Even in usually mild Southern California, winter still means ramen weather: those rainy days that dribble down the windows and chilly nights that seep into your bones. If you live in Los Angeles or OC, feeding the soul with a soothing broth and slurpy Japanese noodles during the winter is easy. Just head to any of the family-owned ramen-yas in Torrance, Garden Grove or Costa Mesa and you’ll be instantly warmed by bowls of everything from mainstays like shoyu and miso ramen to more rarities like the porky Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen and chicken-based tantan.
In Long Beach, getting a bowl of ramen isn’t so simple. There’s long been a dearth of such homey, quick-service places in the immediate vicinity of the International City (closest right now is in Cerritos). Until recently, not a single Japanese restaurant in the city bothered to steep animal bones in salty broth and let it simmer for hours. You could say Long Beach was in a ramen crisis.
Rumors of a real ramen-ya darted around for years, including two separate pop-ups by enthusiastic Japanese chefs (both posted up at Alex’s Bar, of all places) and one of their plans to bring a localized version of Shake Ramen to the new Steelcraft development in Bixby Knolls. A few years ago, there were even talks of a local restaurateur seeking Tokyo-trained noodle makers for a new project that was to go in where Great Society Cider and Mead now lives.
The scrapped Shake Ramen concept at Steelcraft has since been replaced with San Diego’s tonkatsu-loving chain Tajima, which officially started serving last week (I'll be back soon with more on that). But in the meantime, three Japanese restaurants—Sushi Studio, Bamboo Teri House and Kihon in Naples—picked up the slack and started making their own ramen: first only on weekends, then every day.
Sushi Studio, known for its often-bizarre rolls with a Thai twist (the Yellow Submarine is vegan, topped with mango instead of fish), makes three kinds of ramen: shoyu, tonkotsu and a tonkotsu shoyu, all of which are on the lighter end of the flavor spectrum and are around $10 a bowl. Beginners can start here and get a good introduction to the salty shoyu and creamy tonkotsu broths that have made ramen a national food trend.
One of Long Beach’s oldest bento-box-slingers, 31-year-old Bamboo Teri House, also started making its own ramen last year, albeit in its typical quick-service fashion. Like their lunchtime portions of simple sushi rolls, Japanese curry and teriyaki bowls, Bamboo Teri House’s miso and shoyu ramen bowls are good enough to be called authentic but cheap enough ($7.75) to eat regularly. Go for the opaque miso ramen, which is made traditionally with yellow curly egg noodles, green onions and sweet corn, keeping in mind that the ordinarily standard ramen toppings like egg, pork chashu and vegetables are only available as add-ons.
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The best of the pre-Tajima ramen options in Long Beach is Kihon, Naples’ high-falutin Japanese restaurant that’s part sushi bar, part izakaya and, now, part ramen-ya. Chef Erwin Angeles, a former computer software engineer who took on a second life as a sushi chef, opened Kihon in 2014 and earned a following outside the tony Naples crowd by offering top-quality fish and an always-impressive omakase.
Angeles makes beautiful bowls of 16-hour tonkotsu ramen that taste of pure liquid pig fat and a spicy miso ramen that, though milky and savory in all the right ways, feels timid on the spice (a recent “extra spicy” order still packed less heat than a good habanero salsa). Kihon presents its ramen as close to the ideal as possible – broth and long white noodles with a pile of menma (pickled bamboo shoots), a gelatinous slice of pork chashu and a pristine six-minute egg, its soft-boiled yolk begging to ooze out and join the mess.
For a city that until recently was all but devoid of ramen, Long Beach is thankfully making up for lost time. It might not yet be a destination for ramen-seeking outsiders like Little Osaka or the South Bay is, but the next time cold-and-wet ramen weather comes sweeping through town and you're seeking a bowl of liquid comfort, at least Long Beach finally has you covered.