These days, ramen is almost too popular. It's become a craze, with unnecessary spin-offs like the ramen burger and ramenritto hitting viral status. You'll find ramen-yas scattered all throughout the country, including, of course, the Southland. Tsujita on Sawtelle is a must for first-time visitors, and there are a huge number of ramen shops in Little Tokyo and the South Bay too.
The San Gabriel Valley, of course, also has a solid selection of ramen joints. There are the specialists (like Kosuke for their popcorn chicken ramen), the local darling (Benten Ramen) and then the chains (Daikokuya and Shin Sen Gumi).
Here's a guide:
This is part of the same Daikokuya chain that attracts the ridiculously long lines in Little Tokyo, except that this one is in an Arcadia food court and hardly attracts any lines. Some say that it's because the quality is significantly different, others (like myself) maintain it's simply located in an inconvenient location and the atmosphere ruins the experience. Judge for yourself. They also have another San Gabriel Valley location in Monterey Park. The Daikoku ramen is their speciality, fortified with fatty pork broth. Pair with a side of their crisp, scallion-sprinkled gyoza. 1220 S Golden W Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 254-0127.
The tonkotsu ramen is most definitely a favorite here. Tonkotsu ramen hails from Japan's Kyushu region, and the signature of a good version is its rich creamy pork broth and soft chasu pork. Yukinoya hits the mark on both points. They have fresh garlic that you can crush yourself and add to the broth for an extra kick. If noodles, meat, and broth isn't enough, a side of their shredded pork over rice will most definitely fill you up. 1423 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 821-0901.
Foo Foo Tei
Foo Foo Tei has an unconventional selection of ramen. There's duck ramen, menudo ramen, mapo tofu, hot and sour, and a variety that just features oyster. With dozens of selections on their menu, it's likely you'll find something to satisfy your taste buds. The star dish is the #17 -- the nachatte tonkotsu ramen. It features fatty pieces of pork immersed in a creamy white soup. 15018 Clark Ave., Hacienda Heights, CA 91745; (626) 937-6585.
Shin Sen Gumi
This is an Angeleno favorite, with locations in the San Gabriel Valley, Little Tokyo and the South Bay. You won't feel uncomfortably cramped, and the ramen is a little different, but just as good (that's a statement that could start a fight). You can customize your noodle bowl, but Hakata ramen is generally heavy on the pork, with thin slices of Berkshire sitting over a tonkotsu (pork bone) broth that's cooked for 15 hours before it even touches a bowl. 8450 E Valley Blvd., Ste 103, Rosemead, CA 91770; (626) 572-8646.
Benten is refreshingly minimalistic. There are usually just four items on the menu: spicy miso, tonkotsu, shoyu, and tsukemen. A handful of extra toppings are available if you want that extra kick, but it seems that the purveyors are adamant on keeping things as decision-free as possible. The shoyu and tonkotsu are the top contenders and it's worth noting that Benten is one of the few places in the Los Angeles area that has dipping ramen, or tsukemen. 821 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 910-5075.
Kosuke does popcorn chicken ramen. Chicken is cut into tender, bite-sized pieces, seasoned fiercely and then deep-fried before being plopped on top chewy, alkaline noodles. It's a weird combination, yes, but it draws lines out the doors regularly. The restaurant has a rather comprehensive selection of Japanese specialties. You'll see everything from eel bowls to udon. Ramen, of course, is their main draw. 618 W Main St., Alhambra, CA 91801; (626) 289-8030.