Soup’s On

Pounds of pork add depth to a broth that’s heating up L.A.’s ramen scene

Photograph by Sara Remington

By 5:29 p.m. a crowd has gathered at a Culver City strip mall, waiting to get in the doors at Ramen Yamadaya. From opening until closing time, the small chain (it first served Torrance’s Japanese American community) is a cacophony of noodle slurping—a sign of appreciation in Japan. But it’s not the starchy strands that draw the hordes; it’s the broth: a hefty, pork bone-based concoction known as tonkotsu. Japan’s famed noodle soup has long been an obsession of local foodies—when has there not been a wait to get into Little Tokyo’s Daikokuya? Standard broth choices include salt, miso, or soy, and the quality of the noodles is what, for many, has separated a just-all-right bowl from a superior one. Lately there’s been a frenzy over the richer tonkotsu broth, which is made by boiling down pork bones (at Yamadaya they use 120 pounds of pig parts) to the liquefied essence of pork. Chowhounders debate which shop cooks its bones the longest (some simmer them for 20 hours); blogs like Rameniac and Midtown Lunch crown a new tonkotsu king each week.

Shops on Sawtelle and in Torrance have long offered the velvety broth, which originated in Japan’s southern Kyushu region. But the expansion of chains such as Shin-Sen-Gumi and Ramen Jinya into Westwood and the Miracle Mile—along with the larger food trend that prizes all things pig—has put tonkotsu on the front burner.

At Sawtelle’s Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle, chef Kenta Ikehata, who moved from Tokyo to help owner Takehiro Tsujita launch his American flagship, strives to achieve the consummate tonkotsu. “You must give it constant attention,” he says. “It’s like caring for a kitten.” He’s not joking. The kitchen staff works through the night to monitor the broth, long after the slurping has ceased.

Open Wide: Where To Get It 

Daikokuya Ramen
327 E. 1st St.

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.

Ramen Yamadaya
11172 Washington Blvd.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen
132 S. Central Ave.

Tsujita  LA Artisan noodle
2057 Sawtelle Blvd.