Sawtelle Japantown (or what used to be known as Little Osaka) has really seen a surge in popularity over the last few years. It seems perennially busy, yet even with the large influx of customers, it’s not a guarantee of success. One such example was the former home of Bachi Burger (the L.A. branch of the Vegas Burger joint featured on Food Network), which couldn’t make it, and then changed ownership into Ohana Burger, which quickly failed after that.
But then we read on Eater L.A. that the space was being taken over by none other than the Tsujita Ramen group, which sounded somewhat surprising, but hopeful, since they already had 2 Ramen Shops across the street from each other, and literally 1 block away.
It turns out their concept - Killer Noodle - was different enough from their famous Tsujita Ramen and Tsujita Annex concepts, moving away from the super porky, heavy Tonkotsu-Gyokai Tsukemen (Dip Ramen) and Jiro-style Ramen, and going towards Tantanmen (the Japanese version of the Chinese Dan Dan Mian (Noodles) dish)! Interesting.
When you walk in, you’re greeted by an fiery red interior (I don’t think there’s enough red, they might need to punch it up more).
The decor and color almost seem to help psychologically reinforce the type of food (and the heat and spiciness) you’re about to experience. The wall of Chilies/Peppers helps add to this as well:
Then when you open up the menu, you’re greeted with some hilarious tidbits and notes from the Killer Noodle staff, such as:
- “Our restaurant aim for painful, delicious and spicy”
- “Complaints (returned items / exchanges) from extreme spice”
- “Please take care of your bottoms when you complete your meal”
They allow some nice customization for their Tantanmen, offering a helpful chart to specify how much Numbing (from Sansho Pepper) and how much Hot Spiciness (Red Chili Peppers) you’d want.
Tokyo Style, Dan Dan Noodles (Tantanmen) - Level 3 / 3 - (Chicken, Pork Broth, Chili Oil, Sansho Pepper, Sesame Sauce, Peanut Butter, White Sesame, Tokyo-style Vinegar (Housemade), Dry Shrimp, Niku-Miso (Ground Pork), Bean Sprouts, Cashew Nuts, Pickles, Green Onions):
The Tsujita team has smartly simplified their menu offerings into 3 types of Tantanmen, starting with what they call “Tokyo Style Dan Dan Noodles.”
Chatting with the manager, they mention that the Tokyo Style Tantanmen (with Soup) is the way to go. The menu offers all 3 styles of Noodles without Soup, but she mentions that the chef and staff feel that with Soup is the best way to enjoy them.
The Tokyo Style Tantanmen arrives fiery red, looking like a bowl of Hell, LOL. It is very nutty, the most aromatic and fragrant of the 3 types of Noodles, with a heavy emphasis on the Sesame flavor, reinforced by Sesame Sauce and White Sesame Seeds. The Peanut Butter and Cashew Nuts help to really add to the nuttiness.
At Level 3 Numbing and Level 3 Spicy, it’s very tolerable, with a nice burn and some numbing qualities. It is very tasty and feels quite “polished,” with every bite and sip being pretty consistent throughout. This is far less spicy than, say, Howlin’ Ray’s Level 4 “Hot” (which contains the Ghost Chili Pepper), and less than Jitlada’s Level 3 of spice.
Their Noodles are slightly thicker, but not as thick as Tsujita’s Tsukemen Noodles, and they work fine in this broth.
Overall, the flavors in the Tokyo Style Tantanmen were delicious, and a solid version of Tantanmen.
Original Style, Dan Dan Noodles (Tantanmen) - Level 3 / 3 - (Chicken, Pork Broth, Garlic, Pickle, Tofu, Ground Pork, Green Onion, Bean Sprouts, Cabbage, Fresh Red Peppers + Lemon Wedge):
Their Original Style Tantanmen is a visual stark contrast to the Tokyo Style Tantanmen, featuring a clear Broth and large cubes of Tofu. It seems like a respite from the bowl of red fire previously.
But at Level 3 / 3, it still offers plenty of heat. Note that for the Original Style Tantanmen, they don’t use Sansho Pepper for the numbing, but it’s swapped out for fresh-cracked Black Pepper, in addition to Fresh Chili Peppers.
So adding in a squeeze of the Lemon they provide, you get a really interesting Piquant-Spicy-Savory-Pepper flavor. The Sauteed Tofu & Ground Pork made it stand out even more. This was quite tasty and the lightest of the 3!
Downtown Style, Dan Dan Noodles (Tantanmen) - Level 3 / 3 - (Chicken, Pork Broth, Chili Oil, Sansho Pepper, Sesame Sauce, Peanut Butter, Vinegar, Dry Shrimp, Niku-Miso (Ground Pork), Bean Sprouts, Cashew Nuts, Pickles, Green Onions):
The last of the 3 flavors on the menu arrives, with the Downtown Style Tantanmen. Fundamentally, the difference between the main Tokyo Style and Downtown Style is that Tokyo Style has White Sesame Seeds and is heavier on the nuttiness (you really taste the difference trying them back-to-back). So for those that don’t want as much nuttiness, the Downtown Style Tantanmen might be the best choice.
Without as much Sesame flavor, you get to focus more on the numbing and heat components. At Level 3 Numbing and Level 3 Spiciness (baseline), it’s just as tolerable as the Tokyo Style Level 3 / 3. Some decent heat and spiciness, some numbing taste from the Hana-Sansho Peppers (Japanese Prickly Ash), and a tasty bowl of Noodles overall. I think I like the Tokyo Style Tantanmen more.
Note that you also get the option to add Chashu Slices and an Onsen Tamago (Poached Egg) to each bowl of Noodles, but that felt like it was turning Tantanmen into a more typical bowl of “Ramen” you might be more used to seeing.
Mabo Rice Bowl:
Finally, they offer 3 types of Small Rice Bowls (Mabo, Chashu, Pork Over Rice Bowls). The Mabo Rice Bowl is a small side of Mabo Tofu (Japanese version of the Chinese Mapo Tofu dish), and reminded me of the menu offerings at the now defunct Chinmaya Ramen shop in Little Tokyo a while back.
The Mabo Tofu is a touch too salty, but nicely spicy and slightly numbing. Overall, it’s a nice way to finish off a meal if you were feeling like something else to add besides the bowl of Tantanmen.
Service was fine, even at 100% capacity with a line of people outside, you just flagged down a server when you needed anything. At $10.95 - $11.45 for the bowls of Noodles, and $4.95 for the Small Rice Bowls, Killer Noodle’s prices felt in line with what you’d expect along Sawtelle Blvd.
Overall, Killer Noodle is already a crazy success from the Tsujita Group, offering their interpretation of Tantanmen in 3 different varieties, in a fun, festive setting. The Tokyo Style Dan Dan Noodles at Level 3 / 3, is a respectable and delicious bowl of nutty, numbing, spicy, fragrant Noodles. It doesn’t reach the wow factor of Anzutei’s stunning version back when they were in Downtown L.A., but considering there really isn’t much competition nowadays, and with a great location and high visibility, Killer Noodle is probably now the version to beat.
With the ability to customize how much Numbing and Spicy Heat you want, this could probably allow the creation of some really fun “I can’t feel my mouth!” types of Noodle experiences, but one wonders if customers might tire of Tantanmen after a while (just a personal musing). Still with the Original Style (light, clear Broth, Lemon and Fresh-Cracked Black Pepper), the ability to turn it more Ramen-like, it might be just fine as is.
Note: CASH ONLY (there’s an ATM inside.)
2030 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: (424) 293-0474