Santouka Is A Food Court Lunch ML Can Endorse
Ever since I was a kid growing up in Miami I have had a soft spot for mall food courts. Where else could I enjoy a pork lo mein dinner (thank you random Dadeland Mall Chinese food spot) while my brother ate a bowl of matzoh ball soup (Bain’s Deli represent!) I’m ashamed to admit it, but I still love a little Daphne’s, or Hot Dog on a Stick, or Panda Express (the king!) from time to time. But those aren’t Midtown Lunches. Food courts are havens for your lazy co-workers, who don’t want to venture just a bit farther for something good. In other words they’ve become the very thing this site is meant to fight against.
Unless it’s an Asian food court! When I hit up Daikokuya in Little Tokyo the first week I was here, the ramen recommendations started pouring in. “Daikokuya is overhyped! Go to Mr. Ramen.” “Drive down to Torrence!” “Take the Orochon Challenge!” I plan on doing them all… but first on my list was a visit to the “West L.A.” branch of Mitsuwa, the giant chain of Japanese grocery stores. Every location has a food court, and nobody is serving samples of chicken teriyaki. There was actually a giant (and awesome) Mitsuwa in New Jersey that we used to take the bus to once in a blue moon (hello giant bluefin tuna!) but somehow I never tried Santouka- the famous Japanese ramen chain located in their food court. Thankfully they have them out here as well!
Like I pointed out in my Daikokuya post, I am no ramen expert. I’m more of an apprentice, aware of my enormous lack of knowledge but eager in my desire to learn the ways of the soup. In New York I knew enough to recognize that Ippudo was the best, but I was perfectly happy eating at any of the supposedly mediocre spots in Midtown (Men Kui Tei, Menchanko Tei, Sapporo.) I also unabashedly love Momofuku Noodle Bar, a fact that will discredit me among most ramen aficionados. Their noodles are sub par, and it may not be authentic, but their pork is the best. And their broth is damn good too.
So if you want an expert opinion, and are interested in the ins and outs of ramen and the differences between noodles and broth and toppings (and there are a lot) I’d recommend Rameniac. He has forgotten more about ramen than you or I will ever know (combined.) But as a result he also has expectations for certain kinds of ramen that laypeople wouldn’t have. So his disappointment in the authenticity might not translate to… say… a portly ramen novice eating lunch in Little Tokyo! (Stop looking at me swan.) Anyway, it’s a moot issue for this spot because he’s a huge fan of Santouka- and after trying it I can see why.
Don’t let the food court fool you, this stuff is the real deal. Their broth is a tonkotsu or pork base (my favorite!) but according to Rameniac also uses seafood stock as well (a characteristic of “Asahikawa” ramen.) You can get it three ways… shoyu (soy sauce), miso (miso), or shio (salt).
The miso ramen was a good bowl of soup, but not nearly as salt-tastic as the shio.
Super salty. Nicely porky (although not quite as rich as Daikokuya). And the toppings were great. The pork was thickly sliced, and melt in your mouth tender. You also got a decent amount. On the wall, the “regular” looked like it might be a bit too small for me, but it ended up being plenty (and for $8.95 it’s reasonably priced.) The noodles were better than average. Better than Daikokuya? Well that all depends on what you like… but in the end, who cares? If you work Downtown you’re not schlepping to Mar Vista for lunch. But if you work on the westside, and are craving some salty, porktastic ramen, Santouka is your best bet. And maybe it you tell your boring co-worker it’s in a food court, you can trick them into tagging along.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say?)
- Best ramen on the west side! (And far better than the places on Sawtelle’s “Little Osaka”)
- I love food courts!
- The pork is super tender, and you get a decent amount of it
- I love salt.
- I don’t know shit about ramen… I just know that this is a damn good bowl of soup.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say?)
- Santouka is fine, but doesn’t hold a candle to the best places in NYC or Torrence.
- I’m intimidated by a Japanese food court. I’d rather sit at a table, and order from a menu
- I don’t eat pork. And I’m on a low sodium diet. (Kill me now.)
Santouka, 3760 S Centinela Ave (and Venice), 310-391-1101