I might be one of the few people in OC, if not the world, who prefers soba noodles to ramen. Don't get me wrong—ramen is a wonderful thing. But let us now praise the humble soba, redolent of buckwheat and heft, its soft bends more flowing, more lyrical than ramen's jagged peaks and valleys. Alas, it's almost always served as an afterthought in Southern California, often given away for free as part of a combo plate, dwarfed by its bigger udon brother. No one writes odes to soba; its broth is never code for Japanese genius. As with the Vietnamese bò kho, it's relegated to the edges of popular culture.
May that change very quickly with the debut of Tanakaya, Orange County's first restaurant devoted to soba. Its owners come from a family that has run a Tanakaya in Japan since 1948, but they opened last week in OC's most legendarily multicultural shopping place, the one off El Camino Real in Tustin whose most famous tenants are probably Cream Pan and Deva's. And Tanakaya is already the suavest tenant in the area, with its long room minimally decorated save for the sound of smooth jazz that you could easily mistake for a gentrifying restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District.
I've already visited four times, and I'll probably be there every week as long as it's around. Soba comes cold or hot—with bubbling cauldrons bobbing with vegetables, meats, rice cakes and more. My favorite of these soups is the curry, so thick you could probably stand on it if it were filling a pool. But the better option might be the cold soba, as those come in gigantic bamboo wickers that can't possibly be finished by three people in one sitting. Udon noodles are also available, and the soups come with a bona fide wooden ladle, the most beautiful spoon you'll ever use to slurp and downright Bauhaus in its functional beauty.
Tanakaya, 654 El Camino Real, Tustin, (657) 231-6245; www.facebook.com/tanakayausa.
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The only people visiting so far are Japanese natives—Asian hipsters have yet to make this an Instagram sensation. So go while there's a chance to nab a table. And one final enticement: Tanakaya makes their noodles fresh daily. Long may soba reign in OC!