ADDRESS: 16 N Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91103
Ramen Tatsunoya has been on my list of places to check out for quite some time. My friend Angie was the one that had recommended the place to me, after I had been coming out to the LA area more often during my business trips when I was still living in Florida. The ramen craving got real, so I headed down to the Old Pasadena area with my friends Nate and Ruby one night to go give the place a try.
It was a Friday night, and when we arrived, we found a line of people waiting outside the restaurant for seating. We talked to someone in line, who mentioned that we didn’t really have to worry about it, since it seems like the line moved pretty quickly. She was right, as it was probably no more than five minutes before we got waved inside to go sit at the ramen bar.
Once inside, we could see that the restaurant had table seating to accommodate around 36 – 40 people, with the ramen bar seating able to sit another 8. It’s easy to see how the line outside could form if things got busy at the restaurant. But it seemed like the kitchen was doing well to keep pace and turn the tables around relatively quickly to avoid having people wait too long. But hey, if people are willing to stand in line to wait, it must be good, right?
The menu itself was pretty straightforward: three different styles of their signature tonkotsu broth, selection of extra toppings for the ramen bowl, and then some side dishes. When it comes to ramen, I’m pretty big on the flavor of the broth, so I was looking for something a little more on the bold side. That’s why the Koku Tonkotsu option was just speaking to me, containing pork back fat, umami paste, scallions, and garlic infused oil. I also opted for the extra char siu and the flavored egg to supplement the rest of the bowl, too. Nate and I were also feeling a bit on the hungry side, so we decided to go for an order of their Housemade Gyoza as well.
I will say that sitting at the ramen bar was also pretty cool in itself, since you also got to appreciate the chefs working. This is all on top of the fact that you were getting a lot of the smells first-hand by sitting right in front of them. Just watching bowl after bowl of ramen come out was certainly building up my hunger.
Our order of gyoza came out first, presented in a circular pattern arrangement from the cooking. Only one side was primarily pan-fried, as the rest of the dumpling remained soft. The filling itself was made with a mixture of pork and vegetables. I did enjoy the slight contrast between the soft and fried textures, but thought that the filling could have used just a hint more salt. Aside from that, I thought that it was a good way to start the meal off.
Then, it was time for the main event. When that bowl of ramen got set down in front of me, it definitely had that look of a hearty bowl of food. The six slices of char siu were really neatly fanned out right in the middle of the bowl, with other toppings like the mushrooms, bean sprouts, scallions, flavored egg, and umami paste also distinctly around the bowl as well.
Every time I start a bowl of ramen, I try a spoonful of the broth first, and this did not disappoint. It was a straight up umami bomb, with really rich flavors from the tonkotsu and the garlic oil. I also got a bit of a slight spiciness to the aftertaste, maybe from some black pepper while the broth itself was cooking. I gave the entire bowl a bit of a mix, just to get the other ingredients incorporated with each other, and then began to go to work.
Because of how rich the broth itself was, I found that almost everything had absorbed that prominent tonkotsu flavor. The noodles, the char siu, the vegetables, the umami fingerprints were really all over the place. But it was well-balanced enough where those ingredients were still able to impart their individual flavors, while complemented by the umami. I also thought that proportionally, there were just the right amount of ingredients to noodles to broth. I found myself drinking the broth from the bowl before long, and was just a bit sad at the realization that the ramen experience had concluded.
The line out the door for this place is completely justified. Maybe it was something that I was really craving in that moment, but the umami bomb in that bowl of ramen of all those flavors really harmonized well. It’s hard not to still reminisce about how good that ramen was. The speed of service is also relatively quick, with the food coming out in short time. If you find yourself in the Old Pasadena area (there is also another location in Silver Lake), seek out this spot that may leave you relatively full, but certainly feeling satisfied.
Let’s now take a look at the Ramen Tatsunoya Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Housemade Gyoza **
Filled with a pork and vegetable mixture, served pan-fried.
** Koku Tonkotsu Ramen Bowl **
Tonkotsu broth with pork back fat, umami paste, and garlic infused oil. Included toppings of mushrooms, bean sprouts, and scallions. Pictured with add-ons of extra char siu and flavored egg.
And finally, here are my rankings for Ramen Tatsunoya:
Food: 5 / 5
What more can I say about that bowl of ramen? The rich flavors really packed a punch and the quality of the ingredients was there. I also found that there was a good proportion between the broth, noodles, and toppings themselves as well.
Atmosphere: 4.25 / 5
I like the fact that there’s a combination of the tabletop and ramen bar seating available. One of the tables in the middle of the restaurant even has a tree integrated into it. The slight downside, however, is that it can get a bit loud at times if it’s pretty packed.
Service: 4.25 / 5
The speed of the kitchen is primarily what helped to boost this rating. I felt like we weren’t waiting very long at all for our gyoza or our ramen.
Price: 4.5 / 5
With the extra char siu and the flavored egg add-ons, my bowl of ramen was approaching the $20 mark. But the quality and depth of flavors alone helped to make it definitely worth it.