Asameshi Maeda Honten - "Legendary Ramen Fair" in Costa Mesa's Mitsuwa Marketplace

If you are reading this after February 18th, 2008, you might as well stop: Asameshi Maeda Honten will have already packed up and left for San Diego, its next tour destination. Sort of like a band that belts out noodle soups instead of tunes, you can find this Japanese ramen shop here, at the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa until Monday the 18th, as part of the supermarket's "Legendary Ramen Fair."

Well, that last part is a misnomer. It's not a "fair" as much as it is a rotation of three popular ramen chains out of Japan exhibiting their wares. And as far as the Costa Mesa's Mitsuwa is concerned, only Asameshi Maeda Honten is involved, and only until Monday.

According to Rameniac, the food blogger who broke the news, the other two in the trifecta aren't stopping here at all, just at the Torrance or San Diego Mitsuwa.

The official tour schedule reads as follows:

Asameshi Maeda Honten Feb. 15 - 18: Costa Mesa Feb. 22 - 25: Torrance Feb. 29 - Mar. 3: San Diego

Chibaki-ya Feb. 15 - 18: San Diego

Sumire Feb. 15 - 18: Torrance Feb. 22 - 25: San Diego

But if you happen to run across this post before Monday, here's a bit of info. First, if you don't read Japanese script, finding Asameshi Maeda Honten might be difficult. To the casual observer, it will look like any other stall, especially since it has temporarily taken over Sanuki, the shop that normally serves udon noodles at the corner of the food court. I only found it by playing a game of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others.

Once you do locate it, you'll know because the shop will serve only one dish: their signature shoyu ramen for $6.99. You walk up, you pay, you get a scrap of paper with a number, and you wait as the kitchen pushes out the hot bowls faster than Lucy Ricardo can eat chocolates.

The soup is a glorious brew culled from long-simmered pork bones and soy sauce; a rich and salty staple of Hokkaido, where Asameshi Maeda Honten hails. But the most glaring feature you'll immediately notice is the thick layer of liquified fat. In addition to flavor, ramen aficionados purport that the fat has a practical purpose: it insulates the broth so that the soup maintains its temperature until the last drop is sipped.

It coats every strand of the chewy noodle I lift out of the bowl and slicks my lips to an oily shine. And if that weren't enough, there are wispy shavings of roasted pork meat which also seems to slowly melt its lipid reserves into the liquid. There's no escaping the pork liquor.

The porcine power of the soup almost makes you forget all the other good and worthy attributes of the bowl: the snappy strips of bamboo shoots, the herby scallions, the perfectly-boiled quarter slice of egg, and of course, those slurpy egg noodles.

If this all feels like test marketing, it may very well be. The bowls play like a singles track meant to hook customers into buying the rest of the album. But really, Costa Mesans and other OC-dwellers shouldn't fret. In the same food court stands Santoka, the ramen joint that many consider the best on our coast. And they're playing full sets of their noodle soup hits and staying for a permanent run.

For a limited time only: Asameshi Maeda Honten 665 Paularino Ave. Costa Mesa CA 92626

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