Costa Mesa is the undisputed capital of ramen in Orange County, a place that's to the Japanese soup what SanTana is to the taco or Westminster is to pho. Following behind is—of all cities—Stanton (due to its long-standing Japanese-American community—Gomen me!), then Fountain Valley (all about Shin-Sen-Gumi) and Tustin. But an unlikely 'burb is now getting some ramen respectability: Fullerton, a town better known, foodwise, for its downtown New American joints and Korean spots than anything Japanese.
Over the past couple of years, however, Japanese eateries beyond Chomp Sushi have popped up around the downtown area and near Cal State Fullerton. Mr. Katsu opened up in 2015; earlier, Honda-Ya set up shop down the street. Shabu-shabu has been a mainstay of DTF since forever, and the outrageously named What's Up Men packs in Titans of all ethnicities during the school year. And perhaps the best new-wave Japanese restaurant of them all is also the most traditional: Kopan Ramen, a wonderfully simplistic ramen house.
The choices are stark: ramen, big or small, with either pork belly, chicken, fatty pork or the vegetarian option. Tell the server your spice level (the extra spicy is just that), ask for a couple of accouterments (in: gobs of garlic paste; out: a side of pickled red ginger, which is fine for sushi but fucks up the saltiness), and the bowl comes out within minutes. Oh, there are the other small plates typical of an izakaya—soft-shell crab, a yummy bulgogi roll and ferocious kimchi—but all you need is that ramen. The broth is like drinking warm, savory milk—so comforting and decadent!
Get the pork belly, and you can literally slurp chunks of flesh off your chopsticks. It's a ramen worthy of a Mitsuwa stall, as well as one that can pull people into downtown at all hours to either get ready for a night of drinking or to finish off a night of said drinking.
Why the Fullerton Japanese explosion? Not sure—few other expat businesses have opened up. But it's a welcome development in a city usually overshadowed by its stupid cops. Salvation via ramen? Sure!