Like late night study sessions and going to class in pajamas, ramen is essential to the college experience. Unfortunately, the sad, salty Styrofoam-ed ramen of a college student’s life pales in comparison to traditional Japanese ramen. Given the preponderance of empty Maruchan Ramen boxes in residence hall trash cans, one would imagine a lack of higher-quality ramen near campus. Yet nestled among cupcake shops and pizzerias in Old Town Pasadena customers can find delicious and porky relief from the monotony of cup of noodle in the first U.S. brick-and-mortar restaurant of the famous Japanese noodle chain Tatsunoya. Ramen Tatsunoya, which opened in late December of last year, serves up a savory and delicious soup that will forever change the way students look at instant ramen.
The yellow sign of the restaurant shines like a beacon to hungry noodle-seekers. Looking inside, a passerby will likely find tables of people, young and old, slurping down bowls of noodles in a clean, warm, well-lit room with an open kitchen and large decorative tree in the center. Ramen Tatsunoya is what one would imagine pork heaven smells like: immediately upon entry, rich meaty aromas flood the nostrils. Customers should expect a long line running down the block — according to Bianca, a waitress at the restaurant, the line occasionally wraps around the corner.
The menu emphasizes that the preparations are traditionally Japanese and that the chefs, too, hail from Japan. There are three different types of ramen offered — the bases of each made by boiling pig heads.
“It scared me the first time I heard that,” Bianca said.
The menu describes Koku Tonkotsu as “Tatsunoya’s Favorite!” It is a rich, savory and milky miso-based pork broth, served with slow-braised, melt-in-the-mouth chashu pork, bean sprouts, mushrooms, green onions and noodles. In addition, Tatsunoya serves the milder Jon Tonkotsu and heated Spicy Tonkotsu.
The classic microwavable ramen of many a college cliche has one clear and not-so-insubstantial benefit over the restaurant version: cost. The cheapest bowl on the menu is $11.80; the most expensive, $15.40. Extra toppings, such as eggs, nori and extra chashu pork raise the price further. In a world in which a six-pack of instant ramen costs under two dollars, these prices may seem ludicrous. Though for artisanal bowls loaded with noodles (noodle refills are only a dollar fifty) and tasty toppings, the prices make sense given the high quality meal.
Ramen may be the star of the show here, but the menu offers other delicious dishes. Emma-Celia Katzchen (sophomore) said the edamame with sesame oil in particular was unique and savory.
After ramen, end-of-meal choices include coconut flan and matcha creme.
Getting inside may take some time, but the long wait is ultimately worth it, as are the high prices.The authenticity, which one can taste in every slurp, make Ramen Tatsunoya a welcome escape from the normal ramen of a college student’s life and a delight for any foodie.
Tatsunoya is located at 16 N. Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, and is open seven days a week from 11 a.m.–3 p.m., 6–10 p.m.