Last fall I had the good fortune to attend a conference and spend some quality time in downtown Los Angeles. Even though I lived in Southern California for seven non-contiguous years of my life, I never really spent much time in the densest parts of LA, much less downtown (outside of the occasional drive-through).
As an aside, I was actually quite taken by downtown LA. I walked a lot, and the weather was beautiful. My hotel was just around the corner Seven Grand, a dark and first-rate whiskey bar that would be instantly be my favorite place to drink in Portland. Despite the axiomatic pre-conception of Los Angeles being a city where the automobile is king, I was quite surprised by the breadth and punctuality of the public transit (The Dart ran multiple routes that criss-crossed the downtown circumference, some every 5 minutes, with a fare of only twenty five cents(!), and the convention center was well served by commuter train).
As my hotel was just a mile away from Little Tokyo, I was excited to indulge in some ramen. Mr. Sauce Supreme (himself a Los Angeles expat and a soon-to-be repat) over drinks at Beaker and Flask (a few nights before my trip) recommended Daikokuya. My first night in LA I shared a wonderful meal with EatDrink&BeMerry and Oishii Eats, and they similarly gave Daikokuya high marks. EatDrink&BeMerry gave me a tip: a few self-serve dollops of the pureed fresh garlic condiment takes the bowl to a whole other level.
As I stood amongst the throngs at the Staples Center, eagerly awaiting admittance in order to be golden showered with marketing bunkum and subjected to hours of rote proselytism, my mind raced. Here I was, amongst scores of wannabe capitalistic schlemiels with no ambition other than swallowing corporate jizz, while all I could think about was drinking from the sweet fountain that is a porky, cloudy Tonkotsu stock. Who was the bigger slave to the master? These people had passion, drive, and ambition, with shared, multivariate, outside interests in the arts and academia. I exist largely in order to consume salt.
It was with this heavy heart that I trudged towards Little Tokyo after my first morning’s sessions had completed.
On my way I noticed the Kogi Korean taco truck has quickly spawned a boldly colored cottage industry.
Even the Japanese taco was being touted…
…at a place appropriately named “LA Chicken” that apparently serves chicken that tastes like a luxury Japanese sedan.
Daikokuya itself is a small storefront on a busy stretch of 1st Avenue, just north of an entertaining maze of hilariously disjointed Japanese businesses that align themselves loosely into a mall of sorts.
I could wander these avenues for hours in tacit wonderment.
After walking over an hour with the sun beating down upon my neck, the cold Tsukemen’s sale pitch appealed to me, but there was no question what I was here for.
It was the Daikoku Ramen.
This was high noon, and there was a line out the door.
However, since I was dining solo, my name was called just 10 minutes after putting it on the waiting list, and I was parked at end of the counter, which gave me a bird’s eye view of the cooks working their magic in the small kitchen.
The initial reaction after this huge bowl of soup is placed in front of your person is to the prevalence of green onion. Trust me, it works. The guy who was seated adjacent to me as I was mid-way through my bowl ordered his Daikoku Ramen without green onions. A part of me died, and I’ve since held white hipsters with chain wallets in generally low regard.
The soup also features a nice amount of mung bean sprouts, slivers of fibrous menma.
Togarashi is freely available. Daikokuya must read my mind; this is the first thing I ask for anytime I’m brought a bowl a ramen.
Pureed garlic and pickled ginger sits on the table (or counter), allowing you to tailor the soup to your tastes. I can’t emphasize how fucking awesome this is.
The garlic goodness.
So how to describe this soup? The intense, pork bone Tonkotsu-style, creamy broth? The marinated, soft-boiled egg? The incredible tender and deeply flavorful kurobuta pork belly?
The curly, toothsome, handmade fresh noodles?
I’ll let the copy speak for itself. I will, however, add an official “goddamned mutherfuckin’ amen”. Daikoku Ramen is a masterpiece, a fugue of deliciousness, an experience that begins innocently with the prosaic act of accessorizing of your soup, then plunges you into an atavistic ingurgitation, and culminates in a lack of self-awareness as you raise the immense bowl above your head to lustfully extract every last drop of golden nectar.
I needed a smoke after this soup. And a nap.
When I awoke the next morning, my mind was consumed with the thought of returning to Daikokuya for another bowl of manna.
I cross-referenced the hours from a photo on my iPhone and was a bit forlorn that I would have to wait until 11AM.
Of course I was there when it opened.
The amount of green onion from yesterday’s bowl was not a fluke. And EatDrink&BeMerry’s sage advice rang true—I went with even another dollop of fresh garlic on this morning.
That’s a hawt (and disturbing) egg moneyshot.
The pork belly. Oh the pork belly. “Fall apart tender” is tautological when speaking of the kurobuta pork belly at Daikokuya.
A souvenir of success.