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風風亭 foo foo tei hacienda heights: foo you kidding?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

(626) 937-6585



okay, i feel better about my “mixed emotion” regarding the “creamy” ramen, thanks rameniac!!!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/22 at 10:32 AM

i went today and ordered the pork miso ramen.
the noodle was WAY overcooked.
so soft!
very disappointed :[

gahh :’{

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/26 at 04:49 PM

The imitated pork soup is a bit too creamy for me; it would be nice if it is served with thin noodle instead of thick noodle. Just like the pictures show here—> http://supertonyhuang.spaces.live.com/photos/cns!6C0FDB34DB6696B1!2777/

Posted by Tony Huang on 01/27 at 04:03 PM

How ironic that the Chinese version is considered an imitation since ramen (and gyoza) actually originated in China!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/04 at 08:51 PM

well ja,
i dont know which side you are on, but as a chinese who live in “chinese area” long enough, i think japanese ramen is in its own kind, totally different from chinese ramen. pathetic to know that chinese people here are not making their own kind of ramen and instead they try to make money due to the popularity of japanese ramen. of course the shitty end result doesn’t help at all.
by the way, i have been to this place due to my friend recommendation… bad idea, but i guess i would never have known if dont give it a shot. as a big fan of tonkotsu style, this place is automatically out of the list, but i tried to be opened and see if anything they serve is good, i think i got that imitated pork broth ramen as well, and it wasnt very good. but the worst thing is that the chasu and noodle are both bad. i have yet to tried the other style in the place( since they have a lot of choices) but i doubt that i will go back again. i really cant stand the lumpy noodle!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/25 at 02:45 AM

Hey. If you want to know what really happened with the whole FOO FOO TEI incident, I’ll tell you. Well apparently the original owner started a new branch in Monterey Park, even sent in all their workers to start it up. It was really popular for a while, till they hired on their new manager (JERRY). He had bought into the franchise and was partial owner. He then proceeded to fire off all of the Japanese workers and replaced them with Chinese workers INCLUDING the chefs and even began to change the menu. Obviously the owner wasn’t happy about this. And before you know it the manager took the store on the case that they were under a “verbal agreement” that he could take full ownership when he had only a partial, if that, share in the franchise. All I know is that the original owner is now suing the manager. So you must be wondering how I know? Well, let’s just say I have a FRIEND who works at FOO FOO TEI.. ; )

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/27 at 02:25 AM

I didn’t see the presence of the Chinese manager last time I went to the Monterey Park division, but rather I saw a Japanese lady who seemed to have been in charge of the restaurant, with one Chinese girl working as the waitress.  SPY, maybe the ordeal that you had heard about was partially fictional?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/14 at 04:14 PM
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