It feels like just yesterday that L.A. was blessed with a seismic shift in the Tsukemen (and Ramen) landscape with the arrival of Tsujita on Sawtelle. Tsukemen, sometimes called "Dipping Ramen," serves its Noodles on the side, with a bowl of ultra concentrated Soup to dip the Noodles into. Almost like the Ramen version of Cold Soba Noodles.
Tsujita was unlike anything we had before it, delivering legit Tsukemen to L.A., and with a powerful Tonkotsu-Gyokai Broth.
It then expanded across the street with Tsujita Annex, and recently, they opened "The Tsujita" at the Americana. At first I thought the new expansion might be a sellout and was worried about over-expansion diluting the taste, but hearing some good early reports, we wanted to see how all 3 have fared recently.
The journey began about 2 months ago actually, with our 5th(?) visit. It had been almost a year since we last went to the original location.
Char Siu Tsukemen (Tsukemen topped with slices of Char Siu Barbecued Pork):
The Noodles were excellent as before, thick and with a nice chew, using the custom Sun Noodle recipe made exclusively for their restaurant:
Their signature Tonkotsu-Gyokai Broth (Pork Bones and Bonito Fish) (cooked for over 60 hours) was as funky, porky and with a pungent Fish backnote as before. Delicious.
Their Chashu, however was a different story:
It was the first time in all our visits where the Chashu Pork was dryish! We were shocked. And looking into the kitchen, we noticed the entire staff looked different from before, with us recognizing no one.
It was too early for a downhill alert, so we decided to come back a bit later.
So last week, we finally returned for our 6th visit:
Tsujita LA (Sawtelle)
Ajitama Tsukemen (Tsukemen with Seasoned Soft Boiled Egg):
It was the same new staff as before, a younger looking group, and none of the original kitchen staff were there. I was thinking this would be like yet another "bait and switch," as @Ns1 @Sgee and others have encountered too often, but surprisingly the taste of the Tonkotsu-Gyokai Broth was even better than our last visit.
Deeply porcine, a bit of brininess from the Bonito, and definitely salty (on purpose) for the Dipping Ramen. You just want to coat the Noodles into the concentrated Broth, dipping it in quickly and then slurping the Noodles. Ideally you wait until the end and order some Soup Wari before you try to drink it.
The Chashu Pork was super tender and fresh this time, so it seems like our 5th (late night) visit might've been a fluke.
Their Ajitama Seasoned Egg was perfect, luscious and creamy!
After finishing your Noodles, don't forget to ask for Soup Wari (Noodle Water (like Pasta Water)) and they'll dilute the concentrated Broth with it, making it far more palatable to sip.
Overall, even with new kitchen staff, Tsujita LA (Original Branch) still remains very good, but it's a super heavy Pork & Bonito Broth.
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles (Original)
2057 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: (310) 231-7373
Tsujita LA Annex
Heading across the street, we visited their 2nd Branch, Tsujita Annex. Surprisingly in the countless times we've passed by the restaurant (it's so close), we have never eaten at Annex until now.
I think the early reports from people saying it wasn't as good, or that they served a slightly different style, put us off. And when it got busy, the lines were equally as long, so we just either skipped it or waited for the original.
Walking in, I read the curious "mysterious" intro on the menu, talking about how they (Tsujita) dined at a "very popular and well-established Ramen restaurant in Tokyo" that left a "lasting impression on [them]." Hm...
Looking at the menu pics, it looked really familiar. The waitress also confirmed that Annex's specialty was their Ramen (not Tsukemen), and the menu had the full paragraph about how they wanted to recreate that Ramen experience from Tokyo over here.
Ramen with Original Negi:
When it arrived, a monstrous mound of toppings on top of a large bowl of Ramen, and the glistening Back Fat on the surface, I remembered what this was!
This is Tsujita's homage and interpretation of the (in)famous Ramen Jiro-style of Ramen from Tokyo!
Which is pretty special and unique for L.A. I'm bummed none of my friends told me about this, but then again, I can't really eat Ramen Jiro... it's too heavy for me.
Like Ramen Jiro in Tokyo, Tsujita Annex has the massive mound of Cabbage and Bean Sprouts (and for this bowl, Green Onions).
Looking closely, we noticed the Abura / Pork Back Fat floating on the surface. My friend from Tokyo notes: "This is definitely a Jiro copy / homage."
Taking a sip, my friend from Tokyo approves, and says it's a decent comparison to the 3 or 4 Ramen Jiro branches he's been to around Tokyo, but it's not as heavy(!).
The Noodles are thick, but not as thick as Tsujita's signature Tsukemen Noodles, cooked perfectly al dente "katamen" style.
Their Chashu Pork is tender, meaty and so delicious! Perfect.
Their Ajitama Seasoned Egg is liquidy and pretty good (a touch overcooked compared to Original Tsujita), but still excellent.
But that Ramen! There were 3 of us, and we barely managed to finish it.
The amount of Pork Back Fat and the porkiness of the Tonkotsu Pork Bone base was so rich and heavy that I applaud the customers that can down a full bowl.
But our Tokyo friend tells us that Ramen Jiro is even more insane.
For those that don't know, there are a bunch of websites devoted to explaining how to best tackle a bowl of Ramen at Ramen Jiro! There are over 30 branches of Ramen Jiro in Japan, and my friend says it's always busy.
Here are some pics of Ramen Jiro's infamous Ramen (my friend said he got queasy the first 3 times he went to Jiro, LOL, but he kept going back! ).
Ramen Jiro (Tokyo):
(Yes, that's Extra Pork Back Fat on top of the Ramen! )
(Pictures courtesy of Tabelog.)
In the end, in a pleasant surprise, Tsujita Annex is L.A.'s go-to spot for a Ramen Jiro homage, and if you really, really like Pork Ramen.
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles Annex
2050 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: (310) 231-0222
The Tsujita (at The Americana)
Finally, we tried out Tsujita's 3rd (and newest) branch, "The Tsujita" just opened at The Americana in Glendale. Walking in, we were stunned by the gorgeous interior that looked more like something befitting a "fancy sit down restaurant" (at The Americana), instead of the down-to-earth Ramen booths at the 2 Sawtelle locations.
I then started feeling worried: "Would this be a sellout like Din Tai Fung at The Americana?" Would it just be a watered-down expansion?
But remembering @iloveto8va and @DTLAeater's reports, we pressed on.
Besides the pretty interior design, the Condiments Station is pretty nicely organized and they have a variety of toppings ready for you to use.
The menu at The Tsujita is far more expansive than either earlier locations: They have Uni Shooters (probably sadly influenced by the touristy crowd here, and the proximity to Katsuya), a variety of Salads and small plates as well.
Gyoza (Fried Dumplings):
Their Gyoza are made in-house, and they are quite good! Decent chew on the Dumpling skin, a fresh, zippy Pork & Chives filling, and dabbing a bit into their Onikasu / Chili side (add some Vinegar to the mixture) and it's quite tasty.
Tori no Kara-age (Deep Fried Chicken):
The Tsujita's version of the classic Izakaya dish is OK. There's some slight crunchiness, but it looks a bit dark in some spots. The Breast meat is still moist, but a touch dry on the edges. Overall, not bad for a starter if you want something before the Ramen / Tsukemen.
It also comes with an Egg Tartar Sauce, which is kind of unique, tasting a bit piquant, tangy like a Tartar but with some creamy Egg qualities.
Dipping the Noodles in quickly and taking the first bite, wow! It tastes even better than the Sawtelle location on our 5th and 6th visits!
It has the same signature Tonkotsu-Gyokai, intense porkiness, the nice smack of Bonito Fish and the Noodles are cooked just right. It's delicious (and very heavy ).
Then we look into the kitchen, and for some reason the staff looks familiar. We check with the server, and she confirms our suspicion: They brought over the OG chefs from Tsujita to run the Glendale location.
No wonder we (and @DTLAeater) thought it tasted just like the Sawtelle location. It's run by the original chefs from the original Tsujita!
If eating Tsujita's famous Tsukemen with the original staff wasn't reason enough to visit, it turns out their Ramen is also unique here:
They're serving a Tonkotsu-Gyokai Ramen, exclusive to The Tsujita in Glendale!
It's a slightly different broth, but like their Tsukemen, it's a Pork Bone and Bonito Fish base, but adjusted for a lighter Ramen Broth (instead of Dip Noodles).
Taking a sip, it's definitely porky and oceany, but shifted in a different flavor tangent from their Tsukemen. It's delicious.
The server also said that they might take it off the menu, because some of the "local customers don't like it." I hope not.
Update: Turns out their Tonkotsu-Gyokai Ramen is indeed being removed. It will be available upon request only for today / tomorrow (3/21/17 - 3/22/17) and will be removed after that.
Their Chashu Pork is fresh, tender, perfectly seasoned, not too salty, luscious and fantastic as well.
The Tsujita also allows you to choose 2 sizes for your Ramen and Tsukemen (unlike the Original), and their prices are the same actually (besides the new side dishes and salads only available here).
The Tsujita at The Americana is a surprise: With the Original Tsujita staff working the kitchens here, making their signature Tsukemen (Dipping Ramen), and with them offering a new Tonkotsu-Gyokai Ramen only available at this location (for a few more days), along with pretty solid Gyoza, and a variety of other small plates, The Tsujita might be the best location to visit (and they take Credit Cards, unlike their other locations).
At this point, we had avoided Tsujita for over a year, but we're glad to have tried all 3 locations for this journey. Tsujita is still creating the best Tsukemen (Dipping Ramen) in L.A., and Annex is great way to sample Ramen Jiro-style Ramen. I prefer the lighter, delicate broth of Kitakata Ramen Bannai (Original), but when I'm in the mood for deep, Pork & Bonito Broth? I'll be back at Tsujita.
(at The Americana)
769 Americana Way
Glendale, CA 91210
Tel: (818) 553-3822