My Ramen Obsession
As far as I can remember, I have loved all kinds of noodles. It was a staple in my childhood diet especially when the only food I ate fell in the carbohydrates category, chicken, turkey, pork, and fruit. To say the least my diet was very imbalanced would be an understatement. Despite the fact that I have since expanded my eating horizon quite significantly, the foundation of my food love has never really changed all that much.
I love food that is flavorful – duh…I mean who likes bland food??? For instance: I have always loved tofu, but trying to eat it in its natural form without any sauces or spices, I cannot stomach it. And despite the fact that I had try the little to no carb diet back in college, that didn’t last very long for me as the thought of bread, noodles, rice, pasta haunted me day and night. Giving up my foundation was literally driving me insane!
Fast forward to today: I am eating carbs again and I love it! However, I am more discerning about my choices in the various carbohydrate options. One of the things that I never really thought much about was ramen. Growing up in North Carolina, ramen meant Top Ramen or Instant Cup Noodles. Even when I finally moved back to San Diego with my family, ramen had only expanded as far as the options that were given prepackaged with the fried and dried noodles.
Then my first experience with having ramen that was NOT from a package was at Tajima about 5-6 years ago? Back then, that was the benchmark of delicious ramen for me. That is until I tried my bowl of ramen while vacationing in Honolulu back in the Spring of 2011, then the mind blowing bowl from Hide-chan in New York during the Fall of the same year. What I have known as “ramen” was forever changed since then.
So the most recent adventures into the ramen world while in San Diego included three of the “newer” additions to our wonderful city: Hinotez, Ramen Yamadaya, and Rakiraki.
Shall we begin going down the rabbit hole?
This restaurant came in after the old Honey Bee Café left their spot several years ago. Sandwiched between auto shops, across from the rows of dealerships, and it’s next door neighbor (same building) is a bar, it isn’t exactly broadcasting itself in the best light.
That was why I was so surprised when I first stepped in that it was completely redone and looked the part of a ramen house. Ok…good start! A look at the menu and you know they are trying to just run a no frills shop and that’s just the way I like it. The choices are limited and simple: ramen (limited choices), a few entrees from the kitchen, and then the short yakitori list. The reason I came in was for their ramen, but I can’t go without at least trying their chicken thigh yakitori. Here is the breakdown of Hinotez:
I have been back several times and although it never felt like we were intentionally being ignored or neglected, they seem to conveniently forget a part of the order the last three visits. And each time, they apologize profusely and depending on the time and mood and fullness, I’ll either have them still put the order through or just have it skipped.
A good broth is hard to find and time consuming to make. That’s why I have to look at a restaurant lovingly when they do a good broth for me. Hinotez’ tonkotsu broth is milky, thick, and flavorful. It is on the saltier side, which makes it hard for me to finish the WHOLE bowl’s broth (though I do make a nice dent to it). As for the noodles, it can vary from being slight overcooked to almost just right.
In addition to the ramen, we also ordered steamed gyozas and they were only ok. Nothing to rave about nor complain about. Just kind of “meh” (hence why there has never been a picture of it) and not worth your stomach space – skip it!
As for the chicken thigh yakitori, that came with two skewers, I love! The chicken was juicy and seasoned with only salt and that was all that it needed. However, on my last visit, they didn’t quite grill it to that perfect caramelization on the outside that I loved the first two times.
Overall Verdict?…I hope that Hinotez will have more yakitori choices down the road, but this place has potential. There are some things that need to be worked out such as consistency in cooking, but they have the flavors that can keep me coming back for more.
Located in the same strip mall where Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot resides, this little (emphasis on little) shop is unassuming. Yet it is Los Angeles chain that has graced our town (why can’t more of this happen????) and I was very excited to go try it one evening with my mom and younger sister.
Ramen Yamadaya has a small indoor seating area, with bar seating right in front of the open kitchen where you can watch the guys prepare your ramen. There is also an outdoor patio area that has some limited seating as well. Even though the place has been open just a little over two months, the word is out that Yamadaya is here. Is it good you ask? Well if you’re a chain with six locations in southern California, I would imagine they have the art of ramen down to the ‘T’.
See those glops of fat floating at the surface?…Yea that’s what you look for when you’re getting yourself prep and hyped up for a delicious tonkotsu broth experience. Just like Hinotez, these guys have the broth’s consistency down – thick and rich with porky goodness that coats your mouth and all the way down your throat before settling happily in your stomach. Yea…this was freaking good. Best part? It was NOT over salted and thus…I only put down my spoon because I was going to be scraping the bottom.
When it was done, I had to dig myself out of that fatty, rich goodness to remember more about the rest of the bowl. Noodles? Yes, there was noodles and I had order extra just because I could see their portions run small. They were cooked just right and even though I am not a slow eater (by nature), by the time I took my last bite, that was when the noodles felt a little “softer”. Not bad Yamadaya…not bad at all (gawds I want myself a bowl now…*gurgling*).
The service was bare-bones – two front of the house servers on a Friday night with three or four guys working the kitchen (cooking, cleaning, etc). Hence you may have a little more problems getting their attention when you really want something. However, I’m all for helping myself to things when the restaurant’s small and short on staff. For this bowl, I’m willing to sacrifice a waiter’s attention as long as he brings me my order.
Actually…I didn’t make it to Rakiraki as intended, but hopefully by next week!