Shin Sen Gumi Takes the Battle For DTLA Ramen Supremacy Right to Daikokuya
One can’t help but feel like there is a full scale ramen invasion going on in Los Angeles right now. Jinya attacked the woefully unoccupied Valley and Mid City territories, while Yamadaya took their Torrence army north into a Westside previously dominated by Santouka- and will soon dispatch another force to Westwood, where Wakasan is the only ramen lunch to be had. We are all eagerly awaiting Tsujita’s first move in West L.A., and even Hollywood seems to be under fire.
But none of those battles compare to the throw down that is about to take place in Downtown L.A. Love it or hate it, there is no dispute that Daikokuya is the best bowl of ramen in DTLA. But now that Shin Sen Gumi, a Hakata style ramenya with locations in the South Bay and San Gabriel Valley, has opened up an outpost in Little Tokyo that is all totally up in the air.
Unlike Yamadaya and Santouka, which serve completely different styles of ramen, Daikokuya and Shin Sen Gumi are meeting on a more level playing field. Both serve up tonkotsu (pork bone) broth with chashu (roast pork). But only Shin Sen Gumi, in true Hakata style, serves up a fully customizable bowl of ramen; allowing you to choose not only the level of “oil”- a popular upgrade at Daikokuya known as kotteri- but also the firmness of your noodle and the saltiness of your broth. And let’s not forget the toppings! How can you forget the toppings?
Unlike Yamadaya, which is also Hakata style ramen, all of your options are provided on a convenient ordering card (at Yamadaya you just have to know to ask). Every diner fills out their own line, starting with whether or not you want a full bowl of hakata ramen ($6.95) or a half bowl ($4.95). If you like your noodles to have bite, go with the hard. They continue to cook as you eat the bowl, ending up being perfectly soft (but not mushy) by the end of your lunch. Oil is essentially how greasy it ends up being, and strength of the soup refers to how salty you want your broth. Toppings are ordered for the entire table, and brought out in little side dishes.
Each bowl of soup automatically comes with two slices of chashu (the chashu listing under toppings is if you want extra), green onions, sesame seeds and the slices of red ginger. Everything else is extra. Regular toppings will run 50 cents to $2.50, while the special toppings are $1 to $3. There are also chef recommended combos at the bottom of the card, which give you a bit of a price break.
I went with a half bowl, hard noodles, “thick” oil, and normal strength soup. The noodles were absolutely perfect, and possibly the best part of the bowl. And the thick amount of oil gives you a much richer, porkier bowl of soup than the normal and light versions… but still far below the amount of oil you get in a bowl of ramen at Santouka or the “kotteri” bowl at Daikokuya. So if a ton of backfat is what you like about ramen, you might find Shin Sen Gumi to be a bit too mellow. The slices of chashu fell apart like pulled pork and were delicious.
In the end, toppings is what you’re there for. Clockwise from the top left, we tried the flavored egg, mushrooms, pig’s ear, bamboo shoots, spinach, crispy onion, poached egg, and corn. Most are shareable, and it may take you a few visits to hone in on your favorite combo- but in the end you’ll want to limit yourself to just a few at most. Not just because too many becomes a bit overwhelming, but also because it gets really freaking expensive.
If you love meat there are also a ton of meat add ons, like pork belly chashu for $2.50 (which is a bit fattier than the standard chashu that comes automatically) and thick cut pork belly chashu for $2.50.
There’s are also spare ribs ($3), which are good, but can’t be expected to compete with the pork belly.
Fan of pork katsu? You can get that as well, for $3. (Although, once again… not as good in soup as pork belly.)
But my favorite by far was the crispy pig ears. The little nuggets of deep fried goodness added a great crunch to the soup, like the best bacon bits of all time.
They gyoza were super small, but really flavorful (6 for $3, 12 for $5.15). Can’t decide if they’re essential or not. They also have fried rice, which is pretty popular, and soboro don, but I don’t think any of them are as good as what you get at Daikokuya.
In addition to all the standard ramenya side dishes, they also have an extensive menu of hot and cold izakaya style dishes (aka more reasons to order the 1/2 bowl of soup.) Stuff like raw octopus with wasabi ($4).
Soy sauce rice onigiri with chicken.
And takoyaki, fried octopus balls topped with mayo, takoyaki sauce and bonito flakes.
Better than Daikokuya? Well, that’s something that is going to be argued over for a long time to come. The straight, house made noodles at Shin Sen Gumi are far better than the squiggly factory made stuff you get at Daikokuya. And it’s hard to compete with a Yogurtland sized list of toppings. But even with thick oil, the broth at Shin Sen Gumi will feel a bit underwhelming to those looking for each bowl of ramen to be a game of russian roulette with their arteries. For me? I’m a noodle man… so Shin Sen Gumi is the place for me. And the crispy pig ears certainly didn’t hurt either.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Customizable ramen? I love it!
- So… many… toppings. What’s better than toppings?
- Daikokuya is too greasy for me. I prefer this more refined, mellow bowl of soup.
- Crispy pig ears FTW!
- A full bowl of ramen is too much for me. Love that they have a half bowl option.
- There’s free parking (with validation) in the lot in front of Office Depot
- Did I mention how great the toppings are?
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I hate decisions. Too many options… just give me a damn bowl of soup!
- Once you start adding toppings it becomes waaaaay too expensive.
- The sides dishes aren’t nearly as good as Daikokuya
- Even at the highest levels of oil and strength, the broth isn’t rich enough for me. I like it rich!
- I hate Yogurtland.
Hakata Ramen Shin Sen Gumi, 132 S Central Ave, 213-687-7108