Shin-Sen-Gumi is a restaurant chain in Southern California that features hakata style ramen in a tonkotsu broth. They also have a robata restaurant next door. Both places are always packed so be prepared for a wait.
Upon entering the tiny (seats maybe 20 people) restaurant, you’ll be greeted with a loud chorus of “irrashai-imase” (welcome!). Part of the attraction of Shin-Sen-Gumi is no doubt the hospitality and service. These people seem to love what they’re doing and it shows. Whenever I go to there, I actually feel like I’m stepping into a little ramen stand in Japan. Ah, memories. But I digress…on to the food…that’s what you came here for.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get the ordering slip is that there are choices! Lots and lots of ’em: you can pick your toppings, you can pick the hardness of your noodle…you can even pick how much oil goes into the soup and how strong the soup base is! After you order, the chefs go right to work, masterfully cooking the ramen and frying up the fried rice. Because the counter takes up most of the restaurant (there are 3 small tables off to the side), you’ll have a great view of the activities. Before long, you’ll have a luscious bowl of ramen in front of you.
The tonkotsu soup is rich, with a milky sheen and a full-bodied pork taste. It’s quite good, but for some reason it’s never hot, but just a bit warmer than lukewarm (at least all the times I’ve been there). The “basic” ramen comes with green onions and red ginger (why?) for toppings, but if that’s not enough for you, feel free to order more from the extensive list. The pork is thinly sliced, and a bit on the lean side, but flavorful. Since this is a hakata style ramen, the noodles are thin. Though I prefer thicker noodles, the people at Shin-Sen-Gumi do a masterful job of cooking the noodles to a perfect texture. Want more noodles? Order a kaedama and get another ball of noodles. Save your soup!
Want more than ramen? Their gyoza is cute cute teeny-tiny…and average. You could probably eat the whole serving in one big gulp. Their fried rice comes with chopped up greens and pork. It’s good, but could be more flavorful. And if you go there at night…(drool)…you can try their robata (skewers cooked over a charcoal wood grill). Their chicken thigh w/green onion and friend tofu are both highly recommended.
So after all this, Shin-Sen-Gumi’s ramen gets 7.5. But even if you’re not a ramen lover, give it a try for the experience. Or better yet, try their robata side for dinner for a fun and novel experience.