風風亭 foo foo tei hacienda heights: foo you kidding?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what then, are dysfunctional, estranged twins? Much has come to light about the “other” Foo Foo Tei. An attempt at franchising gone wrong, the Monterey Park branch now dares to besmirch the name of the venerable original with bad ramen and bugs in condiment jars. Despite apprent litigation and bickering on all sides, confusion reigns. But one thing’s for certain. Beloved by Eastside ramen slurpers, the original Foo Foo Tei in Hacienda Heights has been long overdue for a review. So never mind the biters, here we are today.
Nestled at the foot of a barren industrial hillside somewhere between the 605 Freeway and the East San Gabriel Valley, Foo Foo Tei is a hidden gem of a restaurant that is neither as excellent as its fans proclaim nor as bad as its carbon copy Monterey Park twin. Going in, I had greatly lowered expectations, but its desolate location (in an utterly nondescript neighborhood) actually reminded me of some classic ramen shops in Japan - around a corner here, through the rice field there. It was packed with an overwhelmingly Chinese clientele, a tad suspicious for authenticity hounds, but understandable given the neighborhood. This was Hacienda Heights, after all.
The menu was largely the same as in Monterey Park, printed on faux-veneer slats and hung along an entire wall as though a cut-rate imitation of Japanese restaurant decor. But that’s where the gripes should logically end. Foo Foo Tei’s osusume, or signature item, is the nanchatte tonkotsu ramen, which, in reality, isn’t tonkotsu ramen at all. “Nanchatte” means “just kidding” in Japanese, and the chef obviously has a perverse sense of humor in offering up an imitation of the Hakata pork bone stuff, right down to poorly pickled mustard greens and enough crimson red benishoga ginger to turn the fake soup pink. I would have hated it, if it didn’t actually taste ok. Nothing at all like real tonkotsu ramen, but rather, like noodles in creamed corn soup.
The soup is actually labeled in kanji as paitan, or “white soup,” as it is cryptically considered in Japan - the Chinese equivalent of tonkotsu, if slightly different in taste and form. I couldn’t taste a single pork bone in Foo Foo Tei’s “just kidding” paitan; it may be something different altogether, but the name seems to stick. Perhaps they use actual milk or cream? Hey, don’t look at me. I’m just the messenger. And plus, it could have been a lot worse, as nanchatte ramen is not the only joke on a mind-bogglingly extensive menu. Menudo ramen, anyone? Nuh uh, I didn’t think so.
The net result, at Foo Foo Tei at least, is a sweet, creamy nanchatte ramen reminiscent of corn chowder. It’s not as bad as it sounds, although it’s severely strange in a David Lynch sort of way (especially under the glare of the restaurant’s harsh fluorescent lighting). The noodles are the same generic stuff you find elsewhere, but considerable thought and care go into the toppings. With rich and buttery chashu and a slightly less-than-hard-boiled egg, nanchatte ramen might be a joke, but it’s not a dud.
Much has already been noted of Foo Foo Tei’s gyoza, served under a web of char that, at the Hacienda Heights location at least, is actually crispy (and breaks off into eerie clones of Baked Lays’ potato chip crumbs). The meat filling is flavorful, and the dumplings are well-crafted.
Foo Foo Tei’s shoyu ramen is also noteworthy. Though not especially complex, and far from the best shoyu soup in town, it’s definitely serviceable and saturated with uncommon flavor. The noodles are prepared with care and are thinner and subtler than in the nanchatte; it’s attention to detail that can make or break a ramen shop, and little things like this are testament to the place’s staying power in an industrial park corner of Hacienda Heights.
The difference between the two Foos are night and day. It’s a shame actually, that a former franchisee has sullied the reputation of a pretty decent ramen shop, to the point where an entire community of diners may have written the name off altogether. Without knowing much more about the details, the Hacienda Heights branch is deserving, based simply on taste alone. Certainly, Foo Foo Tei is worth the extra fifteen minute drive out of downtown Los Angeles. Now if only the original owner could litigate the Foo biters into changing their name, the world would be a better place for sure.
|a mind-bogglingly strange "creamy" nanchatte ramen soup is not altogether bad. the shoyu is likewise distinctive and fuller flavored than a lot of generic broths in southern california.||6|
|generic thick yellow noodles do a number on the nanchatte ramen, but thin, springy noodles distinguish the shoyu from the masses.||4.5|
|buttery chashu and underboiled eggs are hallmarks of a solid attention to detail. but what's with the cheap pickled greens? looks like you get bok choy with the shio ramen here as at the wannabe foo; best to stay away from that unless you really like that sort of thing.||6|
|the gyoza here is much better than at the other foo foo tei - plump and flavorful, and at least that crepe-like web of brown char has been crisped to a fine, baked lays' style consistency. is that a good thing?||6|
|fluorescent lighting, faux-wood, and pink walls would be scaring me away under normal circumstances. at least the place was filled with diners when i went, which made dining there at least a bit less uncomfortable.||0.5|
|a solid ramen shop with reputation sullied by a cheap imitator. oddly, it gets points for being in the middle of nowhere too; perhaps because that's like ramen shops in the japanese countryside.||5|
15018 Clark Ave