Dish List: Ramen Zetton
What: Ramen Zetton
Where: 735 Baker St. Costa Mesa, 92626
How Much: $7-10
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
If you’re looking for a standard ramen outing experience with a not-so-standard menu, Ramen Zetton is certainly worth the one time visit.
Nestled in a corner of Costa Mesa with a strong Japanese presence, Ramen Zetton is that hole-in-the-wall place that you would not have noticed if your friends didn’t tell you about it otherwise. The location opened last summer, and is situated in a small plaza off Bear Street, accompanied by another Japanese specialty food house next door.
Upon entering the restaurant (arriving at 6:15 p.m. was apparently too early; it opens at 6:30 p.m. for dinner, which is a little late in my opinion), one could already tell judging by the small size that the place was going to be cozy and simplistic. The restaurant doesn’t try to be hip; the music isn’t “pumping” and the lighting isn’t similar to that of an Abercrombie and Fitch store. At the same time, Ramen Zetton doesn’t try to be traditional and authentically Japanese either. There isn’t a lot of “traditional” art and they don’t make tables suited for floor seating.
Rather, there are homey red accents in the seating, a single Buddha seated at the entrance and the waiters are dressed in simple black logo T-shirts and jeans. The restaurant is certainly more about food than the aesthetics, and this becomes more important later on.
The two waiters working did their job for the most part. Our server made the obligatory water refills and a timely delivery of the food — less than 15 minutes, fortunately. However, we didn’t exactly feel “welcomed” to the location, as I add emphasis to ‘obligatory’ for a lot of the service. The waiter merely did his job and took our order but did not try to make any recommendations or offer a welcoming smile. He was basically just here to bring us our food and collect our money. Perhaps it’s because we were just college students and he predicted the tip wasn’t going to be out of this world. Regardless, I almost found myself feeling guilty when I asked more questions about the menu.
On a good and more important note, the ramen itself was flavorful and delicious. Ramen Zetton offers a menu that consists of both traditional ramen and rare ramen. There are certain noodles that you don’t see too often at a standard ramen restaurant, like tsuke men, which is dipping ramen that is available hot and cold. There is also tan tan men, or spicy miso ramen, which also has a unique spin on it and happens to be the chef’s specialty — it is Zetton’s own original broth (unlike the standard choices of soy sauce or salt-based broths, although those are available options too) combined with habanero miso, ground pork (another interesting choice), green onion, red pepper, sesame seeds, and peanuts. There is a string of what looks like red saffron sitting atop this wonderful mess of sodium and noodles.
Overall the dish was generally likable; it had the right amount of spice without being overwhelming. The ground pork actually mixed in better with the broth than expected. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having my pork act as a sprinkle throughout the dish, but it actually made it easier to ration together with the noodles. The green onions were also particularly savory despite the large amount of them encased in the bowl. Instead of being their usual nuisance that they are to me, they were fine being eaten themselves, as they, and the rest of the toppings, absorbed the flavors of the broth tastefully.
Among the exclusive and flavorful ramen dishes on the menu, Ramen Zetton also plays host to an equally unique happy hour, which changes based on the hour in the day. From 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. (their shortest-timed deal), you can get any size ramen bowl for a flat and overall cheaper price of six dollars. From 2 to 3 p.m. gyoza appetizers are $1.50, and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. all cocktails are $3 (which may have changed recently to “BOGO” cocktails instead). The happy hour allows customers to explore the different options available rather than limit themselves to the cheapest item on the menu, a favorite “college” move of mine!
In terms of pricing, Ramen Zetton offers relatively basic pricing for their dishes. Expect to pay around seven dollars for the plain soy sauce and salt ramen broths, and eight to nine dollars for the specialties like tan tan men and dipping noodles. The servings are pretty hearty too. The bowls are guaranteed bigger than your head, but you can also get a half size portion and pay $1.50 less. Alcohol is also a little cheaper too: an Asahi beer was just under five bucks.
Overall, Ramen Zetton is a down to earth and simple way to experience particularly neat and tasty ramen. They don’t “dress to impress” and they also don’t try to offer any kind of kooky and trendy concoctions. Rather, you can sit down at one of the eight tables in the restaurant and experience nothing else except the food.