There are hidden gems, really hidden gems, and then there’s Kairakutei Ramen. Nestled in the corner of a strange two-sided plaza that can be best described as a sandwich cut into two triangles, Kairakutei doesn’t even have a sign that says “Kairakutei,” at least none that I saw. Unless you can read Japanese, the only indication that this little restaurant even serves ramen is the partly obscured word “Noodle” (singular) painted on the front window.
The last time I went to Kairakutei was over 10 years ago (yes, it’s been around for that long), not because it was horrible, but because it was just decent and somehow dropped off my radar. Fellow ramen blogger Keizo at Go Ramen! just came back from Japan and I wanted to hear about his ramen adventures in Tokyo. (Check out Go Ramen!’s recent Tokyo ramen reviews for all you need to know about the ramen hotspots in Tokyo!) He was nice enough to meet me at Kairakutei even though he just went there recently. (Gomen, Keizo. I know Tustin isn’t even remotely “halfway” for you.)
We had planned on starting the meal with some gyoza, but unfortunately they were out. Hmm…are they that good? We ordered some chahan (fried rice) instead, which turned out to be excellent. Kairakutei’s chahan was delicately flavored with tender pieces of pork that burst with flavor. We were off to a good start!
The tonkotsu-shoyu ramen that I ordered and the tonkotsu-miso ramen that Keizo ordered looked almost identical, except for the slight reddish-orangish sheen of miso floating on top of Keizo’s soup. Both ramen were topped with a helping of seaweed, green onions, beni shoga, and sesame seeds, plus half of a marinated hard-boiled egg, two slices of chashu, and a piece of nori. Like Keizo, though, I was dismayed at the lack of menma.
Both the tonkotsu-shoyu and the tonkotsu-miso soups were lightly flavored. The tonkotsu-shoyu was unnaturally smooth, without the rough-and-tumble pork fattiness you’d expect from a tonkotsu soup base. It didn’t taste watery by any means, but I wished the flavor could’ve been a bit bolder. I had the same opinion about the tonkotsu-miso soup, but thought that the zesty miso aftertaste contrasted well with the light tonkotsu flavor.
The chewy noodles were good, and just a bit on the soft side, but held up well in the soup. The toppings also went well with the light-tasting ramen, and maybe that’s the reason for the lack of menma: to keep the overall taste light and balanced. But then again, beni shoga isn’t exactly what you’d call subtle. Though the egg looked marinated, it also didn’t have a strong flavor. The chashu was very tender, and again, had a mild taste. Do you see a pattern here?
You’ve got to give credit to any ramenya that’s been around for over 10 years, especially one in an obscure location. While I tend to prefer ramen with stronger flavors, I enjoyed my tonkotsu-shoyu ramen and I especially enjoyed the fried rice. Kairakutei, sorry for neglecting you for so long. I’ll be back! Kairakutei gets a 6.5 out of 10.
Kairakutei Ramen ???
17292 McFadden Ave., #L
Tustin, CA 92780
M, W-F: 11:30am-2:30pm
M, W-F: 5:30pm-10:00pm
Closed on Tuesday
(Oh, and it’s “cash only”)