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Ramen Bull: Not Your Corner Ramen Shop

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Finding the “perfect” bowl of ramen is a never-ending quest for devotees of this Japanese and Chinese noodle dish. In Los Angeles as well as Tokyo, ramen slurpers take to message boards to share their latest finds as well as rehash the same debates over which shop reigns supreme. Daikokuya in Little Tokyo may still be the most well-known ramen shop in LA, but Santouka in West LA’s Mitsuwa food court has its share of champions. Relative newcomer Ramen Jinya quickly made itself a contender, and has continued to pick up fans with its expansion to 3rd street’s restaurant row.

Ramen lovers now have the opportunity to see how Chef Noriyuki Sugie’s contemporary take on the iconic street food stacks up to their favorite bowl at BREADBAR West Third. Unlike the pork-based broth most Angelinos are probably used to, Nori is highlighting all-beef product for his Ramen Bull concept. LAist was invited to sample the first offering of BREADBAR’s new “Pop Chef” series.

The meal begins with a complimentary small bowl of salty dry noodles to munch on while deciphering the short menu. Despite giving up soda years ago, I was curious to try the housemade hibiscus tea soda. I asked for a less sweet version and found it refreshing and it erased any disappointment I had with myself for not realizing it was a BYOB establishment. The first appetizer was a big plate of fried shishito peppers, simply prepared but with a surprising depth of flavor once dipped into the accompanying “umami sauce.” An eggplant appetizer was a special for the evening and along with the peppers, was judged to be a must order and set a high bar for the ramen to come.

The first of three bowls to arrive was the spicy ground beef. I always find the question, “How spicy would you like it,” a difficult one to answer. As usual, I ended up mumbling some incoherent train of thought that involves the word “medium,” but next time maybe I’ll just lay it all out there by saying, “I like it spicier than the average white guy, but I'm not ready for the dynamite challenge at Jitlada. Just make my face sweat a little.” Although I wish I had asked for the bowl to be a bit spicier, I found the broth to be full of flavor without being too salty, and the amount of ground beef to be generous.

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One slurp of the oxtail ramen and you’ll realize that this isn’t your corner ramen shop. Chunks of oxtail were falling off the bone and into one of the richest broths in recent memory. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish the bowl, but I damn well wanted to try. If I was forced to choose a favorite at Ramen Bull, the oxtail might just be it.

When I heard there was a vegetarian ramen on the “secret menu,” I knew I had to try it for comparison. I was pleasantly surprised at first bite, but it was hard to go from the super-rich oxtail to the more subtle vegetarian broth. After a bottle of ginger beer and allowing time to pass to cleanse the palate, I was able to appreciate the nuances of the bowl filled with the meaty mushrooms, the crunchy asparagus, and whatever secrets that Nori has up his chef jacket sleeves to make such a respectable bowl of ramen without slow-simmering pork or beef bones. Although I was planning to share the leftovers with my vegetarian coworkers, I instead devoured them in my cubicle and told them where they could finally get a great bowl of ramen.

Chef Nori’s beef-centric menu at Ramen Bull deserves a spot on any ramen crawl and is a must try for any vegetarian that wonders what the fuss with this deceptively simple bowl of noodles is all about. Ramen Bull runs Monday-Saturday from 5-10 pm through September 30 at BREADBAR West Third.