By Brandon Yung
Photos by Brandon Yung
Chinatown’s Far East plaza has become the cradle of a bustling food scene. People now crowd the once empty mall in search for gourmet ice cream, picturesque Thai food, and deep dish pizza served out of a window — exclusively on Mondays. While the bottom floor is lively, the second story of the plaza remains relatively unknown, and tucked back into its corner is one of the best Ramen places in Los Angeles, Ramen Champ.
After his success with Eggslut, a landmark eatery and milestone in Grand Central Market’s gentrification, Chef Alvin Cailan looked to China town to start up Ramen Champ — a vibrant noodle house designed to serve long lines of patient eaters. But after a few unsuccessful months, the restaurant was sold to Yoshimasa Kasai, a chef who trained with some of the world’s best ramen makers.
Ramen Champ’s usual vacancy is unusual, considering Kasai has earned multiple titles at the Tokyo Ramen Championship for the work he did in Hong Kong. Just walking into Ramen Champ, it’s apparent how serious they take their Ramen; giant vats of broth constantly cook just behind the counter sit, waiting for the next customer.
The menu is simple and stripped down; there are three different types of Ramen and only two side dishes. The Tonkatsu Ramen, the magnum opus of the noodle house, is rich but not overpowering. The broth is so refined and well prepared; it’s like drinking liquid pork fat (in the best way possible). The slice of chasu pork that floats on top sets the bar for what the slow cooked pork can be. Green onion and black sesame oil keep the soup from being too overwhelming, bringing the savory pork flavor to a perfect umami balance. The doughy noodles are the key to the bowl, bringing all the classic Ramen Champ flavors together.
Ramen Champ pays culinary homage to Chinese cuisine. The Tonkatsu Tan Tan perfectly brings the kick of southern Chinese flavors to the delicate Tonkatsu algorithm, a combination indicative of the creativity of the culinary minds behind Ramen Champ. The Tonkatsu Tan Tan includes spicy sichuan peppercorns (which have a slight numbing effect), garlic, bok choy, and white sesame.
But the ramen alone isn’t the only thing worth trying. Next to the boiling vats of pork broth is a stove top with spherical divots about the size of golf balls. That is where Kasai cooks his takoyaki with the partnership of Takoyaki Tanota — a company that vends at night markets and out of a food truck. The Japanese street food is a sweet and savory fried flour ball with pieces of octopus inside. Takoyaki balls are brushed with ponzu sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito shavings and served piping hot at Ramen Champ.
It would seem that the rich gravy-like broth that Ramen Champ makes alone could attract mobs of noodle enthusiasts. Instead, giant vats sit over the stove range in the noodle bar, usually bubbling away waiting for a customer. So next time you’re hankering for a bowl of Ramen, look no farther than the quiet but colorful Ramen spot on the second story of Chinatown’s Far East Plaza.