>> Asa Ramen | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday 5 April 2021

Asa Ramen

JAPAN ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

COVID-19 UPDATE: The small restaurant is doing limited indoor dining now and no outdoor dining.

While there are quite a few flashy bowls of expensive ramen in Sawtelle Japantown that are trying to wow you with flavor and technique, they often fall flat in one or many ways. Sometimes it is the setting, other times the preparation, and maybe just the lack of parking. Meanwhile most places in Gardena and Torrance that are offering more simple bowls and experiences are rarely disappointing.

One ramen spot just north of the 405 on Western that serves sublime bowls is Asa Ramen, a place that intricately makes you feel like you have stepped back in time at least a couple decades. Even the cigarette smells wafting in from the connected karaoke/hostess cafe next door make it seem a long time ago. But what is better than five or ten years ago, at least from the customer's point of view, is that the weekend waiting lists are hardly a thing and the influencers (the new hipsters) have moved on.

The atmosphere here is always relaxed, service might seem aloof but simply asking for something usually gets it right back in gear. The first time you came here was probably late at night, probably after a few drinks, and indeed that might be when the space is most alive as midnight approaches. But even as the only customers when the restaurant opens, rest assured that your ramen will be excellent.

Most of their noodle offerings are available in both "regular" and "large" portions, the former priced at such a low point that it allows you to splurge on some starters like edamame ($3.50, above), which are actually chamame literally meaning "tea bean" and considered one of the most delicious varieties.

Another way to begin meals here is with chicken karaage ($8.50, above), which like pizza is almost always enjoyable even when mediocre. The version here is not that, quite a few steps above actually, and very delicious with perfectly fried dark thigh meat. Each nugget is gently dusted with flour and very slightly spiced, letting the taste of the bird shine through brightest.

A plate of fishcake fritter with dried seaweed ($4.50, below) are hollow tubes of fried goodness rather than discs, and a surprise joy. The dried seaweed comes in the form of a potent powder, and once again the dish is not overly battered.

Pan frying is done just as well here, as proved by a plate of fine gyoza ($5.50, above), which taste and feel as if they have been made to order. They are delightful and very light, somehow it feels like they will float away. Make sure you are not sharing this with too many others, as you will most certainly want more than one.

The pork kimchi ($8.50, below) appetizer sounds simple but is a glorious flavor bomb that will be devoured the moment its aromas hit the table. The pork here is fairly large pieces of belly, probably from the stock used for chashu slices on the ramen. The fermentation zing combines so well with the fattiness of the meat, so do your best to grab at least some of each in every bite.

As alluded to at the beginning, the ramen bowls here are not flashy, instead offering excellent simple versions of each on the menu. Most people come here for kotteri shoyu ramen ($7.75 regular, above, or $10.25 large), and that is a must-try entry point for the restaurant. This bowl is somewhat of a hybrid between a clear bowl of shoyu and that of a murky fatty bowl of tonkotsu.

The word kotteri is the first tip of this, meaning something like "rich" and almost always having an opaque broth in the end. The soy sauce-based broth and pork bone components match up unexpectedly well, while the noodles have been cooked perfectly for each bowl since the beginning of the restaurant's life. Has anyone ever complained about the noodle texture here?

If tonkotsu is not your thing, the second selection on the menu is assari (light) ramen, which is also shoyu but in a clear, clean broth. Better yet might be the salt ramen ($7.75 regular, above), which uses a complex base of salt, chicken, fish, and pork. These items are all used minimally, as despite being full of flavor the soup is very modest and comforting.

After coming five straight nights and feeling like you might want a jolt of another taste, the curry ramen ($9.25, below) bowl might be for you. Using the same shoyu bases, this unfortunately just feels like an additive, much like the fire ramen which completes the menu. It is worth sticking to the top of their list.

As it feels like just a matter of months before life gets back as close to normal as it can, thoughts about sitting drunk at the counter alone slurping a large bowl of Asa Ramen's classics has joy written all over it. Yes, friends, hugs, family, all that too... but ramen is a private event so get your own bowl.

๐Ÿ“ 18202 S. Western Avenue, Gardena, South Bay


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