As hard as it may be to believe, given the sheer number of options in the neighborhood, trying to find an open table at a ramen shop in Little Osaka on a Saturday during lunch hour can be a slightly frustrating endeavor. First, there’s the parking situation. It took a good ten minutes of circling and another 4 or 5 blocks of walking to find a non-permit spot on the street. The next 20 minutes or so was spent confirming very long wait times or cash-only limitations at some of the top contenders (Tsujita, Asahi, Ramenya). Finally, we sucked it up and walked a few extra blocks to the West LA location of the chain Jinya Ramen Bar.
The franchise nature of the noodle shop is plain from the sort of Disneyland-version-of-Japanese décor, which is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s clean and bright and the staff is friendly and ready to explain any menu item.
This being a late lunch, we were hungry, so we both opted for combination deals ($3.95 extra). The pork gyoza (below, right) were nice and crispy, and if they are a tiny bit bland, it’s a flaw for which we could easily compensate by dipping them in the accompanying salty ponzu. The crispy chicken (below, left) was better seasoned, with thick pieces of juicy white-meat chicken. The salads (below, top) were a little on the boring side, but the appetizer plus the miso-ginger dressing made the combo deal money well-spent.
The Tonkotsu Spicy, or Kyoto (below, $8.55), with chunked pork chashu, bamboo, spicy bean sprouts, and green onion, was pretty standard – it will satisfy most ramen enthusiasts, but isn’t particularly special (or spicy), and the noodles were just a tad too Maruchan-ramen for our liking. But the broth, while not quite the lip-coating thickness of our favorite pork broths, was unctuous enough to please.
The Tonkotsu Black bumped it up a notch with sheets of dried seaweed and garlic oil, and a little extra porky thickness, and while we’re not sure the flavor boost is worth an extra 2 bucks, it was a very good bowl of soup. Maybe making up the value difference are the noodles here, which were thinner and springier, and which we like significantly better. One great touch at Jinya that we haven’t seen elsewhere is the provision of plenty of peeled garlic cloves and a press – being the garlic freaks we are, we took full advantage.
The Jinya company has six locations in North America (5 in SoCal and 1 in Vancouver) and is about to take its Ramen Party on the road: as stated on the website, you can own and run a Jinya Ramen Bar with “as low as $350K initial investment.” I don’t know that we’re quite ready to plop down that amount of cash for our own Jinya - it wasn't even our first choice for dining that day - but we left relatively pleased with the price we paid for a very solid lunch.