…man, whoever is in the kitchen spent a lot of time making this stuff smooth as silk. That was a real nice surprise.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: As I said, many the time have I strolled past Daikokuya, wanting to go in, only to be intimidated by the line. Well, don’t be.
For one, it’s not really a line. It’s really a mass of people waiting outside. The “line”…if you need to think of it that way…is really the piece of paper just inside the door. That’s where all the business is really happening. You go in there. You sign in and wait. You actually might get in ahead of some of the people out there, depending on how big their party is. (Mind you, it also depends on how big your party is as well.
Again, this is a cash only establishment. You can probably get away with a single twenty, but just to be safe (and to eat what you want), bring at least $40.
PARKING: Again, this is Little Tokyo, so be prepared to shell out $7 for parking, and consult the Little Tokyo Parking Guide. There ain’t no valet here, and Street Parking is difficult to come by at best.
327 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: (213) 626-1680
Monday – Thursday: 11:00 am – 12:00 am
Friday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 1:00 am
Sunday: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm