Jinya Ramen Bar (Santa Monica)
I’ve never been to Ramen Jinya in Studio City, the first U.S. location of Jinya ramen bars that was lauded in 2010 by both Rickmond Wong, the Rameniac, and by Jonathan Gold, then of L.A. Weekly. I hadn’t gotten to try the short-lived Sawtelle Boulevard outpost, even though it was much closer to me than the Valley. If I want ramen on the Westside, I almost always head to Tsujita or its Annex across Sawtelle. The latest outpost of Jinya Ramen Bar, however, is making me change my mind, just a little.
I’m all about the food here, which is why I don’t have a shot of the interior (or, more importantly, the exterior), but the new Jinya in Santa Monica is probably the nicest looking ramen-ya I’ve been to, with a fantastic patio anchored by large tables with fire pit centerpieces. I have yet to go at night, but I imagine it would be pretty great to enjoy a hot bowl of noodle soup on that patio on a “chilly” night. But let’s get to the food.
Premium Tonkotsu White Ramen: On my first visit, I didn’t want to get anything too heavy, so I opted for the ostensibly lighter “White” ramen. Despite the menu stating the broth was made with pork and chicken, it was still true to its tonkotsu name, with a very milky, porcine base. The pork chashu was sliced not too thin, and held together well while remaining tender. Always great to find kikurage, wood ear mushrooms, in a bowl of ramen. The ajitsuke tamago, seasoned egg, was properly hanjuku, medium-boiled, with a nice semi-runny yolk, but alas it was only half and not a whole egg. The noodles were thin and al dente, just how I like them. [$9.80]
Crispy Chicken & Salad: I had to try something additional on that first visit, and fortunately the menu obliged me with a list of five Combinations that can be added on to an order of ramen for either $4.50 (Pork Gyoza, Crispy Chicken, or Chicken Chashu Bowl) or $5.50 (Pork Chashu Bowl, or Tokyo Curry Rice), all with a simple side salad. I opted for the karaage, crispy chicken. The add-on included three decent-sized pieces of fried boneless chicken, thigh pieces I believe. They were very good, with a relatively light batter, hot and crisp on the outside while still moist on the inside. [$4.50]
Jinya Tonkotsu Black Ramen: On my second visit, I ordered one of two ramen on the menu with the “Jinya” in the name (the other being the Jinya Chicken Ramen). The Jinya Tonkotsu Black is definitely a headier bowl than the White ramen I had on my first visit, with garlic chips and black garlic oil slicks floating on the pork broth. It was served with thin noodles as well, which was slightly softer than I had on my first visit, but fortunately not too mushy. The chashu, though, was a bit mushy, and thinner slices too.
The kitchen had forgotten my ajitama, and when I asked about it, the waiter brought one out for me. It was a whole egg, rather than a half an egg like in the Tonkotsu White–not sure if that’s how it comes normally in the Tonkotsu Black, or if it was just because it came out separately. (I’m assuming an a la carte order of the seasoned egg for $1.00 is a whole egg.) Again, properly hanjuku! (Pardon my cutting job in the picture below–I didn’t have a knife!)
Takoyaki: Again, I had to try something else too while I was there, and I opted for some octopus balls, which, despite the fact that I would probably still eat it, are not actually octopus testicles. Do octopus have testicles? Anyway, these are essentially fritters made with chopped octopus meat. Jinya’s takoyaki was quite good, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with a decent amount of octopus in each. The sauce wasn’t too sweet, but they were a little skimpy with the bonito flakes. They didn’t skimp on the mayo, if you like that sort of thing. I liked that they used it almost as a base to set the takoyaki in, rather than slather it on top. That way, you can better control how much mayo you wanted. [$5.80]
Jinya has been expanding in the past few years, and much of the company’s website is devoted to franchising information, so I’m not sure which of their outposts in California, or in other states like Nevada, Texas, and Washington, or even their locations in Vancouver, Canada, are owned by the parent company or franchises. I’m not even sure it matters much, if they can maintain their quality. Incidentally, folks living in the Windy City will soon be able to grab a bowl of Tonkotsu Black, as Chicago will be getting their own Jinya Ramen Bar this summer.
Has Jinya supplanted Tsujita and Tsujita Annex in my heart? Hardly. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. And unlike on Sawtelle, there is actually a decent amount of parking for Jinya, with a large public lot right behind the strip mall that houses the ramen-ya. For those beach bums who don’t even want to drive as far as Santouka at Mitsuwa, much less Sawtelle, Jinya is rather the solid option. As I only semi-joked to some friends, it is the best ramen in Santa Monica!
Jinya Ramen Bar
2400 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405