March 27, 2013
Men Oh hails from Tokushima prefecture on Shikoku Island, the smallest and least populated of Japans’s four main islands. Until the completion of the first of several bridge systems in 1988 the island was only accessible by ferry or plane, and to this day the mostly rural island flies under the radar.
Their ramen is no different. While Japan’s other three islands are all famous for their regional specialties — Hokkaido for its winter-warming Sapporo-style miso ramen (often served with corn and a couple slabs of butter); Kyushu for its pork-perfect Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen (stewed pork bones distilled to a creamy goodness); and too many to count on the central, main island of Honshu, like the traditional Tokyo-style shoyu ramen. I’ve honestly never seen mention of a Shikoku-style ramen anywhere in Japan.
So naturally I was oblivious when Men Oh opened in the fall of 2012. A few weeks later one of my downtown-living friends clued me in and soon after we tried the Tokushima ramen, a tonkotsu-shoyu blend named after the island’s principal city.
First of all, this might be the most beautiful bowl I’ve ever seen this side of the Pacific. Every ingredient is of the highest quality (look at the huge hunks of bamboo shoots!) and the taste confirmed this. The medium thick, straight chewy noodles are made by Men Oh here in the U.S. to approximate the Japanese version as closely as possible. They were excellent.
Everything in this bowl is fresh and feels true to ramen from Japan.
I’ve now been to Men Oh three times and on each trip it has more than held up to my initial opinion. Despite having 12 shops throughout Japan, plus two in the Bay Area (and the brand-new sister-shop Waraku in Japantown), I’m still pretty stunned at how quickly the Little Tokyo location nailed it. The broth tastes like that of a shop that been around for a decade, not… what, five months? There is an aged quality to the deep shoyu and pork flavors, like the highly developed taste of an 18-year scotch. The complex saltiness of the shoyu tare (the soy base) compliments the hearty sweetness of the pork broth as well as ketchup on a burger.
I don’t know, maybe it’s the dark earthenware bowls, or the perfectly cooked egg, or that you get both a couple platonic ideal slices of simmered chashu plus flaps of stir-fried pork belly. Or maybe Men Oh just really, really knows what they’re doing.
And it’s still under the radar. I’ll bet money that right this minute there is an hour wait under Daikokuya’s yellow awning, while you can walk a block and find ramen (that’s the real deal!) in America that easily equals — and may even surpass — the Big D.
Trust me: go to Men Oh.
456 E 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012