One of Tokyo’s most celebrated ramen shops, Afuri, is opening a massive new restaurant in the heart of LA’s Arts District on June 11. With shops in Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area, Afuri hopes to make a strong impression on Los Angeles with a signature yuzu-shio broth that incorporates both chicken and seafood, plus noodles made on the premises. With a worldwide presence, solid following in Japan, and strong start in the U.S., Afuri is definitely the most exciting new ramen spot to open in Los Angeles in some time.
The ramen scene in Los Angeles has had multiple waves, from the early shops in Little Tokyo, Sawtelle Japantown, and Gardena to the slightly newer places spread across the center of the city and out into the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley, and beyond. Various styles have flourished over the decades too, from spicy tantanmen like the bowls found at Killer Noodle to the garlic-bombed richness of Tsujita Annex. Of late Angelenos have preferred the rich, fatty kotteri or tonkotsu broth that uses a highly boiled, murky paitan soup — think Daikokuya, Silver Lake Ramen, Shin Sen Gumi, or Tsujita Artisan Noodle, all of which employ a thicker pork-based broth. Some practitioners of lighter, clearer broths have gained their own following over the years, including Asa in Torrance with its old-school shoyu broth, Jidaiya with its seaweed-topped Tokyo-shoyu, and Josui with its garlicky, oil-slicked soup.
However, no shop has successfully executed the citrus-tinted chitan broth from Afuri, the originator of the style. Afuri USA CEO Taichi Ishizuki thinks LA needs to understand the beauty and nuance of chitan broth, cooked at a lower temperature just below boiling to better capture the umami and essence of its specific ingredients. “Our ramen is different, with four types of ingredients in chicken, seafood, veggies, and seaweed meant to showcase the different layers of umami. From the first bite to the end of the meal, there’s different types of umami,” says Ishizuki, who was previously an executive of a Japanese restaurant group in California before bringing Afuri to Portland back in 2016. “We have nothing to hide. We are one of the few ramen shops in the world that doesn’t use MSG. Every umami is from fresh ingredients.”
Like Tatsu first showed in its Melrose shop, Afuri also wants to project its noodle-making prowess to customers, with a fishbowl laboratory facing its minimalist, brightly lit dining room. Despite the popularity of other noodle brands like Sun Noodle and Yamachan, which tend to deliver their product to other shops a few times a week, Ishizuki says that at Afuri, the aim is to make fresh noodles daily. “When you enter the space in Arts District, you can recognize all the process in making ramen,” he says.
But really, the thing everyone needs to try first at Afuri is its signature yuzu shio, with a seared sliver of chashu pork, brilliant green endive leaves, bamboo, and shio tare whose recipe is kept so secret that only a small number of people at the company know the actual preparation. “When sipping some acidity, it [brightens every] ingredient, like they are waking up to the acid,” says the enthusiastic Ishizuki. Indeed, fans of the Tokyo chain tout the yuzu shio ramen as one of the top noodle bowls in all of Japan. A bright red spicy yuzu ratan gets an extra touch of heat from sansho pepper and Korean chili powder, since Angelenos love their spice.
Other menu items like chicken karaage, soft shell crab bun, buta pork dumplings laid out in a crispy web, and even vegan options, like miso kimchi gyoza, should help appeal to the wider LA crowd. A spicy hazelnut miso ramen looks like a solid plant-based pick while the classic yuzu shio even comes in a gluten-free option, a rarity among ramen bowls in town. The city’s diners are also now fully aware of tsukemen, so Afuri has two versions here, plus a slew of rice bowls. Finally, Afuri is one of the only ramen shops in LA to have a full bar, with special Japanese-influenced cocktails like a snap pea vodka sour, and a great variety of Japanese whiskeys. Shochu, sake, and beer round out the alcoholic beverage options, while non-boozy yuzu limeade should be a nice complement to the citrus in the broth.
Afuri opens on June 11, though its more formal grand opening isn’t happening until the 16th, which means hours and menu items might be limited until then. Either way, expect long waits and lots of anticipation for this exciting new addition to LA’s already substantial ramen scene. After this opening, Afuri plans to expand to Orange County.