My favorite Ramen in all of Los Angeles…in San Gabriel.
For too many years, Ramen has been relegated (at least in America) to the cheap foods aisle of your local grocery store.
For too long, it’s been a joke amongst the financially strapped or unemployed stoner set, as the food you get when you have little else.
But Ramen matters in Japan, and among those of us with more enlightened taste buds, it matters to us as well. And it’s not just about the noodles, or what’s in it along side the noodles…
Don’t get me wrong, the noodles are way important. They should be yellow in color. They should be chewy, not rubbery. You should like them separately, as you would like all the elements of the bowl. That’s just good form.
So if you want to try out a bowl of the real stuff, if you want a Japanese or as close to Japanese experience as you’re likely to have here in the States, there are a lot of places you can try. Tsujita LA Annex is awesome and critically acclaimed. Orochon is Little Tokyo standout that’s managed to make its way all the way over to Burbank. Jinya Ramen, Daikokuya, they’re all great.
But my place is Ajisen Ramen. That’s my favorite. This is the place I usually take guests from out of town.
Yes, I know. The cheese may be standing alone in this case. I could sit here for a page or two making an impassioned case for Ajisen, but I’m realizing as I type this…I don’t have to.
Why not? It’s not like the place isn’t nine kinds of awesome, but what you’re going to discover as you try lots and lots of Ramen places (and you should try lots and lots of Ramen places) is that you and your taste buds will come to an accommodation of what it is you like best in Ramen. Like I said, you’ll like the noodles. You’ll like the accompanying ingredients. These are all to taste, and you’ll know from just looking at the menu what you like.
But the broth…that magical elixir that holds it all together? That’s a harder science.
The only way to know…is…well…to try it and know. And knowing in your gut what kind of broth you’ll like, just takes a lot of delicious experimentation. No amount of food blogging can convince you what you’ll love.
My broth, I found the first time I went to the Ajisen Ramen in Century City. That milky, creamy, buttery golden broth…oh my goodness. That was my jam. All of the sudden, I was having my bowl not for the noodles, or the buttery, melt in your mouth slices of pork, but for that broth. That broth became everything…
Well, everything within reason. I wasn’t about to give my firstborn for it…but we could at least have a discussion!
The San Gabriel location is conveniently located across the street from my favorite 99 Ranch Chinese Grocery Superstore (yeah, we have those here in L.A.). It’s in one of those high-rise three story Strip Mall/Residential complexes that exist out here in La-La Land, so Parking is a lot easier.
Ajisen also has Izakaya food, so if Ramen is not your thing (and yes, even I know a few people for whom Ramen is not their thing), you can snack and sample of any number of myriad treats at the restaurant. Kick back with a Caramel Milk Tea, relax and slurp your way to happiness.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: I cannot help myself but run with the Premium Pork Ramen (three good words right there). It’s gotten so bad for me, that the Staff at the San Gabriel store knows me and knows what I’m ordering. But really, you’re not going to go too wrong whichever way you go. They’re clearly advertising other more-Japanese items than the average Food Court Vet is used to having on their menus: like Eel, but that’s nothing but a good thing.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Nothing really to warn you about. It’s on the first level, far corner of the complex, highly visible from the street. The hardest thing you’ll have to do in getting there is going past all the other wonderful Chinese Food options on the way in.
PARKING: Pretty easy. Ajisen Ramen’s San Gabriel location sits atop a Retail/Hotel Complex just off Valley Blvd. (The Hotel is a Hilton, by the way). It sits almost across the streets from what looks to be the single biggest 99 Ranch in the Valley. So finding it shouldn’t be too hard.
When you pull into the complex, you’ll see it horseshoe around, with parking spots in front of all the restaurants on the first level. Forget about parking there. Those spaces are taken up 24 hours a day it sees. But there is underground parking. Go down the ramp and you should find yourself something pretty easy. The Lot used to be pay, but (at least during Lunch hours), the arm is up. You’ll be able to cruise in, cruise out for gratis.
Ajisen Ramen (San Gabriel)
227 W Valley Blvd # 108A
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Tel: (626) 281-8388
Daily: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm