For the most part, Little Tokyo today is tailored towards tourists and anyone under the impression that Japanese culture is comprised of cute toys, pornographic comic books, and overpriced kimonos while the real Japanese population have had the wits to move to the better lands of Torrance and Costa Mesa. Now this 3-block cultural epicenter is infested with stock merchandise, run-of-the-mill sushi and noodle shops, obscure bars squeezed between alleys, pigheaded cops who park wherever they please, and the occasional disappointing festival. Any native stepping foot unto such unholy ground would see that their country is condensed into superficial exaggerations of Japanese food and art. All in all, Little Tokyo is predominately designed for the gaijin, Japanese for ‘foreigner,’ inherently meaning ‘outsider.’ Nevertheless, this place is not completely devoid of authenticity.
On the edge of this tourist wasteland, just on the corner of 2nd St., glows a cozy ramen joint-unassuming, understated, and serving the tastiest bowl of ramen in the middle of the night. Kouraku is a Japanese restaurant for Japanese people...and anyone who enjoys laid back everyday Japanese food. Contemporary sushi with exotic embellishments more colorful than a gay parade, a distractingly huge TV serving as a substitution for socializing, birthday girl wearing 5-inch heels celebrating with her clone friends at the table next to you-non of those urban haphazards exist here.
At Kouraku, pork and all its heavenly flavors is inextricably imbedded in its menu so if you are of certain religious leanings, please stop reading. Pork fried rice served with pickled ginger, spicy and non-spicy ramen noodles flavored with long simmered pork stock, breaded pork cutlets on a bed of steamed rice, need I continue? And, as I have preached in my other articles, to truly savor one’s noodle is to unashamedly slurp. Upon entering, the wholesome smell of ramen and fried rice mingled with its lax atmosphere is enough to calm down the most voracious and inebriated of eaters. First timers must sample the ika geso age, lightly battered squid legs with a drizzle of lemon. Spicy fiends such as myself will do well to try the #38 tan tan men, spicy ramen infused with generous portions of chinese pickled cabbage, ground pork, and green onions (see picture). Initially scalding to the tongue but as the slurping progresses, so does the flavor until you cannot get enough. For those with substantial appetites, there is the option of asking for oomori de, Japanese for extra please. With prices ranging from $5-10 and restaurant hours operating until 3 a.m., simultaneously satisfying and sobering, this is the epitome of Japanese comfort food in downtown Los Angeles.
314 E 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012