In the heart of Koreatown is an eye-catching wall overrun with pseudo-ivy vines. The adjacent wooden interior beckons customers into the newly opened California Ramen Factory. Its quirky logo and the use of bold block lettering on the outside wall also draws in customers with an appetite for the house specialty: ramen.
California Ramen Factory opened in January and has already received a decent amount of traffic thanks to their opening week buy-one-get-one-free promotion and the sheer volume of positive Yelp reviews. Their menu consists of ramen, rolls and nori tacos as well as appetizers that include takoyaki, ika geso, beef gyoza and chicken karage. Soon to come are poke burritos and bowls.
Inside, the interior pairing of yellow and medium-brown wood is slightly garish. There are two long, communal tables running through the center of the restaurant, as well as a row of booths that seat two to four people. Looking out a window over West 3rd street is a long counter with bar-like seating, where patrons can observe passersby while slurping hot ramen.
Upon entering the restaurant, guests are directed to a kiosk on the left, where they can electronically place their orders. They can then choose their own seating and wait for the food arrive from a team of friendly waiters.
While there are only five types of ramen on their menu ranging from $11 to $13, the vast variety of toppings provide diverse flavor options. Customers have the option to add pork, chicken, a soft boiled egg, nori, grated garlic, wood ear mushroom, green onion, crispy onion or corn. Two menu items include the green ramen, made from a pesto broth, and the vegan ramen, comprising noodles made from kale.
When it comes to ramen, broth and meat are the two most important components. In its signature tonkatsu ramen, California Ramen Factory delivers on the broth. It is thicker than one would expect, and a bowl of broth alone can satisfy the appetite. While it is a bit on the blander side, there are various sauces and oils that are on the table or are available upon request to improve the flavor. However, their meat is rather subpar, as the cut is poorly angled in most cases, and the pork itself lacks flavor. In terms of meat preparation, the black ramen has an advantage over the signature tonkatsu — because it is served with black garlic oil, the meat better retains its moisture and flavor.
They do not have dessert on their menu, but a few blocks down are California Donuts, open 24/7, and Continental Bakery, where one can get their sugar fix.
Overall, California Ramen Factory is quite average in price, flavor and ambience for a Koreatown ramen shop. However, a large part of their menu is still to come, which will hopefully give the restaurant a much-needed boost.