Off the Beaten Path: Soupin’ in the Los Angeles Sun

Last weekend, while in LA, I ended up having a lot of soup, despite the 70+ degree, sunny weather.  If you didn’t believe that I could eat soup at any time, believe me now.

** Soup #1 – SHIN-SEN-GUMI’S HAKATA RAMEN (Rosemead) **

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  If the Man and some friends didn’t live in LA, there’s a pretty big chance I’d still fly out just for some of this ramen.

Eating at Shin-Sen-Gumi is a requirement whenever I visit LA, and, when I don’t have the time to go, it depresses me.  If you’re like me and think Ippudo is the best here in NYC*, I’m here to tell you that Shin-Sen-Gumi tops that.  I never thought I’d say something in LA is better than NYC, but there’s  first for everything, right?

The Man and I picked C up from the airport, and the plan was to take her straight to the ramen.  I had been raving about it for a while now, so I had to take her there.  Plans were a bit thrown off, though, when I had to make a not-so-quick quick stop to drop off some brown sugar cookies at a friend’s apartment.  I didn’t get to see him the night before, I wasn’t going to have another chance to drop them off, and I wanted to get it to him before he ran the marathon the next day.

Unfortunately, while I was trying to do something nice for one friend, I was making C grumpier and grumpier since she was starving.  After about two hours of driving in a huge detour and showing her all of the Macy’s she’s ever wanted to see in LA, we finally arrived at Shin-Sen-Gumi…and then had to wait another 20 minutes to get seated.  (This is the point where I was praying in my head that C wasn’t going to punch me in the stomach to make me suffer like she was suffering.  Perhaps this was an unintentional tactic – to get her so hungry that, no matter what, she’d agree the ramen is the best she’s ever had.)  Standing outside, kissed by the warm sun, I started to feel sweat beads forming on my back, but I still desperately wanted a bowl of ramen.

Since we sat down literally 15 minutes before lunch specials ended, we were able to get the “L-Set,” which included a half bowl of hakata ramen, takana fried rice and a small salad (which really isn’t that small) for a mere $7.50 (regular price for both w/o salad: $10.50).  Woohoo, I have perfect timing, right? 😉  If we didn’t make it before the 2pm deadline, we would’ve still had a super cheap meal since a normal sized bowl of ramen is just $6.95.

The best part of the Hakata Ramen here, besides the friendly cost and 10-star taste, is the fact that you can customize practically every part of your bowl.  You’re given a piece of paper on the table, and you check off what you want and how you want it.  Noodles – hard, medium, soft?  Broth – strong, medium, light?  Oil – Heavy, normal, light?  I always get hard, strong, normal.  Gets you excited, doesn’t it!

Shin-Sen-Gumi's Lunch Special L-Set - Takana Fried Rice, Hakata Ramen, Spicy Miso Paste

The standard “toppings” in each bowl are slices of intense, pink-colored ginger, tender slices of pork and chopped scallions.  When the waitress comes over, she’ll ask if you’re ok with keeping the ginger in.  Yes!  Other toppings – egg, bamboo, spicy miso, cod roe, extra pork, corn, seaweed, etc. – are an extra cost, ranging anywhere from $0.50 to $2.50.  Spicy miso is our fave, and thus, a mandatory thing whenever we go.  You can get one little scoop good enough for two people for $1.25.  This time I also ordered bamboo ($1) and flavored egg ($1).

Typically, with most meals, I stuff my face rather quickly, but at Shin-Sen-Gumi, I take my time and savor every. last. drop.  No need to rush a great thing, especially when I can’t get it everyday like I’d want to.  Did C like it as much as I do?  I actually never asked her, but, a few days ago – after she’s had some time to forget her pre-ramen trauma – she said something like our usual ramen lunch spots seemed blah after last Saturday’s experience.  So I think I gave her a truly unforgettable experience in every way possible…just like a good friend should. 🙂

*I still haven’t tried Tsushima, which a friend told me was his fave ramen place. They supposedly serve the best shio ramen from 12-2pm on Wednesdays only. I’ll have to try that sometime.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen
8450 E. Valley Blvd., #150
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 572-8646
http://www.shinsengumigroup.com

**Soup #2 – RIVERA’S CABALLITO de SOPAS DOBLES (Downtown LA)**

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  It tasted good, but I wouldn’t order it.

Rivera's Trio of Caballito de Sopas Dobles, Cordero Vasco and Arabesque

The Caballito de Sopas Dobles, made from pureed white beans and roasted red peppers, was served as part of the first course “trio” for my friend’s wedding welcome dinner.  Everyone’s soup appeared in different glassware, including a thin, cylindrical vase, a champagne glass, and a beaker, which I thought was a cute idea but maybe a thinner beaker would look sleeker.  Or maybe I’m still having bad flashbacks to my high school chemistry class since my doctor friend, Dr. SB, didn’t seem to have an issue with it.

I downed the soup, but the whole time I thought I was drinking roasted red pepper mashed potatoes.  I can appreciate if the chef didn’t use an ounce of cream in it and just used white beans as a healthier option in creating the thick consistency, but I have no idea if this was what he/she did or thought.  Doesn’t really matter how it was concocted because, even though I thought it tasted good, I wouldn’t order this on my own.  It was a tad too thick, and I generally don’t lean towards roasted red pepper-flavored stuff.  But I’ll give the presentation an A.

How much would that soup cost?  I have no clue since I didn’t have to spend a dime that night.  I just tried looking at their menu online, and they have something for lunch called “two soups in two bowls” for $6.  I imagine soup in a beaker would cost around the same.  Maybe “two soups in two bowls” could be “two beakers, one flask” where one beaker contains the white bean puree and the other beaker contains the red pepper puree.  I’d have fun mixing my own soup, and customizing the thickness, although I might also just end up filling the flask with some tasty white wine.

Rivera Restaurant
1050 S. Flower Street, #102
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213.749.1460
http://www.riverarestaurant.com


** Soup #3 – LA SERENATA DE GARIBALDI’S CARROT SOUP (East LA) **

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  Nothing fancy, just good homemade FREE soup.

The Man and I went to meet his older sister and two nieces at the Pasadena Humane Society before lunch.  Probably one of the worst decisions I ever made because I ended up tearing up in the car when we left.  If I lived in LA, I would’ve gone home with two young pitbull mixes and a three-yr-old poodle mix that day.  It killed me to leave them in those cages.  I needed some comforting.

Fortunately for me, the Man’s sister and brother-in-law decided to go to La Serenata, their favorite Mexican restaurant.  Driving into the barren alleyway to get to the back parking area was a tad scary, even in bright daylight, but you walked into a very warm and inviting environment.  The waiters were extremely friendly to the point that ours started talking to the family walking out while he was still in the middle of taking the bro-in-law’s order.

La Serenata's Carrot Soup

I ended up only ordering a traditional entree of Picadillo y Chile Relleno since I had a feeling it was going to be a lot of food, and they had already given us cheese quesadillas and tortilla chips with yummy salsa to start.  But guess what comes out first?  A delicious carrot soup.  Comfort.  Free!  I’m not sure if anyone at the table noticed that I drank it pretty fast.  It was the right consistency – not too thin or thick – and it tasted fresh and healthy.  The only thing that only slightly bothered me, oddly, was the bowl it was served in.  It was a thick, light plastic bowl that reminded me of cafeterias, and, for some reason, it affected me.  It could be a good thing, though, because I suppose it means that I think this non-fancy soup deserves to be served in something fancier.

La Serenata De Garibaldi
1842 E. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 265-2887
www.laserenataonline.com

—-

Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!

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About Tynee

My latest adventure: trying all 50 of what New York Magazine dubbed the "Tastiest" Soups in the city in 2009. Read all about it here. View all posts by Tynee

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