Restaurant Review #129: Ramenya, Sawtelle, West LA

Pork shu mai

Everyone has their own favorite ramen shop, and judging from how often the subject comes up on sites like Chowhound LA and LA Foodblogging, it seems to be a hotly contested topic.

Back in November 2005, restaurant ramen (as opposed to grocery store ramen) was totally new to me. My visit to Ramenya marked my fourth restaurant ramen experience. I was pretty sure that nothing could top Asahi, but in the name of research and leaving no Sawtelle stone unturned, I had to try Ramenya.

My first two visits failed because I kept wanting to go on Wednesdays, when they're closed. The good news is that they don't close between lunchtime and dinnertime, so a late Sunday lunch was a piece of cake. Even at 2:00 pm, the restaurant was full, leaving us to sit at the counter--not the nicest seats in the house, but it was just lunch.

Spicy eggdrop ramen with ground pork

Ramenya has around twenty ramen options. While there are a lot of choices, most of them didn't sound that appetizing, maybe because many were described as having soy sauce broth (how is that different from watery soy sauce, I wondered?). Only a few choices are spicy, and I wanted spicy, so I picked the spicy eggdrop ramen. I'd never had egg drop soup before, so that was a bit of a gamble. The broth was good, as long as I avoided the egg part, which tended to form a gooey skin across the top of the soup. The noodles were firmer than Chabuya's, but not as firm as Asahi's. I didn't eat much of the pork, and I wasn't that satisfied with my selection overall.

Ajo (garlic, in Spanish) ramen.

Based on my friend's bowl of ajo ramen, I'm not sure another choice would have been any better. He thought that the noodles were good, but that the broth was only passable, though adding chili oil greatly enhanced it. The garlic was okay--but who wants to eat hunks of garlic? If you don't like onions, and a lot of people don't, the large onions that disguise themselves amongst the noodles can be problematic. The soup was light on the meat, but that was okay as it was pretty bland meat. The best part about both soups was that the spoons have notches in them so you can rest them on the edge of the soup bowl without them falling in. Smart.

There are also several side dishes on the menu. I ordered the pork shu mai in case I didn't like my ramen. I liked the nose-burning hot mustard they came with--I mixed it with some soy sauce and rice vinegar (on the table, along with chili oil--the staple condiments of any ramen shop) and made a nice dipping sauce. The meat wasn't as tender as I expected, though, so I wasn't impressed or excited. The pork shu mai at Chabuya, by contrast, are quite tasty.

View from behind the counter

Ramenya is a very stark restaurant--the walls are white and there isn't really any decor to speak of. The ceilings are high and the restaurant gets lots of sunlight through its glass storefront during the day, but that isn't enough to give it atmosphere. Like most Sawtelle restaurants, it's very small--just one room and 10-15 tables for two or four guests. One nice touch is that Ramenya serves iced tea for free. The flavor reminded me of unsweetened Thai iced tea without the milk--if you've ever made it at home and brewed the tea yourself, you'll know what I mean. If you haven't, the flavor isn't dramatically different from regular iced tea--it's a bit stronger, with a hint of smokiness. Some of us can't handle caffeine though, so I only had a few sips. I wasn't missing much, but I still appreciated the gesture.

I don't plan to go back to Ramenya--I guess I'll have to wait in line at Asahi from now on.

If you've been to Ramenya, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

11555 West Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Closed Wednesdays


Anonymous said...

In order to “objectively” compare ramen shops, in my opinion, you should try some basic version of ramen dishes—such as shoyu, miso, and chashu ramen—in each place. Other variations do not provide us a good chance to really appreciate each main ingredient of ramen—noodle, broth, and chashu.
My experience tells that Ramenya has the best chashu and broth. That had been an established fact until I tried Chabuya. Now I have to tell you that Chabuya has the best chashu and broth in L.A. But Chabuya lacks consistency—I had a terrible bowl the other day during lunch time. Also, I am not satisfied with the portion of Chabuya. Still I find myself stopping by Ramenya for its “generous” portion and consistency.

Anonymous said...

I like it that you're adding more photos to your reviews, but you can never have enough. It's not just about taste. Presentation and atmosphere are very important components that can psychologically enhance taste like a spice. Ramen shops are all generally a cheap meal out, therefore I don't get too concerned portion size, but I do consider flavor. Chabuya is the best, or at least can be the best. As a new establishment they tell me they are still fine tuning. Contest after contest, they are very competitive in Japan and have clearly won the ramen war there. They should be able to conquer the battles on Sawtelle.

Foodie Universe said...

People keep telling me Chabuya is great, but in the three times I've been there I have yet to be impressed by the ramen. The light patronage indicates that I'm not the only one with this view. I don't mind their portion size since I tend to be a light eater and leftover ramen is a soggy mess.

You have a good point about the best way to objectively compare ramen shops. However, if I ate chashu ramen everywhere, I probably wouldn't like ramen at all. That's just my taste, though. I'd like to try shoyu and miso ramen in the future, though. Thanks for the suggestion.

As far as photos go, in the interest of being discreet and not disturbing fellow diners or drawing unnecessary attention from staff, the number of photos I can take is often limited. The photos are my favorite part of the site, and I like to take as many as I reasonably can.

Anonymous said...

I was waiting outside for a table at Chabuya last night (Wednesday) just as it started to drizzle. Ramen really warms the belly on a cool night. Judging from the crowd others agree. The food is great there.

Jonah said...

Of the Ramen shops around Sawtelle, Ramenya is probably my favorite. I agree with you that a lot of their offerings aren't that appealing though. For a spicy dish, I suggest the Tam-Yam Ramen. It's a Thai type broth and packs a kick.

Here's my review

I think that the safest Ramen place is Asahi. Their choices are very basic, but they hit the mark.

fashionfoodculture-life said...

to get really amazing ramen go to Daikokuya in downtown. you might have to wait an hour but it's worth it.