Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai - Costa Mesa
Surely you heard about the recent headline that instant ramen has been linked to heart attacks and diabetes. That along with MSG and the chemical preservative tertiary-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), which is a petroleum byproduct, it's also high in saturated fat.
This is why you probably should eat more real ramen. Made-from-scratch noodles in a made-from-scratch soup. And the city you need to go to have it has always been Costa Mesa. Costa Mesa is Ramen Town. Costa Mesa is home to the venerable Santoka with its rich-as-gravy broths, Ramen Yamadaya with its equally weighty bowls of pure pork bliss, but also the indies Mentatsu and Ramen Zetton.
There used to be one more: Kohryu. It closed earlier this year. But guess what took over the space? Yes, another ramen shop called Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai, which is the first U.S. store of a chain that has about 60 locations in Japan. Costa Mesa isn't called Ramen Town for nothing.
Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai makes great noodles. And they are perhaps the ones that feel the most homemade of the bunch. The strands are particularly bungie-like and elastic here, with an imperfect crinkle that speaks of its manual process. These noodles are a pleasure to chew. There's a considerable bounce to the texture and a thickness that lies somewhere between udon and angel hair--characteristics indicative of the region from which they came.
Another distinctive feature of the bowls from this area is the broth, which is clear, not milky. When you sip Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai's soup, it will be light--virtually spring water when compared to Santoka and Yamadaya's rich oily sludge. This is not to say it isn't flavorful. It is. But you don't drink your sustenance here; you eat it in the form of those bloated noodles and the thick pork belly slices they layer on top.
Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai adorns all the bowls with the toro chashu (fatty roast pork). In their most expensive bowl, they carpet the entire surface with layers of pig. Less pork-endowed but just as substantial is the green chile ramen, which has tufts of shredded scallions, strips of red onion, napa cabbage and thin slices of chili hiding near the bottom of the bowl. It's not particularly spicy until you run into them.
Their signature bowls of Kitakata ramen have corn, snow peas, bean sprouts and menma. Portion sizes are generous. You probably want to add an egg. They're perfect. The yolk is flawless--balanced in a state of matter between liquid and solid. Also great, their chicken karaage--greaseless, soft, moist throughout, and just the right amount of crisp on the outside.
During these first few weeks, service is over-the-top nice. There are so many floral arrangements and bouquets from friends and well-wishers, the restaurant smells like a funeral home where it isn't steamy and crammed with people.
Ramen is alive and well in Ramen Town.
Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai
891 Baker St. Suite B21
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Social List - Long Beach