ramen rating: santouka ramen – costa mesa, ca

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Santouka Ramen. Santouka Santouka Santouka. Everywhere you look, someone is saying how great Santouka ramen is. Is it really *that* good? Is it everything everyone says it is? Or is another case of ‘don’t believe the hype?’

This was actually the fourth time I’ve been to Santouka Ramen. The first time was in Tokyo, where it was also hyped by a friend as great ramen. The Santouka we went to was on the top floor of a department store in Shinjuku, and it was the fanciest ramen house I’ve ever been to. It was swanky and hip, as if it was a ramen house for ‘the pretty people.’ I eagerly ordered and devoured a bowl of shoyu ramen and …

…was completely unimpressed and somewhat disappointed. I thought it was overpriced and overhyped, decent, but not spectacular. I loved the ‘Hey, I’m eating ramen at a trendy gourmet restaurant!’ atmosphere, but in the land of ramen, Santouka hardly qualified as excellent.

When Santouka opened in the Mitsuwa Supermarket in Costa Mesa, replacing the (very mediocre) Tampopo Ramen about two years ago, I thought I’d give it another try. I mean, this is a famous Japanese ramen chain with over 50 stores after all! At the time the ramen was served in a styrofoam bowl. What the heck? Again, I was unimpressed with their shoyu ramen. Not being one to learn from my mistakes, I went back a *third* time…no difference.

Recently, I discovered that maybe I was going about it the wrong way. It seemed that Santouka is known for their shio (salt) ramen, not their shoyu ramen. Ah! Since I never got around to reviewing it, I decided to go back and give them yet another chance.

My wife and I went there on a late Saturday afternoon, and considering it was around 2 o’clock, the long line was impressive. Would their shio ramen change my mind? I was excited to find out.

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I ordered the reasonably-priced negimeshi combo with shio ramen, which comes with a bowl of their green onion rice and a flavored hard-boiled egg.

The ramen comes topped with chashu, bamboo shoots, green onions, mushroom slices, naruto (fish cake), and an ume (pickled plum) in the middle, which is a nice aesthetic touch. The first thing I did was eat the (very) sour ume to cleanse my palate. With that out of the way, I took a bite of the noodles. The noodles are thin and does a good job of absorbing the flavor of the soup. They were a bit on the soft side for someone who really likes their noodles to be al-dente.

The other toppings were decent, thought personally, I’ve never cared for naruto in my ramen because I think the mild flavor of the fish cake detracts from the rest of the ramen. The pork was tasty but not great. It’s fattier (read softer and tastier) than the too-lean pork at Ebisu and thicker than the thin pork slices at Shinsengumi but not nearly as good as the pork goodness at my new favorite Chabuton. There’s a more expensive pork you can order, but I opted to stick with the basics this time.

The soup was neither here nor there. It’s surprisingly light, with a good blend of saltiness and not an overwhelmingly strong pork flavor. Some people will say that the soup is well-balanced and not too heavy. The problem I have is that nothing stood out. My favorite ramen broths have a very rich complex flavor in which all the ingredients are distinct, yet blend together to create a flavor that enhances everything. Santouka’s shio is good, but there’s a generic flavor to it that doesn’t excite me.

I hope this review doesn’t give the wrong impression: Santouka Ramen is good. It just doesn’t qualify in my book as great. Since I’m still kicking myself for not ‘upgrading’ to the Toriniku Toroniku pork, I’ll probably be back for one more try. For their shio ramen, Santouka gets a respectable 7.

Santouka Ramen
(inside Mitsuwa Supermarket)
665 Paularino Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 434-1101

Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon

  13 comments for “ramen rating: santouka ramen – costa mesa, ca

  1. victor
    4/2/2007 at 3:24 am

    what would you consider to be your favorite ramen place.. in OC? in the world?

  2. 4/2/2007 at 9:11 pm

    good question! hmm…in OC, i used to think ebisu mendokoro was the best, and for shoyu ramen, i still think they’re the best. their quality and service has gone downhill recently, and their ramen’s always been a bit inconsistent. i’ve been hooked on chabuton lately and i think i’ve give the “best ramen in oc” crown to them. kohryu, shinsengumi, and the apparent “fan favorite” santouka are all good.

    “in the world”? that would be one of the ramen houses in the shin-yokohama ramen museum in tokyo, which i keep meaning to write about (it’s been over 2 years since i’ve been there) but just haven’t gotten around to yet.

  3. bikuta
    4/6/2007 at 10:12 am

    I’m sure it’s just a typo but don’t order the “toriniku” because the person at the cash register will give you a blank stare and remark that they don’t serve any dishes with chicken in it.

    However, asking for the “toroniku” (which I highly recommend with the shio broth) will get you the ridiculously tender pork cuts that people rave about. It’s not the greatest pork I’ve experienced (that award goes to Kyushu Jangara) but it’s certainly the best I’ve had so far in California.

    Gochisousama!

  4. 4/6/2007 at 10:27 am

    oops…thanks for the correction, bikuta! i’ll definitely try it next time. have you ever been to chabuton in the marukai in costa mesa? what do you think of their pork?

  5. rawman
    6/7/2007 at 10:55 am

    try the kara miso ramen with special pork.
    it’ll melt in your mouth.

  6. Michael Cheung
    1/2/2008 at 5:34 pm

    Oh, you must try the toroniku~ and I’m sure it’ll raise the score at least 0.5~1 points! Even though I’m no expert in eating, Santouka’s shio (tonkotsu) soup is much more “fresh” (that’s a Chinese term used to describe a flavor that’s ‘vivid’) than many other ramen places like Daikokuya. Maybe I really need to go to Japan once to try what you’d think is a 10.

  7. 1/13/2008 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks Michael. I’ve been meaning to go back but just haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. And yes, once you’ve had *really* good ramen in Japan, you’ll never look at So Cal ramen the same way again! Hahaha.

  8. 1/13/2008 at 8:44 pm

    I think Michael is being paid by Rameniac…haha jk. I like the toroniku shio also.

  9. wasinsandiego
    2/14/2008 at 2:41 pm

    I have tom agree post #5 (rawman)… Try the Miso ramen with special pork is sooo good. Very rich, maybe even borderline too salty/fatty but I’m a American of European decent so thats what I love. The pork melts and tastes like bacon. Whoe wouldn’t like that! The broth has little white bits of rendered pork and the sesame seeds give it all an addictive nutty tone. Killer.

  10. Dave
    3/10/2009 at 8:51 pm

    Hi! Great blog! Have you tried the Shio with some of the red pepper? The red pepper with the Shio or Miso really brings out the flavor of the soup. Try it without first and then with to taste the difference.

    I live in Tokyo and go to Santouka in Ebisu and Gotanda but have been to the one in Mitsuwa in Torrance when I am in the US for business.

    I tried Shinsen gumi before but I liked Santouka better.

  11. 3/11/2009 at 7:44 pm

    @Dave: thanks for the kind words and for the tip. I’ll have to add the red pepper next time I go. What’s your favorite ramenya in Tokyo? I really gotta take another trip there and hit as many ramenyas as possible!

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