Tajima Ramen Bar (East Village) - San Diego, CA
Tajima has been expanding its business over the last few years and now has five locations in San Diego plus two more in Long Beach and Tijuana. The newest SD locations have all been ramen bars so I was thrilled to include my ramen loving partner Dennis for a media invitation! We headed to their East Village location which I had walked past during my Comic Con adventure. After arriving, our choice of seating was a cozy corner booth near the windows, where we reviewed three sections of the menu: ramen, appetizer and bowl.
Tajima Ramen ($11.5) with thick noodles
First things first, we had to order a bowl of the tonkasu style ramen! Years ago, Dennis had eaten at the two original Convoy locations but had never been much of a fan, despite several tries. On this day, he was pleasantly surprised by the flavors. The broth was milky, flavorful but still nice and clean. We immediately noticed a huge pile of sliced garlic to the side which definitely changed the flavor over time from neutral to a garlic infused broth. Our recommendation is taking this out early on if you aren't big on garlic. The choice of noodles offered was thick or thin so he chose thick noodles that seemed to hold in the flavor of the broth better than ever. Even the meat seemed much improved with its nice thick cut without being too fatty. The meat had an appealing browned color, as if it had been seared prior to adding to the soup. We have to give this version a thumbs up.
Next on the list was the chicken karaage appetizer, especially since it is another of Dennis's favorite things to eat. The chicken pieces were well seasoned and juicy with a lightly fried outside. You could taste the meat, not the batter! The appetizer came out piping hot to our table and the light mayo based sauce was good for cooling it off. Portion wise, this was an excellent size for sharing or even enough to eat with a bowl of rice as a meal. We got that idea from our friend who ordered similarly at the last Japanese spot we visited!
Brussels Sprouts Tempura ($5)
This brussels sprouts appetizer caught our eye because we've never seen it done tempura style. I imagine sneaking yet another vegetable past some picky kids (or adults) because it is fried, right? These were cooked to a modest firmness within a thin batter. Even in the picture, you can see that it isn't oily! The brussels themselves weren't really seasoned much other than the tempura around it. For that special oomph, the dipping sauce with some kick paired really well! It reminded us somewhat of tajin flavor and the staff clarified that it was a special japanese orange seasoning. Next mission might be to find some of this crack spice for ourselves!
Kakuni Bun ($4.5)
Our order of pork belly bun came out next, topped with pickled carrots and sprouts. The chunks of pork belly wanted to roll out as we were taking bites, but who's to complain about having too much pork belly? Not us! The meat was just how we expected it too, savory enough and soft. Bun was typical of what you'd expect from an Asian restaurant's peking duck dish.
Tuna Poke Bowl
Last but not least, we decided to choose something from the Bowl section. My tuna poke bowl ended up as our least favorite item. There was a little bit too much going on and the sauce was saturating! Dennis would have preferred more rice overall. The rice was supposed to be a neutral flavor base to help clean our palate and provide contrast against the flavors. The fish itself was also a bit firm. With the poke bowl trend, it is too bad you can't customize here but there are already places to do that! The bowl itself was big enough for a complete meal albeit strongly flavored. The servers did suggest crab bowl or their spicy tuna bowl as popular picks so maybe those would been an improvement.
The East Village location has plenty of natural lighting during the daytime plus a crisp, well designed interior. The patios provide access to enjoy the lovely San Diego weather.
The East Village location is easy to get to with more parking options than the heart of downtown. We stopped by for lunch on a quiet Sunday, and by the time we left, there were several tables having late lunch. Apparently this area doesn't wake up too early but we came by starving after our morning bike ride! Dennis previously worked in the gaslamp and would have loved if this place were around back then. We'll have to revisit some of the other locations, especially since they are closer to home.
Disclaimer: We were invited to dine here and our food was complimentary. We were not otherwise compensated and all opinions stated are our own
Tajima Ramen Bar (East Village)
901 E St
San Diego CA 92101