On Ocean View Boulevard in Montrose there is a ramen shop that holds its own against Los Angeles powerhouses like JINYA or Orochon.
That might sound like a lukewarm endorsement, but it shouldn’t. Being put in the same category as those other shops is an honor in itself.
Kontentsu is good; really good. There is just nothing to set it apart from the cluster of ramen shops that are now sprawled throughout California. The flavors that you get at this restaurant are the same flavors you will get at most other shops in the area. Since we are dealing with ramen — a rich, salty noodle- and broth-based dish — that is not something to complain about. In fact, it’s worth every penny.
Unlike many ramen shops, which hold to a very traditional aesthetic, Kontentsu was a nice change of pace to other places where I’ve eaten. It was an elevated contemporary restaurant without feeling too formal. Above a long row of seats is a decor piece made entirely of mesh noodle strainers. Is the curator the next Banksy? Probably not, but it is a cool aesthetic piece nonetheless.
Sticking with tradition, I brought along the same friend with whom I visited HiroNori in Pasadena earlier this year. We both ordered the Tonkotsu Black ($12.75), which comes with roasted garlic-infused pork bone broth, pork chashu (braised pork belly) or chicken, bean sprouts, scallions, seaweed paper and one marinated egg. The bowl is then topped with a drizzle of extra black garlic oil and thin slices of kale and onion.
We also decided to go for the spicy tuna crisp ($7.50) as a starter. I would recommend skipping this one and trying one of the more traditional shareable dishes like the gyoza ($5.50) or karage chicken ($7).
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, try the pork chashu tacos ($7) or curry fries ($7.50). Edamame ($4) and spicy edamame ($4.50) are also available.
My dining partner opted for the pork chashu and asked for his to come spicy as well. I went for the chicken, which I ended up regretting. The chicken was fine, but upon opting for a taste of my companion’s dish, the pork had a better flavor and came with great sear that left it with more of a bite than other ramen restaurants I have visited.
There are two schools of thought on pork chashu. The first is that the pork should be so tender that chewing becomes a formality rather than a necessity. The second is that the pork should be able to maintain its integrity after being submerged in the ramen. My tastes fall into the latter category.
Kontentsu fills their bowls with thin noodles, but not all ramen shops take this approach. Just like every ramen shop has their own broth recipe, any ramen shop worth its shio at least attempts to take a unique approach to their noodles.
The thin noodles Kontentsu provides means that a ton of broth remains incorporated into every bite. I’ve never been a math guy, but I do know that more broth means more flavor. Bunching the thin noodles together with small parcels of chicken and sprouts made every bite feel like you were getting the full experience.
In some ramen shops, the noodles can come close to being udon thick. While these places generally have really good noodles that are chewy and enjoyable on their own, to me, ramen is all about the broth. The noodles are just a mechanism by which to enjoy it.
One dish that is unique is the kimchi ramen ($13.50) which comes with a spicy pork bone broth and the same fixings that come with the tonkotsu. The toppings on this dish instead go for pepper flakes and sauteed kimchi. There is also a vegetable miso ramen ($12.75) for vegetarians and a soyu ramen ($12.00) for those who prefer a chicken broth.
The vegetable option is filled with lightly fried tofu, scallions, wood mushrooms, bamboo shoots, corn and seaweed paper. Then it is topped with arugula. While I didn’t try the vegetable options, I have tried mushroom at other ramen locations and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to avoid meats. The rich broth at Kontentsu does all the heavy lifting flavor-wise, so you could throw whatever you wanted in and probably have a good bowl of food in front of you.
You can make this dish vegan friendly by swapping out the regular noodles for the vegan noodles. The shoyu ramen comes with the same toppings as the kimchi and tonkotsu; the only difference is that this dish comes with scallion oil instead of black garlic oil.
All in all, the service was helpful and, in the best way possible, minimal. If you are looking for a place to come in and enjoy the comfort of a good bowl of noodles, Kontentsu is the place to visit.