“The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” That was my reaction when I found out that Ramen Yamadaya finally opened in Costa Mesa. The renowned ramen shop opened its first store in Torrance almost a year and a half ago and is already on its 4th location, finally, in Orange County.
Set in a generic strip mall, Yamadaya specializes in tonkotsu ramen, the pork bone-based ramen that seems to be sprouting up in every new ramen shop. They proudly proclaim “20 hour tonkotsu ramen,” a testament to the amount of time it takes to boil, simmer, and prepare the deeply rich soup base. Boy, did I say rich? Yamadaya’s tonkotsu soup is almost like a thin pork shake, with oily thick kotteri goodness. It’s like liquid pork in a bowl. After the initial porky explosion hits your taste buds, you might close your eyes and try to focus on the flavors…it’s more than just fatty piggy pork. There’re some complex nuanced flavors in there…something kind of fishy…something kind of ocean-y…something kind of nutty.
When you order the ramen, you’ll be asked if you want skinny or thick noodles. “Skinny” is the right answer. The chewy skinny noodles are both a great complement and a great contrast to the oily, clingy soup. But slurp quickly: the noodles get soft with time, and nobody likes soggy noodles.
The namesake Yamadaya ramen, which I ordered, comes with 2 types of pork and 2 halves of a marinated egg. That’s in addition to the standard toppings of green onions, nori, kikurage, menma, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Want a bit of a kick? Fresh crush-your-own garlic is also available. While all the toppings work well together with the soup and noodles, the egg needs a few extra words. Teasingly close but not a hanjuku egg, the marinated egg is delicious, and the egg white is delightfully jello-like.
And the pork? And the pork? If Yamadaya has an achilles heel, it’s the pork. The chashu slices are tasty, but a bit on the dry side. It’s definitely above average, but a letdown compared to the wonderful soup. And the thick slab of kakuni was similarly average…not quite rising to the occasion but “good enough.”
Not in the mood for a hot bowl of ramen? Try the tsukemen. The tsukemen comes with an even thicker dipping sauce that has an satisfyingly deep flavor with a strong bonito element. The thick noodles soak up the deliciously smoky sauce with abandon. Be sure to scoop up the small pieces of chashu hiding in the bottom of the sauce.
I haven’t been this excited by a new ramenya in OC in a long time, and Yamadaya didn’t let me down. I’ll be back to try the tonkotsu shoyu…and the tonkotsu kotteri (even more rich and fatty than the regular tonkotsu!)…and the tonkotsu spicy. This is going to be a good year. Ramen Yamadaya gets an 8.5!