Vegan Ramen @ Shojin

A few months ago, Shojin, a vegan restaurant in Little Tokyo introduced vegan ramen on their menu.  Our first attempt at trying this rare bowl of soup was foiled when we unknowingly arrived during their sushi night. Apparently, no ramen was to be had on sushi night.

A week later, we made sure it wasn’t sushi night and tried again.  I tempered my expectations a little, telling myself that there’s just no way a non-meat version of ramen could compare to the broth at Daikokuya, a stone’s throw away, so I shouldn’t even think about the comparison.  I would think about vegan ramen as a completely different species as regular ramen.

Shojin Ramen

I ordered the sesame ramen, which from the description on their menu, made me think it was Shojin’s attempt at a milky, rich broth.  Unfortunately, the richness came from soymilk and tahini. The broth just didn’t have the same mouthfeel as a slow-simmered pork broth, but that wasn’t the soup’s only short-coming.  That would be reserved for the overwhelming flavor of tahini.  I had expected a slight nutty taste like that of sesame oil, but the broth tasted just like watered down tahini with a bit of bitterness.

Shojin Ramen

Will ordered a more traditional ramen, which I believe was the spicy miso ramen.  It was a Japanese level of spicy (not spicy at all) but the broth was a great deal better than mine.  The miso lent the broth the much-needed umami flavor. The broth wasn’t too shabby for a vegan ramen broth.

Although Shojin didn’t make the ramen noodles from scratch, I was glad that they cooked them well. The noodles were chewy, plentiful, and managed not to get too soggy.  The vegetables (mainly kale) were a great addition too.  What was blatantly missing from our bowl though, were the pickled slices of bamboo which often comes with ramen.  I don’t think there was anything un-vegan about pickled bamboo. I was sorry to see it missing. Our bowls also came with a few slices of seitan ‘cha-siu’ which I could have done without.  The texture was good, but the slices weren’t seasoned well at all.

Shojin’s ramen isn’t going to be luring any omnivores through its doors, but considering they’re the only place I know of that serves actual vegan ramen, it’s worth going for the vegetable-inclined.

333 South Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013-1735
(213) 617-0305

Wakasaya in Little Tokyo

Imagine Chipotle, except instead of pseudo-Mexican food, it’s all Japanese food and instead of ordering at a counter, all the ingredients for the combination can be ordered off a menu.  That’s Wakasaya.

I happened upon this restaurant accidentally when I wanted to visit Little Tokyo downtown for lunch. My original plan was to get a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya, but the line was just too long and I didn’t want to wait hours for lunch. I walked through the Little Tokyo plaza and saw Wakasaya and thought, “why not?”

Wakasaya Chirashi

Their main claim to fame is a fully cusotmizable donburi, although it’s more like chirashi for me.  Pick any combination of available toppings, which include staples like tuna, salmon, fish roe, and eel, and they’ll serve it to you over rice.  I went with yellowtail, salmon, and uni.

The fish quality wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t good.  For a $15 bowl, I expected better. I could have gotten better quality fish from a supermarket chirashi but hey, at least the rice was warm here. I’m amazed that Wakasaya can stay in business with so many better sushi restaurants within walking distance.

335 East 2nd St
104-106 Japanese Village Plaza Mall

Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 621-2121

Shojin (Take 2)

I returned to vegan restaurant Shojin last week to give it another try. The last time I went, they were still green from being newly opened so I wasn’t blown away by anything.  I also thought that the prices were too high for what we got. This time, we took a different approach and ordered different dishes. I don’t remember if it’s because they just weren’t on the menu before, or if we just didn’t order it, but I enjoyed my food more this time than the last.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

I ordered a caterpillar roll as my main course. While I was bummed that they didn’t have regular white rice for their rolls, I really wanted to try what a vegan caterpillar roll tasted like, so I ordered it anyway.  The seitan inside was cooked to a good softness, the sauce was a little sweet, a little salty, but most importantly, the rice was pretty good as far as brown-rice sushi goes.  It was soft and sticky and didn’t taste too health-foodish. The roll isn’t even on the same level as a regular caterpillar roll with real fish, but it was good for a vegan roll.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

Next, I had a bite of the pumpkin croquette, which was just mediocre.  It’s a bit disappointing when something battered and fried isn’t delicious.  It just didn’t taste that good, so I suggest skipping this dish.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

In contrast, the avocado tempura with mixed greens salad was much better. The avocado was still warm and crispy from the fryer.  The texture of the crunchy batter outside and the warm, soft, rich avocado inside was perfect.  The salad wasn’t too bad either.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

The BF ordered the cold sesame seitan soba, which he was pleased with.  The cold broth was certainly flavorful and strong with a sesame taste.  The seitan was also cooked well and soaked up the flavors from the broth.  The soba isn’t anything to write home about, but at least it wasn’t overcooked.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

For dessert, we ordered the crepe with strawberries and tofu chocolate cream and a scoop of rum raisin ice cream.  The crepe was soft and soggy, but the chocolate cream was decent because it wasn’t too sweet.  The raisin ice cream was also a hit even though I don’t like raisin.

Shojin in Little Tokyo

We also ordered the peach parfait which comes with fresh peaches, peach jelly, peach ice-cream, and granola.  The peach ice-cream was a little too icy, even for my tastes.  The peach jelly was okay, but a strange addition to the parfait.  The fresh peaches were too hard and kind of flavorless especially compared to the jelly.

It seemed like this time, we had the opposite experience as last time. I was much more pleased with my entree than I was with dessert.  Maybe it’s just me, but I still think the restaurant is expensive for what it serves. The soba dish was $11 and it wasn’t even that big of a serving.  Even though I enjoyed this visit more, Shojin is still delegated to a place to dine at only when we get a serious hankering for vegan Japanese food that I can’t make at home.

333 S. Alameda St. Suite 310
(Little Tokyo Shopping Center 3F)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: 213-617-0305