ramen yamadaya: the pork game's afoot
It seems as though new ramen shops have been popping up in Southern California faster than Lindsay Lohan gets sprung from jail. Both Mottainai and Ramen Jinya opened within days of each other this past summer; Yamadaya quickly followed suit, though it has maintained a much lower public profile in the last two months. Located in a blink-and-miss-it, barely there strip mall at the intersection of 182nd and Crenshaw, the joint is pretty much a fast food counter with a couple of tables and a few stools. There is a teriyaki and katsu menu which by any right, should lure away patrons of the McDonald’s across the street.
That’s all beside the point however, for Yamadaya’s true specialty is a tonkotsu ramen that is deep and oily and rich all at once, a Hakata-style bowl that comes remarkably close to the real thing. It’s necessary competition for the likes of Shin Sen Gumi, which has reigned relatively unchallenged as the only Hakata ramen shop in town.
To be fair, Yamadaya also features a fine kuromayu shoyu tonkotsu ramen drizzled with black sesame oil, but for today, we’ll be examining just the tonkotsu, or pure pork bone, with a broth that sips like ironically like a certain torigara paitan I once had in Tokyo’s Shitamachi old district amidst notes of a delicate, almost chickeny brine. Yamada-san insists that he uses no chicken bone in the soup; perhaps it’s chicken oil? Who cares. It’s good. Very good in fact, gritty and funky in the way unpretentious Kyushu ramen ought to be.
Diners have choice between the proprietary thick or thin noodles; for Hakata-style ramen, I’d go with the skinny stuff every time. The toppings are a collage of green onion, crunchy wood-ear-mushroom and some sweet if slightly dry sheets of chashu. Don’t overlook the marinated shoyu egg, though a bit too well done to be considered hanjuku, its flavor is frankly, remarkable. You can even crush-your-own garlic as a condiment, just like at shops in the Fukuoka countryside.
I’ll save my first impression for last. Dropping into Yamadaya, I was a bit surprised to see that it was little more than a fast food counter, sandwiched in with a skate shop and a State Farm insurance office. Consider the recent trends in North American noodle upscaling; Ramen Jinya and Chabuya are all halogen lights and fine-grained wooden trim, while Ippudo NYC is a $14 a bowl nightclub. While I’m all for making ramen “fancy,” it’s important to remember the roots of the dish - humble in origin, cheap meals from carts. Perhaps it’s fitting that McDonald’s sits right across the street from Yamadaya; those golden archers ought gaze upon the face of inexpensive and delicious, quality fast food, the future of things to come.
|a remarkably textured pork bone soup with a hint of brininess. is it true "hakata" ramen? it's oily and nuanced and i drank the last drop, whatever it is, it's close enough, and stands among the cream of the crop in southern california.||8|
|the sun noodle company's expertly hewn hakata ramen strands are an adequate facsimile of the thin, unrisen white noodles ubiquitous to fukuoka prefecture. that is all you need to know.||8|
|the chashu is a bit dry, but powerfully flavored. the kikurage wood-ear mushroom are fresh and crunchy, a thoughtful inclusion true to the authentic hakata style. the shoyu-marinated egg, while a bit too cooked, is remarkably tasty.||7|
|think i'll go back and try the karaage fried chicken sometime soon. or maybe even order a cutlet. there is no gyoza, but the ramen is what its all about.||NA|
|yamadaya is a food stand that looks like it should be serving teriyaki burgers and tamales at best. instead, it's got one of the best bowls of ramen in town.||1|
|like i said, yamadaya is a food stand that looks like it should be serving teriyaki burgers and tamales at best. instead, it's got one of the best bowls of ramen in town.||8|
3118 W 182nd Street.