Restaurant

The 2021 Orange County Ramen Guide with 2x’s the Street Cred

I am just going to forget about 2020 and get to 2021, you cool with that? Yea, ok, coo.

If you Google the “best sushi in Orange County,” my post on sushi will come up because I have been to almost all the authentic spots, and I have also done the same with ramen. It is also the reason why I am doing this guide, but I am not calling it the “best” or “top 5, 10, or 15” because everybody has their reasons why they love something. I mean, who hasn’t looked at somebody else’s significant other and thought, “damn, what does he/she see in that person.”

Photo Description: Zac with his chopsticks is holding up a long pull of ramen noodles above his bowl of ramen at Tsukemen & Ramen Tao. The bowl is filled with a dark menma, green onion, and moyashi in a light tonkotsu colored broth.
Zac’s noodle pull game is strong. Image courtesy of Ramen Zac.

My Motivations for Doing This Guide

Every list you see on the web is typically by some mainstream publication trying to increase their site traffic for ad dollars, so they have a writer, a Brad, Britney, or whoever graduated with a business degree to bust out their “best of list.” These lists typically never ever provide any insight as to the quality or type of ramen a particular restaurant will serve which is why I decided to do this guide because I have been a regular at a number of these spots since the mid 2000’s.

Luckily for you I have no degree, or writing ability, but love food which means I am far from being employable as a writer, especially for a respectable publication although you have this guide, along with knowing if Hustler ever wants a food column, you know where else to find me.

2x’s the Street Cred

I can never eat enough, which is why I had reached out to a fellow homie in Orange County. An individual whose ramen obsession started in 2016, so he has quite a few bowls under his belt, which is why he is an ideal collaborator.

Photo Description: Ramen Zac standing next to a outdoor display of a large ramen bowl. He is pretending to eat out of this large bowl on the streets of Yokohama Japan.
When Zac met his true love in a bowl in 2016 at the Yokohama Ramen museum.

RAMEN ZAC, Orange County, CA.

By day I work in FinTech building trading tools for investment firms. Even though my work can be all-consuming, at work ramen is most likely on my mind. I’m a true ramen head. I’ve lived all over the country but spent my formative years in Florida. My ramen obsession began on a trip to Japan in 2016. I discovered that ramen comes in many different varieties and styles. I love trying new styles and sharing those bowls with people.

Instagram: @ramen_zac
Website: www.ramenzac.com

Photo Description: In 2007 in Osaka, Japan, Greg is slurping out of a large spoon as he sits over a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. The bowl is a white bowl with a pile of green onion, and a green table thermos of water is in the foreground.
2007, eating my way throughout Japan with my homie Jake who now owns a Japanese restaurant in Sebastopol.

GREG TANIGUCHI, Orange County, CA

If you are new to my blog, you won’t know my background, which is in the automotive aftermarket. Over the last two decades, I owned or helped build/refine companies such as Skunk2, Gibson, Axial, Race Technologies, to Brembo Performance and Brembo Racing. During my time living/working in the SF Bay Area, Los Angeles, or traveling to Japan, I had always sought out ramen. Throughout the last two decades, I have seen the popularity of ramen grow, along with the Americanization of ramen, which is why I do this guide and blog, to help promote the businesses that started it all, the Japanese and Japanese American community.


So Let’s Get It On

This is meant to be a complete list of all the ramen specific restaurants in Orange County which means the majority focus is on ramen (65%).

Listings are broken down into four categories.

NAME: the restaurant name is also linked to their website and if they do not have one, their Google (GG) or Facebook (FB) page is linked.

LOCATION(S): some locations are single unit shops, while some have multiple locations throughout Orange County/Los Angeles.

BUSINESS ORIGIN: Like with any cuisine in the United States, you can go from eating lengua tacos (Mexican) to nacho cheese Dorito locos tacos (American). Well, the same goes for ramen in the U.S. where you can experience an authentic Hakata style tonkotsu ramen to American fusion ramen, which is why I have categorized restaurants by origin/ownership.

  • Japan based means they originated out of Japan and expanded to the U.S.
  • Japanese American are businesses that started in the U.S. by Japanese.
  • American based means the business originated and started in the United States (if not stated otherwise, the business started in Los Angeles/Orange County).

THE COVETED 4TH CATEGORY: With the popularity of ramen, many food producers/distributors now offer up instant soup stock along with all the toppings you need, which is why “the 4th category” exists. This category helps give the restaurants that do not rely strictly on the use of the generic soup bases/kits an extra leg up on the competition.

  • LP: Locally produced in-house.
  • CP: House produced stock, but centrally processed/produced.
  • No demarcation: They use the generic stuff, or that it means we either do not know, or have not yet confirmed their status.

GREG’S COMMENTS: over the decades using Yelp, Google, word of mouth, to Instagram, you get to a point where you pick up on the vibe of each and every restaurant whether or not you tried them or not.

Ramen Ya’s in Orange County.

AMERICAN

  • Butaton Japanese Ramen, Garden Grove/Orange, very nicely done chashu, and a cool spot too.
  • Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas (FB), Laguna Beach, sliders, fried rice, garlic corn cheese, all pitched as European/Spanish tapas.
  • Hajime Ramen (Atlanta, GA), Tustin, a Hakata style ramen out of Georgia.
  • Hanano Ramen (FB), Orange, ramen, egg rolls, and milk tea.
  • Ichitaru Ramen, Cypress, they have an Ichiran style seating section.
  • Kopan Ramen, Buena Park/Fullerton, come for the vibe if that is your thing.
  • Krave Asian Fusion, Irvine, don’t want authentic Japanese, try the American fusion version.
  • Mooji Ramen, Irvine, shrimp fried rice, chow mein, sri lanka black tea, and some Japanese stuff.
  • Motto Ramen (FB), Westminster, strip mall with frozen gyoza, takoyaki, and more such as a sides of corn.
  • Okazu Ramen House, Orange, unlike an authentic Japanese restaurant, they try to do it all from sukiyaki, champon, to ramen.
  • Ramen Cafe, San Clemente, banh mi and ramen which they call “shiyo?” with sprouts.
  • Ramain39, Huntington Beach/Orange, love their plating, especially the way they plate the egg.
  • Ramenos, Santa Ana, hell yea, no douchey fusion ramen here, and they’re in Santa Ana.
  • Silverlake Ramen, Huntington Beach, CP, a solid broth with a location opening up on every corner.
  • Slurpin Ramen Bar, Buena Park, Buena Park, if you like Kopan, try Slurpin.
  • Yoshiharu Ramen, Buena Park/Orange, I like the staff and they have multiple locations, no slackers here.

JAPANESE AMERICAN

JAPANESE

  • Ajisen Ramen (Kumamoto), Irvine, a fairly old school spot, 2008?, and a popular spot for the area.
  • Ikkousha, (Fukuoka), Costa Mesa /Lake Forest, CP, a taste of authentic Hakata style tonkotsu ramen.
  • Kairakutei (Yokohama), Tustin, old school style ramen.
  • Kitakata Ramen, (Kitakata), Buena Park/Costa Mesa/Fountain Valley/Irvine, CP, a light style pork broth with a large following (a regional style from Kitakata, Japan).
  • Ramen & Tsukemen Tao, (Tokyo), Buena Park, how ramen and pork should be done (a must try for any ramen fanatic).
  • Santouka Ramen Hokkaido, (Hokkaido), Costa Mesa/Irvine, CP, global domination for a reason.

THE OG’S OF ORANGE COUNTY

Regardless of what we like or our preferences, we have to give it up to these restaurants that have been around since day 1.

NOW CLOSED RAMEN YA’S

  • Daikokuya, Costa Mesa, opened 2008, closed 2012? Unfortunately, Marukai, and now the Tokyo Central food court is so poorly conceived that the restaurants located inside have been a revolving door.
  • Iroha, Costa Mesa and Gardena, opened 2012? Closed around 2015? another ramen ya located inside of Marukai food court.
  • Jinya, Costa Mesa, Jinya’s has a bad track record of going out of business because they are the franchise queens of the ramen world.
  • Ken Ramen, Costa Mesa, Ken’san came from Monta ramen in Las Vegas, so he duplicated their product and reasonable pricing.
  • Menya Keishi “by Ikkousha”, Costa Mesa, by the Oki Doki group which is the manages over Ikkousha, San Shi Go, Oki Doki, Meiji Seimen, and Yakiniku Gen in Manhattan.
  • Kohryu, Costa Mesa, opened in 2006?, closed 2014?, this was my hangover spot, and Mayumi’san, a former waitress at Kohryu is now the owner of Habuya, an Okinawan restaurant in Tustin.
  • Mentatsu, Costa Mesa, opened 2006? they had a decent location which was close to Mitsuwa, but then again Santouka is located in Mitsuwa.
  • Toraji, Costa Mesa and Gardena, opened in 2015, closed in 2019. This was one of the best in Orange County and my goto spot.

Our Top Picks.

I had initially thought we would be both be posting our top 3 pics although our top 3 did not differ, so Zac will be posting the top 3 in Orange County, and I will be doing 3 additional ramen ya’s that you should not dismiss and is worth the try.

GREG / OISHII-DESU

What makes a good ramen to you?

Like with Japanese cuisine in general, it’s about the quality of the ingredients used. So if its pork, beef, corn, or fruit, some of the best dishes I have had, were simply kurobuta pork, wagyu beef, Hokkaido grown corn, to crazy expensive fruit that you have to try at least once. Well, the same goes for a legit ramen, less is a more, and it is about attention to detail.

How many ramen ya’s do you know that uses tontoro (pig jowl) chashu? Well now you know Sanktouka is one ramen ya that does.

SANTOUKA

I have written my praise of Santouka several times on this blog from my post “Bow Down to a Ramen Chain That is Greater than You, Hokkaido Ramen, Soutouka,” to any chance I can get. The reason I say that is that every single offering they offer can stand alone. From their shio (my favorite) to the miso and spicy miso is greatness.

Only a Japanese ramen ya will serve a mentaiko ramen.

IKKOUSHA

Authentic Japanese ramen is just like an American burger in that it also has standard toppings like lettuce, tomato, onion, and a pickle. On the flipside for Hakata style tonkotsu ramen, like the one served at Ikkousha, simply adding only green onion, kikurage, and chashu is all you need to not take away from the rich porky flavored broth and the properly paired noodles.

Very basic, but I got to give it up to Huntington Ramen and their combo meals which is a great mix of American and Japanese expectations.

HUNTINGTON RAMEN

Some may wonder how Huntington Ramen made this list, and I would agree with them if they said they weren’t the best because they aren’t. Huntington just epitomizes a part of Japanese culture by being value-oriented, yet maintaining a level of quality. That is the one aspect, if you are not familiar with Japanese culture, you might think it reeks of idealism, but it is not. It is a part of the culture to offer a solid product at a reasonable price like Daiso, 7-11 Japan, to the Lexus LS400, GT-R, to NSX (if you’re a dollar shopper, eaten at 7-11 Japan, or a salaryman, you’ve experienced it).


ZAC / RAMEN_ZAC

What makes a good ramen to you?

It’s hard to put an exact set of rules that determines when ramen is good or not.  It’s more of a feeling I get after I finish the bowl.  In the 3 minutes that it takes me to crush a bowl, if I feel satisfied at the end it’s good ramen.  If after crushing the bowl I feel wanting for more in the ramen, it’s not good.   

Is it Zac the photographer or Tao that makes this shot look so damn good, it’s probably both. Image courtesy of Ramen Zac.

RAMEN & TSUKEMEN TAO

This shop’s laser focus on using miso in all of their bowls is the primary reason I’ve revisited so frequently. Miso is my favorite for its flavor and richness. Their ramen has a distinct layer of oil that sits on top of the broth and serves to keeps your broth warm to the last slurp. The noodles are on the thick side and pairs well with their thick broths.

Tired of pork chashu (you should never be), but Kashiwa serves up chicken chashu). Image courtesy of Ramen Zac.

KASHIWA

This shop makes my favorite chicken-based ramen. It’s super-rich and hearty. It’s topped with perfectly moist slices of chicken breast. Their kombu ramen is an amazing option for those searching for a vegan bowl. Recently they’ve developed a matcha tsukemen that was surprisingly amazing and will be a regular menu item.

When it comes to styles, Jiro style has dominated Japan, but it has made its way across the pacific. Image courtesy of Ramen Zac.

MENDOKI

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a gut-busting bowl of ramen. That’s where their Jiro style comes in. Mendoki executes a Jiro type ramen well. The broth is rich and salty. It’s piled high with a hefty portion of noodles, beansprouts, cabbage, and thick chunks of pork. The cuts of pork are the biggest I’ve ever seen in a bowl to date.

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