Ramen Yokocho Fest 2014 recap
I saw a friend post a facebook link about Ramen Yokocho Fest 2014 and I immediately knew Dennis would want to go! He is, after all, the ramen expert of our household! Not to mention, we'd also get to check out ramen from JAPAN and some new places we have never tried!
This year it was held at the Santa Anita racetrack which I believe is a larger location than the previous year. Parking was $4 per vehicle and admission was $5 a person (free for persons under 17). The festival hours were 11pm to 6pm on March 29 and 30, 2014. We went the second day on Sunday. Check out the attached flyer for more details.
After you pay admission at the gate, you walk into the main building, then through a long underground tunnel leading to the middle area of the racetracks! Post tunnel, you must first buy your meal tickets from the booths. Each bowl of ramen was $8 and each drink was $2 (except beer) and it was prepaid and cash only. We got into the ticket line right at 11am opening time and the ticket wait was less than 10 minutes. Our two friends bought three each. Dennis initially thought we could share 6 bowls over the course of several hours as well, but I wasn't so sure. I had him buy 5 tickets to start...
We headed to the back area where all the ramen tents were located. There were already long lines for two of the ramen houses, Tatsunoya and Tsujita Tokyo, and the ramen burger place Fujin, but all the other lines were incredibly short with less than five people.
We selected another Japan ramen house called Horaiya, and got our ramen within 3 minutes. Why wait now when those short lines would only get longer later? Here, the chashu meat was tender with a nice fatty edge. It was the best pork meat I tried that day. Dennis commented that the yummy miso broth was not as thick and salty as the ones we usually have in San Diego. I also liked the thick ramen noodles in here. In addition, this was the only place that included a wanton, which was filled with ground meat and was delicious! We heard later that this was the first to sell out on Sunday.
Next, we tried the nearby Hiromaru, which hails from Las Vegas. This ramen had a creamier white broth that was very milky and thin. I didn't care for it as much as the first broth. Also, I thought the pork here was cooked well done but lacked some flavor. It also used the thin ramen noodles, which are not my preferred type.
It was a little past 11:30 so I decided we should join one of the long lines. I heard that Tsujita Tokyo had sold out first on Saturday so I held our spot. Dennis brought this one back from Jidaiya, which is a local Los Angeles ramen house. The ingredients remind me of Mexican inspired tomato based soup but tasted like normal soup, rather than ramen broth. It was VERY hot in temperature and took a while to cool off too (first burned tongue of the day). The noodles are fairly firm and similar to others. The ball of ground meat had a sweetness in each bite which kind of threw me off a bit and the avocado felt a little out of place. I guess this combination didn't quite work for me.
Dennis also had time to grab a bowl from Shin-sen-gumi, which is another local Los Angeles restaurant. They are a small chain but that day had an exclusive flavor JUST for the festival called "Kogoshima-Satsuma Ramen." It was described as luscious soup made with pork and chicken bones, accented with savory burn green onions. For us, everything was slightly sweet, even the noodles. The pork meat was the second best one that I had tried. I also found the caramelized onions in here tasty. The noodles themselves don't taste as much like ramen noodles as the others but there was a very filling portion of them. This was the second best bowl for me.
Dennis also picked up a bowl from Mattou Seimen from Japan. Someone was mentioning Iron Chef for this place but I don't really know the reference. The spicy miso broth here was a bit oilier and for some reason the thought of mushroom flavor popped into my head. The ground meat was spicier than any of the others. Only one person in our group enjoyed this one while the rest were just 'meh' about it.
Almost an hour later, shortly after 12:30, we arrived at the front of the Tsujita Tokyo line. The side table included sesame, garlic, spicy ichimi, and spicy takana. This was also the only place that had condiments to add to your ramen. Bravo! A couple people around me admitted they came back here from other ramen lines to top off their bowls!
Here is our "one hour wait" bowl from Tsujita Tokyo. One girl we met in line said it was her favorite and she was coming back for a second bowl. I thought it was a decent bowl of noodles but I still preferred the broth from Horaiya. Others in our group mentioned that they thought there was some chemical type taste to the broth which made it a bit odd. I didn't notice anything in particular. Dennis was very full at this point and left me to finish the bowl but the spicy condiments had already begun mixing in. I tried my best anyway and got close.
After a long wait and lots of food, we took a walk around the park. Our friends found themselves a nice shady spot in the Pony Park and took a small breather. Nearby, I was staring at the beautiful horse that was the star of the movie Sea Biscuit, although I've never actually seen the movie. Remember, we're in a horse park after all! There were also horse racing going on throughout the late afternoon.
I met up with my cousins and their friends. They had arrived later than us and had to wait close to 1.5 hours for Tsujita Tokyo. I decided to instagram a picture of their food and this is what I got. Beautiful arrangement of toppings!
I was really thirsty and left the event with the cousins to pick up something from the mall nearby and just hang out. Dennis and friends had one ticket left and got in line for Tatsunoya, the last location from Japan. After waiting over 2 hours, they got this bowl of ramen around 4pm! The two pieces of meat were so good, fell apart easily and melted in your mouth. The noodles were like the ones from the creamy white ramen place but tasted much better. It soaked up the broth better too. Dennis said this was his second favorite place. I didn't get to try this boo hoo!
OTHER RAMEN LOCATIONS:
Daikokuya - This Los Angeles one was next to the Jidaiya tent and was one of the stands with no line. My cousin was hungry so he bought this one first. I gave it a taste and thought it was the most bland noodle and broth. Not impressed at all.
Tajima - It's a San Diego restaurant so we could go there any time. I'm not sure if I've tried the ramen here but I know Dennis has.
Fujin - This location from Los Angeles has the ramen burger and a long line! I didn't really think this would taste that great without being 'freshly' prepared. I heard some people liked it and some thought it was just okay.
Monta - I tried to go to all the non-LA ones but we never made it to this Las Vegas one.
Men-oh - From Los Angeles so we decided to skip it for now.
Shalalala - From San Jose. Even though they were from out of town, they were struggling to get customers in their line as well. They even made a "1 minute wait" sign!
Hayatemaru - Also from Los Angeles so we decided to skip it for now.
We also picked up two bags of the free ramen snack (for first 1000 customer each day). These kind of tasted like the raw noodles from the instant ramen packets, except that these were in thin chip-like form! And squiggly. We haven't tried the spicy version yet.
The above is a 'short' line you might encounter. There were volunteers holding up signs to direct customers to the back of the lines. This picture was taken around 1:45pm.
For some locations, the above was one of the longest lines you would have seen. At 12:30pm, this particular line went all the way to the tunnel and was 2+ hour wait! See those tiny little tents between the buildings in the background? That's where the ramen noodles are served!
Also, be aware that they want you to dispose of your "garbage" properly. Or should I say "Gabbage" =P
For our first ramen festival, we found it an interesting adventure. Our biggest goal was to try all the Japan noodle houses, which we did. It was a one-stop shop for trying out the different broths and noodles but it still took a lot of time to do it. We ended up getting 7 bowls total over my previous guess of 5 and were there for 5 hours. I'd strongly recommend going there EARLY. By the middle of the event, those lines were crazy! Recommendation #2 is wear sunscreen and/or a hat. Long lines in the sun is a diaster waiting to happen. Poor hubby got sunburned. I'm glad we checked it out but not sure if we'd go again. Or, we'd need to use a better strategy to get the noodles faster! Anyway, hope this post helps out anyone planning to go next time!Ramen Yokocho Fest 2014 @ Santa Anita Racetrack (285 W Huntington Dr, Arcadia, CA 91007)