14230 Chino Hills Parkway
Chino Hills, CA
Having a spare 90 minutes to kill in Chino Hills leads one by the nose to such exciting chores as filling the car tank with gas, driving through a car wash, and searching for some non-fast food grub. Right in front of my grubbing eyes, tucked deep into a strip mall behind a Mobil station and next to a tony suburban Stater Bros (you know the kind) hides a little hole in the wall called Rokuan. Extremely unassuming, the sign said simply "sushi". Nearby alternatives include Taco Bell and Jack in the Box.
I was waiting at the front door when they unlocked at 11:29:38.
Now, I am always looking for Japanese food. Wherever I travel, I brave and suffer all kinds of mealy raw fish, unagi don, questionable chirashi and such in order to discover the sublime in places unexpected. Mediocre Japanese always eclipses good fast food.
Sushi, I was thinking to myself, sounds good despite my sushi feast at Sugarfish downtown the other night. It sure sounded better than the Wasa crackers and avocado I had packed in my purse with some Laughing Cow cheese wedges. However, on that small slightly greasy menu were listed two unassuming items. Tonkotsu or Spicy Black Miso Ramen lunch combinations with half a roll. No other customers had arrived and in the spirit of Ramen Summer School 2010, I braved a bowl of tonkotsu ramen for lunch, no roll, thank you.
And, ZOMG! Ramen nirvana. Japanese ambrosia of the noodle persuasion. To die for. Die.
Please observe the opacity, the sheen of silky oil on the surface of the broth, abundance of seaweed, mushrooms, green onions, the thin fairly straight noodles customary of Kyushu ramen. I should have/could have/would have shot snaps of the generously sized pieces of chashu, but I was well aware of the eyes watching me slurp in the empty restaurant and also well aware that not everyone thinks obsessively taking pictures of your food is good manners. So, I ate and you are going to have to trust me.
By the time I walked out at 12:10:28, Rokuan was half full of Asian eaters, I was the sole gaijin. Mostly sushi was coming out of from behind the bar, and I enviously saw some serious portions of uni dripping over curled pieces of nori. Filing that information away for later referral.
Now, what does this middle aged food blogging reverse-Twinkie bish know about ramen anyway? I know enough to know I know almost nothing compared to this Japanese couple raised on ramen as children in Kyushu. But I know what tastes good. I won't darken the doorstep of San Sui Tei and I know Daikokuya is better than the ramen I make at home with dried bonito dashi from Little Tokyo Marketplace. I know the Momofuku broth I made from scratch during 8+ hours on a hot summer day was damn good. And I am pretty sure the simple ramen at Rokuan kicks the ass of all other ramen bowls about town.
What do I have to do to prove myself right, to myself anyway? Brave a second bowl of ramen on the very same day my universe was altered by that amazing bowl at Rokuan.
Enter Daikokuya, the ramen house that sells more bowls of ramen per day than any other ramenya in the southland. And as much as I love Daik, the huge servings, the crazy wait on the sidewalk with excellent people watching and the friendly servers (I love them)...sorry. Rokuan, FTW.
The broth here is comparatively light, flavorful for sure. While Daikokuya gives you a marinated egg and Rokuan does not, Rokuan's soup is gifted with two kinds of mushrooms and two different seaweeds. Not to mention the relatively opaque color of Rokuan's coupled with a rich oiliness and salty savoriness that had me querying the owner's wife about the genesis of Rokuan's recipe. There are so many layers of flavor in Rokuan's bowl that my mouth is watering thinking about it even after yesterday's ramen-a-thon.
Daikokuya lies 2.5 miles from my house, so naturally at the last minute, on late nights and given any spontaneity whatsoever I will continue to eat their bowl of very good ramen. But given any planning and forethought and someone willing to chauffeur the 35 miles between Echo Park and Chino Hills, it is Rokuan that I prefer. We're going next week, if you want to come.