I remember my first taste of Mottainai, a small, wonderful Ramen specialist after reading about it on our old board. They had wok-fired Miso done Sapporo style, and they had those cool “Bombs” of toppings that you could add to enhance your bowl of Ramen.
But then I read some downhill reports and when we went back, it really was worse. The chef had left, and then Mottainai closed.
Thanks to @Starchtrade for the excellent info, it seems Mottainai’s Chef, Tadanori Akasaki, has emerged(!) and is now making Ramen with Chef Hiro Igarashi at a new spot known as Craft Ramen HiroNori (a combination of their 2 first names).
What’s even more exciting is their claim that they make their own Ramen Noodles in-house! Which is very rare in Southern California. We couldn’t wait to try it!
HiroNori has a pretty small menu - just 3 types of Ramen, and a couple side Salads and Bowls (e.g., Poke, Chashu, Spicy Tuna).
Shoyu Ramen (Pork Chashu, Green Onion, Spinach, Bamboo, Kaiware Sprouts):
We were hoping for their Shoyu Ramen to be like Mottainai’s, which was a Tokyo-style, light Torigara (Chicken Bone Base) Broth. Instead, what arrived was pure Pork Madness.
Chef Hiro confirms that this is inspired by Yokohoma-style Ramen, and it’s definitely as far away as Mottainai’s light Shoyu as possible.
You can clearly see the nice chunks of Pork Backfat, and taking a sip… it’s super porky, fatty and unctuous. This is for fans of the richer, porkier Ramen. If you thought Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen at places like Tsujita Annex or Daikokuya wasn’t enough Pork Fat for you, give this one a try.
The Chashu Pork was extremely marbled, and they torched the Chashu before serving, giving it a bit of a smoky flavor (which is appealing). The Chashu is very fresh, but it’s not that flavorful (mainly tender, fatty, lightly smoky).
The Handmade Ramen Noodles are pretty neat in that they have a real chew and bite to them. However, they have a heft and thickness more akin to Udon Noodles in a way than what you might think of for Ramen Noodles.
Their Ajitama Egg (not included, you have to order it as an extra topping) is sufficiently creamy and liquid in the center, but there are parts of the edges that are slightly overcooked. But tasty overall and pretty good considering many local places just give you Hard Boiled Eggs .
Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork Chashu, Green Onion, Spinach, Seaweed, Bean Sprouts, Cabbage):
First a minor quibble, but I hope they correct their staff on proper pronunciation of their own dish (they only have 3 Ramen). Every single staff there looked like locals from UCI (college kids, non-Japanese). Every single staff member was overheard saying, “Here’s your TonkAtsu ramen!” “So you want the TonkAtsu ramen?” “Our TonkAtsu ramen is so good!” etc.
(And yes, they mean different things in Japanese.)
The Pork Bone Broth (Tonkotsu) is boiled for over 24 hours(!), and at Mottainai, Chef Akasaka was known for his sublime Iekei-style (“Yokohama Freaker”) Ramen. And given that Chef Hiro mentioned their Ramen as being a tribute to Yokohama, it seems like a Iekei-style is what they’re going for.
Taking a sip, WOW! There’s a deep, porky, wonderful porcine flavor permeating each sip! It’s luscious and a shining beacon to all that is porky and good!
There’s thankfully no added Backfat, so strangely, the Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen is heavier and fattier than their Tonkotsu.
Their Chashu Pork tastes better in this bowl, maybe a sign of inconsistency, as each bite here had way more flavor than the Chashu we had in the Shoyu Ramen. Tender, fresh and nicely marinated.
Their Handmade Ramen Noodles tasted the same as before: It had a nice al dente quality, but definitely on the thick side. It felt OK at first, but after a while, I wish we had thinner Noodles.
Their 3rd Ramen is a Vegan Ramen, which is a nice idea for those wanting a non-meat option. But we decided to skip that for this visit.
For fun, we decided to stop by The Tsujita (Glendale branch) because the OG crew behind Tsujita Ramen is currently working there (instead of Sawtelle). We wanted to see how porky HiroNori was compared to other porky places (even though it’s a different style).
The Tsujita’s Tonkotsu Ramen is definitely more in line with a Hakata-style Ramen, with a more milky, creamy taste to the Pork Bone Broth. So as heavy as you might think it is, it was surprisingly less heavy and thick than HiroNori’s version (just in case you’re curious).
Thin Noodles match the Broth really well.
Their Ajitama Egg is perfectly creamy as usual (and nicely seasoned inside).
Their Chashu is perfect. It looks rather underwhelming, but it is as tender, nicely balanced with lean and some fat, and deeply flavored as before (we prefer it to the Chashu at HiroNori).
Ultimately, Craft Ramen HiroNori is a stunner, serving up legit, super porky Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen, or a pure, balanced, even more amazing Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen done in the Yokohama Iekei-style. Their dedication in making their own Ramen Noodles in-house deserves special mention as well.
If HiroNori was opened a few years ago, this would’ve been a “Must Visit!” and probably vault to the top of L.A. Ramen shops. However in the past few years, we’ve been really blessed in the Ramen scene: After Santouka’s rise in popularity, we have so many options for Pork-heavy Ramen that are all standout in some way, from places like Tatsunoya, Ikkousha, to E.A.K. Ramen to the ultimate porky temple of Tsujita and Tsujita Annex.
While they are all different styles of Pork Ramen, they all lean to the heavy, porky side, and are generally done very well. Given the distance, we can’t see ourselves driving from the Westside to Irvine normally, but if we’re in the area, we’d be glad to go back.
For a direct comparison of Iekei-style Ramen, I think I prefer E.A.K. Ramen’s Broth and Chashu more than HiroNori’s, but it’s a minor difference. At that point, it’s just where we happen to be closest to if we’re hankering for that Ramen. Both are worth a visit, making a pretty standout Tonkotsu Ramen.
Craft Ramen HiroNori
2222 Michelson Dr., Suite 234
Irvine, CA 92612
Tel: (949) 536-5800