>> Hakata Ikkousha Ramen | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday, 6 December 2021

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

JAPAN 🇯🇵
S. Western Avenue facade
COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is fully open and usually busy. The staff are all wearing masks.
 
EDITOR'S NOTE: The ramen bowls and side dishes for this meal were part of lunch combo specials. The prices listed are a la carte.
 

When you walk into any one of the three Southern California locations of Hakata Ikkousha, you immediately get a sense for the recent history of the establishment and its chef, who has taken it to quite a few places around the world from its home in Fukuoka. A list of countries and cities it now resides in, and a brief history of this award-winning tonkotsu ramen graces one of the walls and is hard to miss.

While most of these branches are in East and Southeast Asian countries, Costa Mesa was selected as the first city outside of that continent to open a branch in 2015. This Torrance branch opened a few months later, followed by another in Little Tokyo downtown and then Lake Forest in Orange County, the latter location already closing. In fact it was this recent news that made a trip back warranted to get a sense how the ramen shop was faring six years after it burst onto the scene in Los Angeles.

Signature Hakata tonkotsu ramen

For many, tonkotsu broth can be a bit overwhelming with all the porcine glory of bones and fat remaining in each rich bite, but here like in the Hakata Ward of Fukuoka the broth is clean and lovely. It is by no means light, but it has a care that does not go into many bowls thrown on menus in California. Even if you usually avoid this style of ramen, it is worth testing it out here for a truer taste of how it should be done.

A bowl of unaltered, plain tonkotsu ramen ($11.50, above and below) is far from plain and allows you to really appreciate the skill that goes into the broth and the thin, straight noodles that are both homemade. When you sit down at a table you are able to customize each order to your liking, with "normal" or "light" broth taste, addition of green onions, if you would like to pile on a wide variety of extras, and what firmness you prefer your noodles cooked.

Ramen noodles close-up

Firmness levels go from "soft" to "very hard," with "normal" and "hard" in between, giving a customer maximum control. Unless you are a seasoned ramen slurper from Japan, a "hard" noodle makes sense because the broth continues to cook them a bit more as the steaming bowl sits in front of you. At lunchtime, when the shop is surprisingly bursting at the seams with wait times and all, you can get good value combo specials including your choice of ramen and one side.

After enjoying the shop's classic bowl, a natural second choice is the tonkotsu mentai ($12, below), which has the same bones and an added kick of a slightly spicy mentai (cod roe) paste and toasted crushed garlic. The bowl below also has an added flavored egg ($2); highly recommended.

Tonkotsu mentai

The spiciness is rather subtle, but the addition of cod roe makes for a quite different umami in each bite. Other ingredients like the slices of chashu and wood ear mushrooms are the same in this bowl. If you end up loving everything and returning for multiple visits (very likely), you can also try some of their other specials like the black tonkotsu which gets its color from a fried garlic paste and the God fire, which as you can imagine makes a brow start to sweat.

None of these are afterthoughts and all seem to be treated with skill and care, just like their economical side dishes. Always a favorite is the chashu don ($4.50, below), which has chopped up pieces of seasoned pork belly over rice. There are other versions of chashu and pork belly bowls with rice available, and you can also get the cod roe in this format as well.

Chashu don

A definite crowd favorite is the excellent karaage, which they call Ikkousha fried chicken ($4.50, below), served with both Japanese mayonnaise and a salt and pepper dip. They fry up nice large chunks of the bird and serve the dish with kitchen shears so you can cut them down into more manageable pieces.

It does seem like wonderful meals are still going strong here in Torrance, downtown, and in Costa Mesa despite the closing of the Lake Forest location. Unlike the down-sliding of many chains that make their way to the states, Hakata Ikkousha has kept their quality control very high.

Ikkousha fried chicken (karaage)

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