Daikokuya Ramen (Jared’s Pick)
Location: 2208 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Craig’s Order: Spicy Miso Tsukamen – Pork broth soup soy sauce base, thicker noodle, half boiled egg, sliced roast pork, bean sprout, green onion, bamboo shoot, sesame seed.
Jared’s Order: Daikoku Ramen – Pork broth soup soy sauce base, noodle, half boiled egg, sliced roast pork, bean sprout, green onion, bamboo shoot, sesame seed.
Thoughts: Sawtelle is quickly rising up the ranks in our books for ramen. Each location we go to delivers a solid meal. Daikokuya Ramen is no different. After a 20 minute wait thanks to large crowds of young people, we chose to sit at the bar. Upon entrance, one immediately notices the attention to detail in the decor of this tiny ramen institute. The exposed brick, hanging lights, and street corner overhangs infuse the restaurant with a contagious energy, not unlike a late night spot in New York. The food came fast, and was consumed even faster. Using a tonkotsu (pork) broth and a soy base, this broth delivered complex flavors. Two things stood out to me about this meal. The delicious spicy broth which had the perfect level of heat, and the size. This was a hefty bowl of ramen, well worth the money. The thicker noodle is never my favorite and the serving of meat was a tad undersized but it certainly does nothing to dampen my opinions on this dish nor this restaurant. Well worth a visit if you are willing to make the drive. I suggest a night during the week.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.5/10
Myung in Dumplings (Craig’s Pick)
Location: 3109 W Olympic Blvd B, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Craig’s Order: Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and vegetables. Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and Kimchi. Half an order of Beef Dumpling Soup.
Jared’s Order: Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and Kimchi. Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and vegetables. Half an order of Beef Dumpling Soup
Thoughts: Thanks to Chef David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Myung in Dumplings was on my radar. Located in an obscure strip mall in Koreatown, this restaurant can go easily missed and easily mistaken for a run of the mill chain Korean food spot. It is not. Myung in Dumplings is not fancy, the layout and decor is plain, and ambiance is non-existent. It doesn’t matter, and in my opinion, contributes to what makes this place so special. The food is the only thing that matters to the proprietors of this restaurant. Be careful when you order the King Steam Dumplings, they are not the size of your traditional soup dumpling. One order is enough for two people and we made the mistake of ordering two orders and a bowl of sampling soup. But bringing home leftovers is never a mistake and the affordable price warrants buying even more. The menu offers almost only dumplings with a few other dishes squeezed in (soup, fried rice, noodles), but you should live and die with the dumplings. I can’t wait to head back and try more.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.25/10
Leo’s Taco Truck (Craig’s Pick After a Mike Pick Malfunction)
Location: 1515 S La Brea Ave Los Angeles CA 90019
Craig’s Order: 3 Al Pastor Tacos, 1 Chicken Taco
Total: $4.84 ($1.21/taco)
Jared’s Order: 3 Al Pastor Tacos, 1 Chorizo Taco, 1 Pollo Asada Taco
Thoughts: Parked on a lot next to a gas station on the corner of La Brea and Venice Blvd, Leo’s Taco Truck draws a large enough crowd to create traffic. The flashing neon signs from atop the truck illuminate the swarms of people enjoying some of the finest al pastor you will find in Los Angeles. Leo’s creates a restaurant without walls, and turns everyone into a friend as they share the communal fold up tables that surround the truck. The small street tacos, priced at a shockingly reasonable $1.21, are simply constructed. Known for their al pastor off the spit, you have complete permission to order that and only that. The al pastor is sliced off the spit in front of your eyes and toped with a sliver of fresh pineapple. The chicken tacos are served without toppings on two corn tortillas. Leo’s also offers burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, arambes, and more, as well as a salsa cart complete with onions, cilantro, and salsa’s of varying levels of spiciness. Although parking in the area is difficult, this spot creates an environment rich in diversity and personality, offering delicious affordable food.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.75/10
El Chato Taco Truck (Mike’s Pick)
Location: 5300 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Craig’s Order: 1 Carne Asada Taco, 1 Al Pastor Taco, 1 Al Pastor Quesadilla. Plus a free side of grilled onions and peppers. Salsa on the side. $1.25/taco $6/quesadilla
Jared’s Order: 1 Carne Asada Taco, 1 Al Pastor Taco, 1 Al Pastor Burrito. Plus a free side of grilled onions and peppers. Salsa on the side. $1.25/taco $6/burrito
Thoughts: Unlike Leo’s, this taco joint felt like a hidden gem. By that I mean the corner of Olympic and La Brea where it sets up was relatively empty. That is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the food. In this case, the lack of crowds was a plus because the food was great. Apparently locals in the mid city area choose El Chato over Leo’s when craving a late night bite. Whether or not the surge in popularity of Leo’s amongst “non-locals” is the cause of this we will never know (but probably). Resting innocently in a dimly lit vacated street corner, El Chato offers all the food you came for—street tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc. The pricing was similar to Leo’s as was the quality of food. When it comes to tacos, I give the edge to Leo’s, especially the al pastor tacos. What stood out at El Chato was not the tacos, but rather the quesadilla. For $6, you get two stuffed wedges of quesadilla with your choice of meat, a heavenly cheese blend, and grilled onions. El Chato may not offer the same experience of Leo’s, but if you want to get it in and get out with some top notch Mexican food, look no further.
Pro-tip: ask for extra grilled onions, they are free and come in a huge bag with roasted peppers. They open at 9pm each night.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.5/10
Kai Ramen & Magnolia Bakery (Jared’s Pick)
Location: Kai Ramen – 349 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048 | Magnolia Bakery – 8389 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Appetizer: 10 Gyoza Potstickers
Craig’s Order: Kai’s Black Ramen – Salt base, skinny noodle, Mayu (black garlic oil), pork belly, flavored egg, scallion, kikurage (stripped black mushroom), crispy onion, dry seaweed, flavored sprouts
Total: $11.50 for the ramen + $4.75 for the gyoza = $16.25
Jared’s Order: Kai’s White Ramen – Salt base, skinny noodle, garlic butter, pork belly, flavored egg, scallion, kikurage (stripped black mushroom), crispy onion, dry seaweed, flavored sprouts
Total: $11.50 for the ramen + $4.75 for the gyoza = $16.25
Dessert: Jared and I split a mini pistachio cheesecake, and I got some of their famous banana pudding to go (shh).
Dessert Total: Medium Banana Pudding – $6. Mini Cheesecake – $7.95
Thoughts: Kai Ramen joins the long list of ramen spots visited by Jared and I since starting this journey. Kai was a success. The restaurant is clean and open, with the kitchen in full view no matter where you are sitting. Aside from finding parking on La Cienega (they offer some parking in the back), there are no downsides to this location, as it sits right in the heart of West Hollywood only a few blocks from the Beverly Center.
Now, the food. Through hard “work” I have gained somewhat of an insight on analyzing ramen and recognizing the differences. In most cases, the broth is what really separates good ramen from the rest. Again, I’m no expert, but this broth stood out to me. Kai features shio (salt) broth, which differs from most ramen places we have been to which use tonkotsu (pork) broth like Daikokuya Ramen. Upon first sip, you immediately taste the fat and, well, saltiness of the broth. It tasted like sipping liquid bacon. Depending on your culinary preferences, that can either sound extremely appealing or downright abhorrent. I am apart of the former because I enjoyed it. The broth took over as the leader of the dish by sheer force, incorporating the thin noodles, crispy onion strings and soft boiled egg to make salty magic. My only wish for this bowl of ramen was for some spice. I would have liked a touch of heat to counteract the overly salty/savory broth. But hey, what the hell do I know. Kai’s creator, Chef Nishimura, has been cooking ramen since he was 19-years-old and trained in Japan for several years and it shows.
Magnolia Bakery: After dinner and with 40 minutes left on the meter, we decided to take a stroll down 3rd street in search of something sweet. Yelp informed us that Magnolia Bakery, a New York staple that we loved when we lived on the East coast, had opened a spot in LA and only a few blocks away. Naturally I ordered their famous banana pudding to-go because I’m not a psycho. Then, Jared and I split a mini pistachio cheesecake that was delectable. Perfect for two, equal parts fluffy and moist, with a crumbly graham cracker crust lining the bottom. This bakery’s old time “grandma’s apple pie on the window sill” vibe makes it nearly impossible to not enjoy your treat in house. The surprisingly open and un-intimidating layout whisks you away to the West Village bakery where it all began. And then you look outside and there’s bumper to bumper traffic at 4pm on a Wednesday but hey nothings perfect. Go here.
Craig & Jared’s Score: Kai Ramen – 8.75/10 | Magnolia Bakery – 8/10