Your First Look at Tsujita L.A.’s New Lunch Menu
I want to stop eating ramen. I really do. But the city won’t let me. First, popular Torrance transplant Yamadaya opened around the corner from my house. Then Shin Sen Gumi did the same Downtown. Surely after my Tsukemen round up, I would take a slurp break, but no. After months of teasing, Tsujita L.A., a Tokyo mini-chain popular for its tonkotsu ramen and citrus spritzed tsukemen, decided to finally start serving lunch last week. How could I not?
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
The dinner menu at Tsujita, which has been available for two months now, is made up of small plates you would expect to find at a modern izakaya. But lunch is all about the noodles, and it appears as if for now the ramen will be an 11:30am to 3pm thing (last order taken at 2:30pm)- a division that makes sense once you see how dedicated they are to each bowl of ramen that comes from behind the counter.
Unlike many ramenya in L.A., which will serve a broad menu of styles with all sorts of toppings, Tsujita keeps it simple. You have two choices: tonkotsu ramen or tsukemen (the dipping noodles). Those of you who like to get super geeky about your ramen will probably be excited to read on the menu that the tonkotsu broth is slowly simmered for 60 hours, and was created with the help of Tanaka Shoten a Japanese place that specializes in Yagahama style ramen. It would also explain why Tsujita’s little pop up in Mitsuwa last week was called Tanaka Ramen.
The most basic bowl of ramen is $8.95, and comes with 3 slices of chashu, and wood ear mushrooms, but for an extra $1 you can get it with negi (green onions), which is considered an essential topping in this style of ramen. The size is very Japanese (read: small) as is the love and precision that is clearly put into each bowl, a fact you’re reminded of by little timers going off every couple minutes. The noodles are the typical super thin Hakata style noodles, so are best when ordered firm (make sure to tell them how you want your noodles cooked) but fat lovers be forewarned- the broth is not as porky or oily as what you’ll get at Yamadaya or Daikokuya, and there is no kotteri option, a possible influence from Tanaka. It’s not that the broth is weak, or lacks complexity. It’s just not as much of a salty pork bomb as some ramen fans might be used to. It’s not a completely lost cause for pork super fans, though. The chashu is particularly delicious, so if roast pork is your reason for eating ramen you’ll want to consider the $13.95 bowl- which comes with extra pork.
It’s obvious from watching the guys work behind the counter why they’re not going to serve ramen for dinner, or other dishes for lunch. And for something as complex as ramen it’s best not to pass judgement on Tsujita the first few days that they’re open. But when a place has been planning for their ramen for two months, you get the feeling it’s where they want it to be or they wouldn’t serve it. And if you enjoyed the pop up at Mitsuwa, or heard about how great it is, you’ll be happy to hear that the bowl they’re serving at Tsujita is identical to the pop up (minus the printed seaweed that is a Tanaka signature.)
Down to the requisite ginger, sesame seeds, and spicy mustard leaf toppings, which should not be ignored.
But as good as the ramen is, I was really there for the tsukemen- which I’ve been kind of obsessed with lately. Tsujita is actually most proud of their version of dipping noodles, and it looks like the dish has made the journey from Japan mostly intact. According to instructions on the website, you are to eat 1/3 of the noodles dipped into the broth. Then, add the black shichimi chili pepper to the noodles and eat 1/3 more. Finally, you squirt the lime over the noodles and finish the dish. Just like Yamadaya and Ikemen, the noodles are thicker than the standard ramen noodles. And the broth that comes on the side for dipping is a super rich, bonito heavy sludge. In fact, if you are put off by the taste of bonito flakes you will want to avoid this dish like the plague of fish raining from the sky (any Magnolia fans out there?) The pork, which has been julienned into strips and dropped into the broth, plays second fiddle in this dish to the noodles and the broth…
…although the perfectly cooked egg, which many will be disappointed to find out is not offered as a ramen topping, does its best to get noticed. But the part that really distinguishes this from the other tsukemen in L.A. is the signature citrus slice, which is meant to be squirted on top of the noodles before they are dipped. In Japan it’s sudachi, but here they’ve resorted to lime- a fact that will likely disappoint some purists. But in the end, the lime does its job… cutting the fishy broth, and lightening up the dish with this great citrus-y tang. When you’re done with your noodles, they’ll happily add water to the broth to make it drinkable (although as another warning- they didn’t add nearly as much water as I expected for a broth so strong!)
Need more food? There are $4 rice bowls available as add ons (chashu, tuna, spicy tuna, and salmon sashimi), or you can always ask for extra noodles for a small price.
So, now to answer the questions that everybody will ask. “Is it better than Santouka?!” “Will you ever go to Yamadaya again?” “Does L.A. finally have an Ippudo of its own!?” “RANK THIS RAMEN PLACE AGAINST ALL OTHERS IN L.A. NOW OR MY HEAD WILL EXPLODE!!!!”
And my answer is this… there is no answer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my two months of eating ramen it’s that with so many great ramen places now open in L.A., great noodles are more about proximity than anything. And it’s not really helpful to declare a bowl of miso ramen as better than a bowl of shoyu tonkotsu. I will say this, though. Tsujita is good. And you will find no other ramen place in West L.A. that cares as much about what they’re putting out as they do right now.
Will I be back? If I’m on Sawtelle, and looking for ramen or tsukemen- most definitely. Just maybe not for a few months. Hopefully the lunchtime lines won’t be too long, but that’s probably wishful thinking.
Tsujita L.A., 2057 Sawtelle Blvd. 310-231-7375