As we’ve seen with openings like Afuri Ramen, new Ramen shops come and go like Pizza joints these days. With the alarming number of downhill alerts (and closures) after a grand opening period for these new Ramen shops, we end up valuing consistency more than a great splash at the start. For Ramen Tatsunoya, a respected, legit Ramen shop from Kurume City, Fukuoka, Japan, they had a strong debut when they decided to open their first U.S. branch in Old Town Pasadena of all places. But no one could predict if they would have the longevity (and quality control) to make it a mainstay.
6 years later, this first branch of Tatsunoya is still showing up strong, delivering unctuous bowls of porcine, delicious goodness with its Kurume-style Ramen.
When Tatsunoya debuted in the U.S. with their first brick-and-mortar store, you could tell it was serious when their OG chef and founder, Ryuta Kajiwara was in the house, straight from Japan, overseeing all of it. The Ramen was delicious and it was the debut of great Kurume-style Ramen in L.A. But the question was, how long would it last?
It turns out, with great, properly trained kitchen staff, it could last a long time. After Founder Kajiwara left to go back to Japan (to run his Ramen shops there), this first U.S. branch of Tatsunoya has been helmed by Chef Kyota Nakato, who was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and has been making Ramen back in Kurume and beyond, before moving here to the U.S. and running Tatsunoya Pasadena. 6 years into it, and Kyoto-san is still there, greeting all customers as we walked into the shop on this return visit.
Gyoza (Pan Seared, Housemade Gyoza Dumplings):
These Housemade Gyoza are a newer item, as we don’t remember seeing them on any of our previous visits (from Grand Opening Year 1 through before the pandemic). A couple of the pieces were unfortunately slightly charred (but scraping off the burnt ends salvaged those bites). These were medium-thick Gyoza Dumplings, with a well-seasoned, savory Ground Pork filling within.
Koku Ramen (Our Signature Bowl. Rich Broth topped with a House-Blended Umami Paste, Onion and Garlic Infused Oil, and Pork Back Fat. Served with Thin Noodles):
Tatsunoya’s signature Kurume-style Tonkotsu Ramen is marked by its 15 hour, slowly simmered Ramen Soup, stewed with Pork Skull Bones and Water at its core. The result is a deeply porcine, crave-worthy Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Broth that is nothing short of outstanding.
For their Koku Ramen, it’s essentially their Kotteri-style Ramen, adding Pork Back Fat to the rich Pork Bone Broth. And it is as decadent as it sounds: Very rich, luxurious and best in small sips. 6 years in, and Tatsunoya’s Kotteri-style Koku Ramen is still as good as it was during the Grand Opening period, an impressive feat.
Their Housemade Chashu Pork slices were tender, luscious, fatty (and lean) and tasting fresh (made that day), which is something to be celebrated. Many local Ramen shops start to cut corners and make their Chashu in batches for the week and it ends up tasting old / refrigerated. Thankfully, Tatsunoya’s Chashu was still fresh and delicious.
Their Ramen Noodles are the thin, straight style which is a match for the Tonkotsu Ramen Soup. It’s made by a local supplier and you can order it Katamen (Firm Noodles) if you prefer.
And their Tamago (Egg) arrives perfectly cooked, Hanjyuku Tamago-style with a soft, liquid center.
Jun Ramen (Tatsunoya’s Original Mild Tonkotsu Broth. Served with Thin Noodles):
For those wanting the OG Kurume-style offering, the Jun Ramen is the one to order: This is the same 15 hour, long-stewed Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen Soup as in the Koku, but without the added Pork Back Fat. This is more manageable for those wanting something a bit lighter. It’s still rich, savory and has a deep porcine flavor, but just much lighter compared to the Koku. Still as delicious as Year 1.
The Chashu slices in this bowl were towards the end of the piece, as it was slightly chewier / meatier (less fat), but still fresh and tasty.
In the mark of a specialist, Tatsunoya only serves 3 kinds of Ramen, and the 3rd and final offering is their:
Spicy Miso Ramen (3 Kinds of Miso: Red, White and Barley are blended with our Tonkotsu Broth, then Topped with a Spicy Oil. Served with Thick Noodles):
This is one of the best Spicy Miso Ramen Bowls around town. Earthy, pungent, savory Miso flavors come shining through in each sip. It leans a bit on the saltier side (with their Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) base and 3 types of Miso mixed together, it’s understandable), but still quite delicious (and holds up to adding additional Noodles (Kaedama) if you feel like more slurping (or splitting a bowl with 2 people)).
The Chashu slices in this bowl were also end pieces (unfortunate luck of the draw?), so they were on the leaner, meatier side, not as tender and luscious as the slices with more fat in them.
The thicker Ramen Noodles are a good and traditional match for Miso Ramen, and it works well here. The Kikurage (Wood Ear Mushrooms) and Moyashi (Bean Sprouts) are also a great addition to the bowl, helping add texture and lighten up the flavors a bit.
We’re glad to see Tatsunoya survive 2020, and they are still offering excellent bowls of Kurume-style Ramen 6 years into the operation of their 1st U.S. branch. They offer only 3 types of Ramen, and they are all standout in their own way. For a taste of Tatsunoya’s core Ramen Broth and style, give their Jun Ramen a try. It is the lightest bowl on the menu.
Their Koku is a hardcore Kotteri-style Ramen with plenty of Pork Back Fat that adds a crazy, sumptuous quality in every sip and slurp. And if you’re in the mood for a good Miso Ramen, their Spicy Miso is worth ordering, as they combine 3 types of Miso with their Pork Bone Soup and a light spiciness to make a satisfying bowl of happiness.
Don’t forget to add an order of their outstanding Soft-Boiled Egg, which arrives with a great liquid center, to round out that lovely bowl of Ramen goodness.
16 N. Fair Oaks Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91103
Tel: (626) 432-1768
(Also in Silver Lake)