Ramen has a special place in my heart. I love it. Many different styles of ramen exist, but tonkotsu (pronounced ton-cot-sue) ramen is my ultimate favorite. Its pork bone broth is usually set to simmer for about a day before it is ready to be served. It has this smooth creaminess that is developed from rendering the pork marrow. While I’ve found other quality soup flavors (two of them are actually on this list), tonkotsu broth is still my ramen of choice.
Having lived in Orange County for over a decade, Trang and I have tried almost every ramen house in the OC. While most deserve passing grades, there are only a few real gems. Here is a short list of the ramen houses that I believe are serving the best ramen in Orange County.
Note: I prefer less oceany and fishy broths. So I’ll usually ask for my ramen without Nori (seaweed) or Dashi flakes, etc.
Our Top picks for Best Ramen in Orange County
1. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (Costa Mesa Mitsuwa Food Court)
The Special Pork Ramen with Salt Broth
“Cheek meat, cheek meat!” That’s what screams through my head every time I’m about to dig into Santouka‘s special pork ramen. No other ramen house has chashu (pork) that comes remotely close to the flavor explosion that Santouka offers. I’ll even include Japan’s ramen houses in that statement. It’s amazing. Just drop the six pieces of culinary heaven into your broth and let it infuse throughout the bowl before you attack it.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is the ramen house that broke my long-standing idea that fantastic food couldn’t come from a food court.
While it’s a salt broth, the meat brings this bowl full circle. It’s worth the inconvenience of being a cash only place and having to find seats when you eat there.
With multiple locations throughout California, the different Hokkaido Ramen Santouka’s all do an excellent job keeping the quality bar high. But I think it’s just the nostalgia that makes me enjoy the Costa Mesa location the most.
- 665 Paularino Ave,
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
- Sun : 11AM-8:30PM
- Mon : 11AM-8:30PM
- Tue : 11AM-8:30PM
- Wed : 11AM-8:30PM
- Thu : 11AM-8:30PM
- Fri :11AM-8:30PM
- Sat: 11AM-8:30PM
- Cash Only
- (714) 434-1101
- Does not offer a to-go option.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka’s website:
2. Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai
Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai originally opened in 1958. Its popularity brought it from the small town of Kitakata to Tokyo, and eventually into California.
Kitakata Ramen is well known in Japan. Kitakata noodles are thicker, flat, and curly. Very similar to Chinese noodles. Kitakata noodles are made with a lot of water and are matured longer than other ramen noodles. The process gives them a chewier texture.
Their chashu ramen bowl uses a shio flavored broth. It’s a simple, clear soup that’s much lighter than ramen I usually eat. Even with all its differences, it’s still good.
The egg may be the only thing I could knock about Ban Nai. It was just like a regular hard boiled egg. It didn’t seem to have any additional flavor.
What made the bowl stand out above others was its layer of “Toro-Chashu” that covers the entire bowl. You get 13 pieces of tender braised pork belly. That’s right, 13 freaking pieces!! More meat than I’ve ever seen in a bowl. It’s the first time I had ever run out of noodles before the pork. Each piece adds great flavor to every bite you take. Kitakata is easily my top three in best chashu.
A place to try if you love ramen.
- 891 Baker St B21. Costa Mesa, CA 92626
- Sun : 11:00AM – 9:45PM
- Mon : 11:00AM – 2:45PM / 5:00Pm-9:45PM
- Tue : CLOSED
- Wed -Fri : 11:00AM – 2:45PM / 5:00Pm-9:45PM
- Sat: 11:00AM – 9:45PM
- Cash & Credit Cards
- (323) 660-8100
- No Reservations
- No take away
Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai’s website:
Huntington Ramen serves a delicious bowl of tonkotsu ramen. The wait staff helps you dressed in kimonos, and you get a tiny scoop of complimentary ice cream after the meal.
- Their broth is excellent, and it hits on all the things I love most about tonkotsu style ramen; rich flavor, solid opaque color, with a lot of fat.
- You get two big pieces of chashu pork. Which are tender with a sweet flavor you won’t find anywhere else in the OC.
- The seasoned egg has a similar sweetness to the meat and is cooked well, with a creamy yolk.
- The noodles and straight, and served slightly firm.
Address: 7391 Warner Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Ramain39 is a newly opened ramen house in the O.C. I can’t give it a fair review yet because an ordering mix-up had me sampling Ramain39’s black ramen instead of the tonkotsu ramen I requested. And since it was their soft opening, I’ll give them a pass. The black ramen was good even though I don’t like fishy broths. But I was surprised with the black bonito; the bowl was well above average. I’ll be sure to come back and try the tonkotsu ramen soon.
- The broth is made with a mix of chicken bones, pork bones, and vegetables. Cloudy with a slight heat, the broth has a rich, bold flavor accompanied by a definite brininess. Super fatty layer that will leave your lips covered in oil.
- The bowl comes with a decent amount of Hakata-style thin noodles. I enjoyed the noodles a lot as the broth seems to cling to them.
- The chashu was tasty, with a higher fat to meat ratio that added to the flavor. Nicely braised on one side but the only issue was the lack of meat. The bowl only comes with two pieces of meat that are slightly smaller than what I’m accustomed to seeing.
- Half a soft boiled egg comes with the bowl. The egg is well seasoned and cooked to perfection.
Address: 18583 Beach Blvd. Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Gu Ramen Taps & Tapas
Gu Ramen was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed the bowl for the most part, but the chashu was average at best.
- The pale yellow broth is very creamy. Not particularly rich in flavor but I was more drawn to the smooth texture of the broth.
- The noodles are a highlight to the bowl. Thicker and wavy noodles served slightly undercooked, just the way I like them. And it had a nice springy texture to it.
- The chashu was bad. The pieces I had were dry and tasted old. The bowl would have been better without the pork.
- Just an unseasoned hard boiled egg. I’ll have to start asking if the egg is seasoned before I add it on next time.
Address: 907 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Orange County Ramen Houses we’ve eaten at
Oishii Ramen CLOSED
JINYA Ramen Bar CLOSED
Ebisu Ramen CLOSED
Shizuma Ramen CLOSED
Orange County Ramen Houses, we still need to try
The quest never ends
So yeah, order some special pork ramen from Hokkaido Ramen Santouka and be happy.
If you like this post, you may also be interested in my Best ramen in LA post where I reveal my favorite spots Ramen spots in Los Angeles.
Help us out! We’re always on the lookout for new Ramen Houses. If you know of any shops we’ve missed, please let me know down in the comments. We try to pick places that focus on Ramen, so large menu Japanese restaurants don’t apply.