It’s a shame that after four years of living in Los Angeles, this past week is the first time I’ve experienced the legendary Daikokuya Ramen. Nuzzled between a small hotel and a gift ship in Little Tokyo, Daikokuya is extremely unassuming save for the line it creates from it’s entryway to any inch of sidewalk it can grab. The place isn’t always on “Best Of” food lists or making headlines for being anything new, which is because they have been making the same old great ramen for years now: why mess with perfection?
We waited in line for a surprisingly short amount (thirty minutes!!), a reasonable amount of time save for thr Occupy LA latecomers who were spouting statistics about education left and right and throwing their signs everywhere. 2012 problems, sheesh. We made our way in, and sat at the bar, which is likely the best thing to do if you’re a small party (as if you even have an option).
We sat down, sharing space with the occupiers naturally, figuring out what to eat. Truly, are not that many options and you should go with what you have heard or–in my case–are told to order. Trust people who have been there before you: they know their shit. Me, on the other hand, have a very, very dilettante familiarity with ramen: I have to confess that this was my first ramen experience in Los Angeles, my first time restaurant ramen eating since the time I lived in Korea as a kid. Inexcusable!
We ordered two things: the Gyoza appetizer and a bowl of the Daikoku Ramen, the specialty entree that is the thing Daikokuya is known for.
The Gyoza came out rather quickly, which were five little long dumplings crisped and gooey looking. After letting them cool, we dove in. The dumplings are wrapped in very thin, almost papery, dough (very similar to phyllo dough). Covered in seasoning and sliced scallions, each little bite full of very savory pork and vegetable mix. You can’t have these without dipping them into their in-house made gyoza sauce, which is the tiny sweet compliment that finishes them off.
The entrees arrived shortly after the appetizer and were huge. Like, gigantic. Like, you could fit a small child or puppy in the bowls. The dish consists of boiled pork, sprouts, bamboo shoot, scallions, and noodles, all basting in a day long slow cooked porky broth. The broth is combined with a secret homemade soy sauce that finishes things off. As they say, this dish is “the reason why you’re here and why we are still in business.” A truer fact has never been stated. Ever.
What is there to say? It is a delicious, slurpy mess! Add your grounded garlic and carrots into the bowl and–if you are in need of some spice–sprinkle in some of the cayenne and sriracha sauce. Be sure to break your egg open, as you eat, to ensure that its eggy goodness leaks all over everything, infusing the water with a bit of egg. Be sure to attack the dish like the regulars do, with a spoon in one hand to ladle broth and chopsticks in the other to grab meat and vegetables.
You’re going to want to finish the whole bowl but don’t even attempt to: you will fail or you will get a stomach ache. The ramen is fantastic but a huge meal. If you are keen, you can ask for a half-size of the dish (and, if you are feeling rich, ask for the richer kotteri flavor, “which uses added soup extracted from back fat.”). You’ll finish your meal and cash out in about thirty minutes, forty five minutes tops, which is great because so many people are waiting to eagerly swipe up your seat. And, you owe it to them to not linger, dawdling about your bowl.
Daikokuya does not accept reservations nor does it take credit card: cash and walk-ins are how they roll because they’d otherwise be overrun with reservations and credit card receipts. The place is like a street side quick stop for ramen, hence why they carry themselves as such. You feel a lot like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in Blade Runner, right before he gets snagged up for being a Runner.
I definitely fell in love with Daikokuya and know that I’ll be back as much as I can. This has us wondering: are there any other great ramen places we should know about? We definitely have Ikemen on our shortlist along with Shin-Sen-Gumi, which we heard was great from Ted and Angie of Poketo. Any other places we should know of? Let us know in the comments!