Killer Noodle puts the heat on culinary daredevils.
Tsujita has recently expanded its small empire on Sawtelle Boulevard with its newest restaurant, Killer Noodle, where customers can customize their ramen bowls according to spice level and type.
The space itself is much larger than the original Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle and its annex, where lines for tables often trail onto the sidewalk or designated waiting zones. With padded red couches and long stretches of scarlet-tinged wooden tables, it feels almost like an infernal casino lounge. Huge black-and-white photographs of the restaurant managers hang on crimson walls and stare down at patrons as they consume their fiery feast under a ruby-colored chandelier.
Before ordering, a list of disclaimers displayed across the menu and the napkin dispensers warn inexperienced customers about ordering the highest spice levels, five and six, and that dishes cannot be sent back if intolerable. Killer Noodle declares it takes no responsibility for its food being too spicy, affirming that the restaurant aims to be both “painful” and “delicious.”
Although the warnings should be heeded, the customers’ focus should be on the quality of the dishes rather than the ferocity of their spice. The flavors of the noodles and the broth shine through the heat, resulting in a well-balanced and overall exciting meal.
The actual element of spice, the restaurant’s main attraction, is categorized into two distinct flavors – hana sansho, or prickly ash, induces a numbing effect while cayenne pepper delivers a biting heat. Customers can adjust each type on a scale from zero to six, with three being the recommended level. However, the server made a point to mention that the numbing spice should be ordered at a level one for beginners.
Killer Noodle, much like Tsujita’s other establishments, keeps its menu simple, perfect for those who are hopelessly indecisive when it comes to ordering. It’s split into three types of dan dan noodles – Tokyo, Downtown and Original Style – with a choice of char sui pork, cilantro and a poached egg as toppings. My Downtown Style noodles, ordered at a sheepish level two for spice and level one for numbness, arrived in a thick bath of sesame-flavored broth with a scoop of sweet ground pork. The soup was slightly tangier than typical pork-based broths and the spice proved to be surprisingly palatable, without distracting from the delicate composition of the dish that included both nutty and fishy flavors.
I found that a level four seemed to be the threshold for the average person eating at the restaurant. At a level four for spice and three for numbness, the Tokyo Style noodles, although surmountable, required a slow pace and plenty of generous hydration between bites. The numbing effect came on slowly, with a tingling sensation running through the lips and mouth that altogether felt like a subtle heaviness.
The Tokyo and Downtown Style noodles, the two most similar dishes on the menu, distinguish themselves with subtle differences in texture and taste. The peanut and cashew flavors in the Tokyo Style had a stronger presence, while the broth in the Downtown Style had a soupier consistency and sweeter undertones.
For customers who prefer to eat their meal without runny noses or watering eyes, the Original Style noodles use a seasoning of black pepper rather than the zero-to-six scale of spice, resulting in a much milder heat. The ingredients in the dish are tamer as well, comprising tofu, cabbage and ground pork. Although not as flavorful, the Original Style offers a decent, plainer alternative to the intensity of the other two noodle options.
However, guests who can take the heat should opt for the more penetrating flavors of the Downtown or Tokyo styles. Although Killer Noodle’s spice scale may be its main allure, the restaurant provides the same quality of Tsujita’s older establishments, appealing to spice junkies and noodle novices alike.