#20. Hakata Ramen at Shin Sen Gumi
|Not the ramen from your college days|
Just as New York, Chicago, Naples, and Rome have evolved their distinct styles of pizza, different parts of Japan have regional styles of ramen, distinguished primarily by their soups. Did you know Orange County has adopted its own ramen style?
What defines the de facto OC style ramen is the rich, white tonkotsu (pork bone) soup as served at Fountain Valley's Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen. If you were initiated into the ramen cult on the big flavors of their porky soup, you probably couldn't love the subtleties of a clear, Tokyo-style soup, like that of the now-shuttered Mitae Ramen, for example.
The local ramen landscape has shifted since this 2005 review I wrote for the Weekly, but SSG still makes my favorite bowl of ramen. Some ramen shops have closed since then, and others have opened (Ajisen, Mizuki and Shizuma, all in Irvine). All of them offer a version of Kyushu-style tonkotsu soup, I contend, specifically to ride on the coattails of Shin Sen Gumi's success. But where all the others hedge their bets with several kinds of soup, only SSG places all their faith in their One True Soup.
When I lived in Tokyo as a student in the early `90's, it was damn near impossible to find Kyushu-style ramen. Imagine my glee in having it here, at so many OC ramen shops. It might not resemble the kind of ramen you ate in your college days, but I often indulge in a bowl of great ramen, a plate of crisp-bottomed gyoza and a Sapporo draft, just like I did in my college days.
Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen Restaurant
18315 Brookhurst St. #1
Fountain Valley, CA 92708