A Fresh Take on Tradition with HiroNori Craft Ramen

by Lilly Ball

When Hiromichi Igarashi arrived in America over ten years ago, he decided to try a familiar food. His first taste of American ramen shocked him; it was nothing like the flavorful dish he loved back in Japan, but rather a sad attempt at authenticity.

Igarashi, who is now 32, worked as a ramen chef in Japan from the age of 18, before venturing to America after graduating college.

“I decided, I’m going to open my own restaurant in the United States. But, at the time, I spoke no English; I had no work visa. So, I started working in restaurants as a dish washer, and worked my way up. I had a hard time in my twenties, dealing with homelessness, doing couch surfing, but I built a reputation. I’ve worked in several ramen restaurants here. I learned management skills,” said Igarashi.

When a friend approached Igarashi five years ago with the idea of starting their own ramen restaurant, he was glad to help. Igarashi provided the expert cooking knowledge, while his friend knew the business side of the restaurant world. Together, they opened the beloved Silverlake Ramen in Los Angeles.

“It’s one of the busiest ramen restaurants in the United States. Last year, I finished partnership with the owner, because I wanted to open my own restaurant,” said Igarashi.

Starting a new chapter in his life, Igarashi teamed up with a previous boss, Tadanori Akasaka, former President of the Takara ramen Inc. factory USA, and Director of Takara Co Ltd in Kyoto, Japan. Together, Igarashi and Akasaka opened up HiroNori Craft Ramen, located in Irvine’s TRADE center on Michelson Drive.

“He knew how to do the manufacturing, distributing to other vendors, and I think I’m an expert at running and managing restaurants. We kind of got this idea that if we combined together, we could basically go all over the world, through other distributors and retailers. So, we opened up [HiroNori] 8 months ago,” said Igarashi with a smile.

Though there are already multiple ramen restaurants in the Irvine/Costa Mesa area , Igarashi wanted to open up his own with authentic, traditional flavors, intermixed with modern concepts.

As a result, HiroNori is one of the few places that boasts a delicious, fully vegan ramen dish. Packed with vibrant vegetables, delicious tofu, and a surprisingly rich sesame miso broth, the Vegan Ramen is one of the most popular items on the menu. The other two offered bowls, Tonkotsu Ramen and Shoyu Ramen, are also hearty, and beautifully presented, featuring fresh noodles made at a nearby factory.

Unlike any other ramen restaurant that I have been to in the O.C, HiroNori also offers pork buns, which were savory, filling, and very soft. Remarkably, even the smaller items on the menu feature their own unique flavor. The edamame (soybeans) are zesty and crisp, from  the lime zest that added an extra kick and gave off a distinctly fresh aroma.

“There’s two types of ramen restaurants — one is very traditional Japanese, they come straight from Japan, not knowing anything about the United States. The other, they don’t know anything about traditional Japan, they just try to copy others, they don’t even know how to make ramen. Since I was at Silverlake, I observed people, I got opinions from customers, I decided to make America-influenced ramen, based on my knowledge of traditional Japanese ramen,” said Igarashi.

Though there may be a slew of ramen restaurants to choose from, some being as close to campus as University Town Center, HiroNori is an outstanding restaurant with a unique story behind it, and offers some dishes I will gladly come back for.

If you have dreams of opening your own ramen business, please contact ramenanddreams@gmail.com for help from the “ramen masters.”