Mitsuwa Market Has ‘Best Ramen’
By Charles Lam
Irvine has its choice of nice supermarket food courts. Wholesome Choice is close to campus and serves a good assortment of ethnic food. For fancier fare, Whole Foods is just up Jamboree and features more American food. Joining them is Irvine Mitsuwa, a newly opened branch of the America-based Japanese supermarket. It features a large food court and is poised to take out Wholesome Choice and Whole Foods as a favorite place to grab a bite after doing some shopping.
First off, Mitsuwa’s food court sells Japanese food. Not just sushi, but also ramen, udon, yakisoba, curry plates and takoyaki. Surprisingly, there is no sushi in the food court. If you want to fulfill your raw fish craving, you’re going to have to buy a sashimi plate from the fish aisle and take it out.
Secondly, the place gets CROWDED during dinner and there is very little separate seating. Expect to stand around lost during dinner, trying to sneak into seats as people leave. If you found a chair near a restaurant, expect to elbow people’s thighs a lot, as the line brushes right up against you.
Oh, it’s also loud because everyone is talking, ugly because … well, it’s a food court, and pungent because there’s a lot of food floating around.
Despite the inconvenience, Mitsuwa is completely worth it. The service is quick and efficient; the distractions aren’t actually all that distracting and they have what may be the best ramen in the area with Santouka Ramen.
The broth is rich and complex, whether you opt for shoyu or miso. The noodles are perfect. Just perfect. They’re hefty, clinging desperately onto the broth as they’re being eaten. They have a serious bite, with a density of three or four instant ramen noodles. If the only ramen you’ve ever had is cup ramen, then you’re seriously missing out. Seriously .
The included fish cake, pork and other toppings are all great but the true stars are the noodles and the broth.
Udon (Japanese rice noodles) and curry dishes are available from Misasa and, though they might not be as relatively good as Santouka’s ramen, they’re enough to scratch an udon or curry itch and they’re cheaper. The udon noodles have a good thickness and wonderful starchiness, resisting chewing just the most miniscule amount. The curry dishes are giant — you might need to take it to go. Also, a meal from Misasa floats around $8 while one from Santouka is around $10.
Finally, Go Squared Takoyaki & Taiyaki round out the notable members of the food court, vending grilled octopus-filled dumplings, buckwheat yakisoba noodles served in wooden boats and taiyaki, fished shape pastries filled with red bean, chocolate or custard fillings.
The takoyaki are, unfortunately, doughy and average and lacking on the flavor. The yakisoba is not much better; make sure to get the salt sauce for an extra boost in flavor. The taiyaki, however, salvage the place. No trip to the food court should end without a fish in hand, filled with custard.
Mitsuwa is a welcome entrant to the Irvine food scene. As bland as the city may be, its culinary experience is being salvaged from unexpected places (food trucks, supermarkets, other supermarkets) and any help is always welcome.