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Osaka Ramen Collabo’s pork and seafood ramen was a fan favorite this year. Photo by P.C. Staff

Despite last year’s disastrously overcrowded festival, Yokocho Ramen Assn. returns with a first-ever championship competition and better lines

By P.C. Staff

There’s nothing quite like the unforgiving San Gabriel Valley sun, long lines and steaming hot bowls of ramen. Ramen Yokocho Festival was indeed a noodle slurping frenzy at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., on March 28-29, where a champion was crowned for the first time.

The weekend-long festival was home to shops from around the country, including Shin-Sen-Gum (L.A.), Urban Ramen (L.A.), Jujuya (L.A.), Men Oh (San Francisco/ L.A.), Ramen Champ (L.A.), Kaido (Las Vegas) and Kamitoku (Hawaii).

A majority of shops served pork-based dishes, with a few exceptions, such as Urban Ramen’s spicy miso ramen and Tatsuyona’s shrimp creation.

Guests from Japan included Osaka Ramen Collabo, which offered its shrimp tonkotsu for a seafood and pork remix. The collaboration brought a strange but unique concoction of lobster and seafood broth, bacon, spinach, garlic, onion, parsley and pepper. While not one’s usual bowl of ramen, it drew one of the longest lines at the festival — an estimated 20 minutes was the minimum wait time to grab a bowl.

Wakamusha also made an appearance, offering a new ramen trend from Japan called the “Bai Tang” ramen, a silky chicken broth soup. Kyushu’s Tatsunoya also was on-hand, serving up its signature tonkotsu ramen. The shop is known for using only a pork head for the broth, which is then simmered for 20 hours.

Last year, Tatsunoya dominated stand sales at both the L.A. and San Francisco festivals. The previous festival, held at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, sold more than 50,000 bowls. Within hours of opening, the wildly popular event reportedly opened a table for guests to submit complaints, as stands were closing well before the end of the festival.

To improve on past experience, those wanting to avoid long lines this year were able to purchase pre-event express tickets for an extra fee.

While the competition was a close call between noodles and bowls, only U.S. participants were eligible to compete.

This year’s competition winners were Shin-Sen-Gumi’s Satsuma tonkotsu ramen, an exclusive bowl made for the festival cooked with veggies and loaded with umami. Ramen chef Kounosuke Ine represented Shin-Sen-Gumi, accepting both the trophy and the grand prize Delta Airline tickets.

Kaido with its shiroi tonkotsu ramen came in second place, and Men Oh with its Tokushima tonkotsu ramen came in third.

Notable chefs included Jujuya’s Mako Tanaka, formerly of Chinois on Main and Spago, and Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles’ Eggslut chefs Alvin Cailan and Nathan Asamoto.

Ramen Yokocho was established in 2013 and is the largest ramen festival in the U.S., bringing vendors from across the country as well as overseas. The Southern California-based ramen mecca doesn’t have any future days locked, but there are talks of hosting another festival before the end of this year. Stay tuned for more details!