Cool, Refreshing Soba Noodles - Handmade Soba Specialist Tanakaya [Thoughts + Pics]

With the brutal heat wave, and @MaladyNelson asking about places to eat in the area, it was finally the perfect time to head out to try Tanakaya, a Soba Noodle specialist that I kept meaning to try, but never got around to going. We first heard about this place when a friend of ours from Osaka heartily recommended the place. Then another friend from Tokyo mentioned it a few months later.

It turns out Tanakaya has been around since 1948(!), but originally from Japan. Chef-Owner Aki Tanaka learned the craft of handmaking Soba Noodles from his family, and spent decades at their original location in Gunma, Japan. But two years ago, he decided to move to Southern California, taking Tanakaya with him. And after a few visits, we are so glad he decided to relocate to the U.S.! :slight_smile:

Walking into the little restaurant, it’s clean, simple, spartan, reflecting their specialty Japanese Noodle itself (Soba), which is best enjoyed in its most austere, simple form (Zaru Soba). Chef Tanaka wakes up every morning to make a fresh batch of Soba Noodles for that day. :slight_smile:

Complimentary (Bottomless) Iced (or Hot) Green Tea:

Their Iced Green Tea was refreshing, clean, perfect to enjoy in the hot weather and with the Soba Noodles. :slight_smile:

Oh Zaru Soba (2 Layers of Homemade Soba Noodles, Topped with Nori Seaweed, with Dipping Sauce):

The first cool thing about Tanakaya is that they have 3 sizes for their Zaru Soba Noodles: Standard (“Single Layer”), Oh Zaru (“Two Layers” (2 Full Servings!) for only $2 more!), and Toku Zaru (“Three Layers” (3 Full Servings) for another $2). It’s fantastic when you have 2 people who want Zaru Soba, but don’t want to order 2 separate orders, or if you happen to be hungry. :slight_smile:

The Zaru Soba Noodles are made from Buckwheat Flour and Tanakaya’s version has a mild, subtle Buckwheat flavor. It’s cooked a touch soft, but still with enough body to it. The dipping sauce is balanced with the Green Onions and Wasabi mixed in.

Served chilled, each dip of the Soba Noodles into the Dipping Sauce / Ceramic Bowl is interactive, fun, and refreshing! :smile:

These are some of the best Soba Noodles we’ve had in years! So good! :slight_smile:

Ume Shiso Soba (Handmade Soba Noodles with Various Vegetables, Japanese Plum, Japanese Basil (Shiso)):

Also served chilled, you mix all the ingredients together before enjoying. Taking a bite:

Fantastic! The Handmade Soba Noodles are already good and lightly grain-y/nutty from the Buckwheat, but then you get the wonderful tart-salt goodness from the Japanese Plums (Ume), and then this awesome fragrance from the Shiso Leaf (Japanese Basil). But then a bit of the Konbu (Kelp) and Kaiware (Daikon Sprouts), and you have a bowl of refreshing, cool, happiness! :blush:

This was SO perfect for the weather, and just delicious overall. :slight_smile:

Don’t forget to ask for some free Soba-Yu (Pasta Water from the Soba Noodles) at the end:

According to our old board and my friends from Japan, you add this hot Pasta Water (from the cooking of the Soba Noodles), which contains some of the Buckwheat Flour / nutrients, etc. and helps dilute the Soba Dipping Sauce you have left over, making it a warm, sippable “Soup”!

I’ve had this before at a place in Torrance, but Tanakaya’s version was just perfect. It was delicious! :slight_smile:

We were so happy with our first visit, I had to go back and try it again the following week for a 2nd visit. :slight_smile:

More refreshing free Ice Green Tea:

Chicken Kara-age (Japanese-style Homemade Fried Chicken):

The one misstep out of all the items we’ve ordered, their Chicken Kara-age were so-so. The problem was that it wasn’t crunchy or crispy, but strangely… soft(!), like it was baked or something. Very strange. The Chicken was juicy and tender, but the batter just wasn’t crunchy or crispy.

Ten Zaru Soba (Homemade Soba Noodles with Shrimp Tempura and Vegetable Tempura):

A classic Soba dish, this is their great Handmade Soba Noodles, with a serving of their Tempura. Their Shrimp Tempura had a light, delicate batter, not very oily at all, and it tasted clean (the oil tasted fresh). The Shrimp was perfectly cooked, meaty, tender, and just right, with a crunchy batter. :slight_smile:

But their Vegetables were just as good: The Shiitake Mushroom Tempura was fantastic! :slight_smile: Loved their Kabocha Tempura and other pieces. (Traditionally with Ten Zaru Soba, you use the Soba Dipping Sauce to dip the Tempura as well.) Chef Tanaka’s Tempura was noteworthy and one of the better Tempura I’ve had recently as well.

Their Handmade Soba Noodles were just as good as last visit. Just wonderful! :slight_smile:

Filet Katsu Don (Batter-coated and Deep Fried Pork Cutlet with a Special Sauce and Served on Rice with Shredded Cabbage):

A cute presentation, the Deep Fried Pork Cutlets are usually brushed with their Housemade Sauce inside the kitchen, but I asked for the Sauce on the side, to keep the Pork Cutlet crispy (definitely do this).

Their Pork Cutlet was crispy, crunchy from the Panko Breading, and moist on the inside. This was delicious! :blush: It tasted clean, with the Pork being tender, and when lightly dabbing their Housemade Katsu Sauce (a Japanese take on Worcestershire Sauce but thicker and with a touch of sweetness), this made for a great Katsu dish. :slight_smile:

It’s not as thick as the traditional Tonkatsu - these are Filet Cutlets - but just as delicious. :slight_smile:

But one other thing that really made it stand out was the Rice. My friend from Osaka kept telling us how for many Japanese restaurants, the Rice itself is an important portion of the meal, and making it well is a source of pride in their work and craftsmanship.

I don’t know what Rice is like in Japan, but this is some of the best Rice I’ve had with a Tonkatsu ever! Plump, distinct, morsels of Rice, it really made this a wonderful dish. :blush: I’m going to defer to @bulavinaka and others to see what they think.

And even their complimentary Miso Soup:

Tasted elevated from the standard freebie / throwaway you might get at many Japanese restaurants in So Cal. The Miso was interesting, and they even used Daikon in the Miso Soup. :slight_smile:

Tanakaya is a little, mom-and-pop type restaurant, serving simple, humble food. That simple food also happens to be Handmade Soba Noodles by way of Gunma, Japan, from a Soba specialist and family that have been doing this since 1948. :wink: They also serve Hot Soba (when Winter rolls around, or if you’re in the mood now).

From their excellent Handmade Soba Noodles to their crispy, delicious Filet Katsu Rice Bowl (ask for Sauce on the side), to our new favorite, their Ume Shiso Soba, brimming with refreshing flavors of Japanese Plum and Shiso Leaf, Tanakaya is another place we’re lucky to have in Southern California, and worth a visit. :heart:

Closed Mondays and Thursdays.

Tues, Wed, Fri - Sun:
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Tanakaya
654 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: (657) 231-6245

http://www.tanakaya-soba.com/

Update 1:

While we stopped by Tanakaya for a revisit as part of the Soba Noodle Journey, we were also able to confirm another surprise on the Tanakaya menu (below).

Opened in 1948 in Gunma, Japan by Chef-Owner Aki Tanaka, he recently decided to make the permanent move to So Cal along with his restaurant Tanakaya.

Of the 3 Soba Specialists, Tanakaya has the most robust Menu to go along with the Soba Noodles during lunch.

Curry Rice (Homemade Chicken Curry with Rice):

Besides being a Soba Specialist, Chef Tanaka also happens to be making his own Housemade Japanese Curry from scratch! :open_mouth:

There is a deeply satisfying, creamy, balanced spice blend in the first bite. It isn’t as mild or bland as some versions of Japanese Curry, but it isn’t as heavy on the Garam Masala or other spices as a couple of the more recent discoveries we found. There’s a light inherent sweetness to balance out the savory from the Vegetables that are cooked down in Tanaka-san’s Housemade Curry.

The morsels of Chicken are tender, moist and fully incorporated in the Curry. It is wonderful! :heart:

Japanese Curry fans take note! (@PorkyBelly @Dommy @J_L @JeetKuneBao @beefnoguy @TheCookie and others) :slight_smile:

Zaru Soba + Filet Katsu Don (Homemade Buckwheat Noodles with Dipping Sauce + Deep Fried Pork Cutlet with Homemade Sauce Served on Rice & Shredded Cabbage):

Tanakaya has the largest portion size out of all 3 Soba Specialists (Otafuku, Ichimian, Tanakaya). It feels like they give you about ~20% more Soba Noodles per order. In addition, as mentioned before, you can add additional full servings per order for only $2 more for each additional serving(!), so you could get 300% of your normal Soba order for only an additional $4 if you wanted to(!). :open_mouth:

Taking a bite, Tanakaya’s Handmade Soba Noodles are the softest and mildest of the 3 specialists. So for those that like their Soba less “al dente”, less firm and chewy, Tanakaya is the best bet.

Their Tsuyu Dipping Sauce was also a touch salty (not as salty as the new staff version of Ichimian), but a bit on the saltier side. However, by halfway through the Soba dipping experience, it was just fine (having been diluted slightly by the moisture of the Soba being dipped in).

Be sure to ask for some Soba-Yu (Pasta Water) to dilute the Tsuyu so you can drink it like a warm Soup. :slight_smile:

Filet Katsu Don (Deep Fried Pork Cutlet with Homemade Sauce Served on Rice & Shredded Cabbage):

We asked for the Sauce to be on the side, to enjoy adding as much of their Homemade Sauce as we preferred. Taking a bite: Crunchy, moist, outstanding Deep Fried Pork Cutlet! :heart:

It’s a different style from Kagura, but this was really outstanding. It was fried at the right temperature, not oil-laden, nor heavy / greasy tasting like many failed versions around town. Their Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce is a touch sweeter, but still has a nice tang, and their Steamed Rice was well made, not an afterthought like many places. Definitely a surprise highlight and a nice combination to try if you’re in the area. :blush:

Overall, Tanakaya is probably the best place to get Soba Noodles in Orange County. While their Soba is the softest of the So Cal Specialists, they do have the best value, allowing you to literally double or triple your order for a mere $2 / $4.

In addition, their Tempura is very respectable, the Tonkatsu (Fillet Katsu) is excellent (ask for Sauce on the side), and their Handmade Japanese Curry Rice is one of the best we have in So Cal at the moment. :slight_smile: That’s reason enough for us to stop by whenever we’re in the area.

Closed Mondays and Thursdays.

Tues, Wed, Fri - Sun:
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Tanakaya
654 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: (657) 231-6245

http://www.tanakaya-soba.com/

13 Likes

Wow, thank you so much for making the trek to Tustin, @Chowseeker1999! Everything looks so wonderful! I think the ume shiso soba is right up my alley - all my favorite flavors. And how good does their vegetable tempura look! I can’t wait to try Tanakaya in October. Many thanks again for going out of your way to try this great mom-and-pop soba purveyor!

1 Like

Ume shiso is also one of my favorite flavor combinations. I would love to give this a try (if I’m ever around Tustin!). Mouth-watering report :smiley_cat:

2 Likes

I think the highlight of my one visit to Tanakaya was the strawberry croissants and Boston creme donuts we got afterwards at Cream Pan.

2 Likes

Hi @MaladyNelson,

No problem. :slight_smile: My friends had been bugging me to try it for a while now. I look forward to your report when you go. :slight_smile:

2 Likes

Hi @ipsedixit,

Bummer you didn’t like it. Oh I saw the sign for Cream Pan in the same plaza. What’s recommended there?

Hi @chinchi,

Yah we liked it a lot. Hope you get to try it. :slight_smile:

Cream Pan is sort of famous for their strawberry croissant, which to me is more like a millefeuille than a classic croissant. Still very tasty, but just more of a croissant stuffed with strawberry slices and pastry cream.

I like their Boston Creme donuts, as well as the Kinako donuts, which are sort of like a deep-fried botamochi.

2 Likes

@ipsedixit Note to self, try the Boston Crême next time. I usually order the strawberry, strawberry-banana, and cream pan. Thanks for the tip.

Hi @attran99,

For the flavors you usually order, are they actual layers of fresh fruit in the donut, or more like a jelly/jam?

The udon is also very good but probably not on a 100 degree day. Sorry to hear about the chicken karage. On the several occasions we had the chicken it was crunchy on the outside. We have always enjoyed all of their deep fried items bc the food does not seem heavy, has a clean taste and is not greasy. They seem to take great care in their frying for a small mom and pop shop.

Ditto. On my list for tomorrow.

Everything at Cream Pan is great. My kids will only eat the whole wheat bread from here. I tried to make a grilled cheese using bread from the super market. My kid took one bite and returned it to the kitchen. He said the bread was weird.

3 Likes

Anyone have a comparison of this place to the old standby Otafuku?

@Chowseeker1999 There is real and fresh fruit in both the strawberry croissant and the strawberry-banana croissant…a few slices to go with the generous pastry cream filling. The strawberry is my favorite, and I can easily inhale 3-4 without even thinking about it.

1 Like

Hi @js76wisco,

Thanks. That’s good to know that your Karaage orders have been crispy (yah we were puzzled). But like you said, their Tempura and all their fried items were very clean, light-tasting, so that really helps to elevate their offerings for things like Ten Zaru Soba and their crispy Filet Pork Cutlets. :slight_smile: I’ll try their Karaage again next time and see if it’s better.

Delicious. I don’t ever order a Boston Creme donut. This version was great bc it wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The dark chocolate layer on top was nice. Japanese pastry cream is a significant upgrade over the regular cream from donut shops. A very good donut. I can’t tell my 4 year old about this donut otherwise she’d want one every day.

2 Likes

Update 1:

While we stopped by Tanakaya for a revisit as part of the Soba Noodle Journey, we were also able to confirm another surprise on the Tanakaya menu (below).

Opened in 1948 in Gunma, Japan by Chef-Owner Aki Tanaka, he recently decided to make the permanent move to So Cal along with his restaurant Tanakaya.

Of the 3 Soba Specialists, Tanakaya has the most robust Menu to go along with the Soba Noodles during lunch.

Curry Rice (Homemade Chicken Curry with Rice):

Besides being a Soba Specialist, Chef Tanaka also happens to be making his own Housemade Japanese Curry from scratch! :open_mouth:

There is a deeply satisfying, creamy, balanced spice blend in the first bite. It isn’t as mild or bland as some versions of Japanese Curry, but it isn’t as heavy on the Garam Masala or other spices as a couple of the more recent discoveries we found. There’s a light inherent sweetness to balance out the savory from the Vegetables that are cooked down in Tanaka-san’s Housemade Curry.

The morsels of Chicken are tender, moist and fully incorporated in the Curry. It is wonderful! :heart:

Japanese Curry fans take note! (@PorkyBelly @Dommy @J_L @JeetKuneBao @beefnoguy @TheCookie @attran99 and others) :slight_smile:

Zaru Soba + Filet Katsu Don (Homemade Buckwheat Noodles with Dipping Sauce + Deep Fried Pork Cutlet with Homemade Sauce Served on Rice & Shredded Cabbage):

Tanakaya has the largest portion size out of all 3 Soba Specialists (Otafuku, Ichimian, Tanakaya). It feels like they give you about ~20% more Soba Noodles per order. In addition, as mentioned before, you can add additional full servings per order for only $2 more for each additional serving(!), so you could get 300% of your normal Soba order for only an additional $4 if you wanted to(!). :open_mouth:

Taking a bite, Tanakaya’s Handmade Soba Noodles are the softest and mildest of the 3 specialists. So for those that like their Soba less “al dente”, less firm and chewy, Tanakaya is the best bet.

Their Tsuyu Dipping Sauce was also a touch salty (not as salty as the new staff version of Ichimian), but a bit on the saltier side. However, by halfway through the Soba dipping experience, it was just fine (having been diluted slightly by the moisture of the Soba being dipped in).

Be sure to ask for some Soba-Yu (Pasta Water) to dilute the Tsuyu so you can drink it like a warm Soup. :slight_smile:

Filet Katsu Don (Deep Fried Pork Cutlet with Homemade Sauce Served on Rice & Shredded Cabbage):

We asked for the Sauce to be on the side, to enjoy adding as much of their Homemade Sauce as we preferred. Taking a bite: Crunchy, moist, outstanding Deep Fried Pork Cutlet! :heart:

It’s a different style from Kagura, but this was really outstanding. It was fried at the right temperature, not oil-laden, nor heavy / greasy tasting like many failed versions around town. Their Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce is a touch sweeter, but still has a nice tang, and their Steamed Rice was well made, not an afterthought like many places. Definitely a surprise highlight and a nice combination to try if you’re in the area. :blush:

Overall, Tanakaya is probably the best place to get Soba Noodles in Orange County. While their Soba is the softest of the So Cal Specialists, they do have the best value, allowing you to literally double or triple your order for a mere $2 / $4.

In addition, their Tempura is very respectable, the Tonkatsu (Fillet Katsu) is excellent (ask for Sauce on the side), and their Handmade Japanese Curry Rice is one of the best we have in So Cal at the moment. :slight_smile: That’s reason enough for us to stop by whenever we’re in the area.

Closed Mondays and Thursdays.

Tues, Wed, Fri - Sun:
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Tanakaya
654 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: (657) 231-6245

http://www.tanakaya-soba.com/

7 Likes

I do adore that place! Thanks for the curry warning. And then there’s Cream Pan nearby for dessert.

3 Likes

I will definitely give this place a try. I’m in the area for Cream Pan and Kean Coffee

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Looks yummy @Chowseeker1999. From your description and photos I can almost taste their Tonkatsu - thin, fresh, pork fillets, lite, crispy goodness. And that Chicken Curry has my name on it.

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Hi @TheCookie,

Thanks. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re headed down that way. And as others mentioned, you can do a fun bang x bang with the Japanese Bakery Cream Pan just across the parking lot. :wink:

1 Like

Don’t forget about ST Patisserie which opened up about 5-7 minutes away.

3 Likes