The area of Los Angeles that I’m from is called the San Gabriel Valley. One of its claims to fame is that we have the largest Chinese community in the U.S. That equals the best Chinese food in the country, not just in terms of quality but also sheer breadth of variety. The Atlantic Monthly had a great article on this phenomenon — even though it was written a decade ago, everything in the report still holds true. Perhaps our unique situation is even more exaggerated these days, since the community has only grown larger over the past decade.
My point in bringing this up is that despite the amazing Chinese food, our Japanese restaurants in the area are comparatively lacking. We have our fair share of good places, but most would agree that the standouts are located in the Gardena / Torrance area or near Little Tokyo in downtown L.A., both quite substantial drives from the SGV. The Shin-Sen-Gumi restaurant empire, known for its authentic Japanese cuisine, operates mostly in Gardena. I only recently learned that they had opened a hakata ramen shop in Rosemead, CA (quite a bit closer to home) so I jumped at the chance to try out their ramen.
Hakata ramen features a milky pork bone broth with very rich flavors as well as thin, white noodles. This is a departure from the ramen I’ve had more exposure to, with the typical curly yellow noodles and shio / shoyu / miso soup bases. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first bowl of pork-based ramen I’ve ever eaten (the Nanchatte tonkotsu ramen at Foo Foo Tei was a playful interpretation that did not actually use pork ingredients). I loved the delicious Hakata soup with its undeniably porky taste and was immediately captivated. More please!
Shin-Sen-Gumi only sells this one type of ramen, but every aspect is customizable. In fact, when you place the order, you have to specify the intensity of the soup (mild / normal / strong), the amount of soup oil (light / normal / thick), and the firmness of noodles (soft / normal / hard). A variety of toppings including bamboo, corn, and eggs are also available for additional fees. The photo I took above shows the default toppings that come with the ramen at no additional charge.
As much as I enjoyed the ramen, this bowl of fried rice was the highlight of the meal. It came as part of a lunch set so I wasn’t expecting much from it. I’ve never tasted fried rice quite like this though. I was first charmed by the sweet and light, buttery flavor which was then tempered with a lingering herbal, almost earthly essence. Superb. The rice itself was unique as well, I would guess a wild grain with nice texture. I’m ordering this for sure the next time I return.
We had a couple other appetizers accompanying the ramen. The spam-musubi was another treat. After a bowl of rich, almost creamy broth, the saltiness of the spam and salted rice was intensified, cutting right through and awakening my taste buds from their post-pork slumber. The gyoza were hilariously tiny and filled with the typical pork and green onion. Decent, but nothing compared to the gyoza at Foo Foo Tei.
Shin-Sen-Gumi seems to be perpetually busy so a twenty minute wait on average is to be expected. Guests have to register their parties on a clipboard and then hang around outside since there is no room inside the tiny restaurant. Service is frenetic and they could clearly use one more waitress to help shoulder the workload. That means sometimes you might have to wait a few more minutes than expected to get your food and the check, but it’s not a big deal. For my favorite bowl of ramen thus far, the waiting is worth it!
8450 E. Valley Blvd, #103
Rosemead, CA 91770