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Restaurant review: DTLA ramen spot modeled after ‘Blade Runner’ offers futuristic dining experience

9th St. Ramen submits a usual fare of appetizers, but the karaage fried chicken popped with savoriness underneath its crispy batter. (Esther Li/Daily Bruin)

"9th Street Ramen"

111 W 9th St

Los Angeles, CA 90024

By Matthew Chu

March 2, 2020 10:10 p.m.

The aesthetic in 9th St. Ramen is the fictionalized Los Angeles from “Blade Runner 2049.”

Occupying a modest spot on 9th Street in Downtown Los Angeles, the restaurant has intrigued passersby with the neon glows of its dragon sign since its Feb. 10 opening. As its straightforward name suggests, the restaurant aims to stake its claim within the popular ramen market, serving five distinct variants of the Japanese dish.

If not in the mood to slurp down noodles, 9th St. offers a small selection of rice bowls as well, ranging from spicy tuna donburi to pork fried rice – in addition to a wide array of beer, wine and sake. With its uncomplicated menu and futuristic vibe, 9th St. Ramen provides a colorful sensory experience for both the eyes and the taste buds.

Upon entering the restaurant, customers experience a departure from the naturalistic colors of a typical ramen shop. White tiles, metallic tables and mirrors create a monochromatic look, while the space is illuminated in a distinctly reddish-blue hue. Squared pots containing artificial ferns are suspended from the ceilings, enhancing the futuristic aesthetic. In the vein of sci-fi noirs like “Blade Runner,” the reimagining of a ramen shop as a technological, neon hub of the future surprisingly works without being too gimmicky.

(Esther Li/Daily Bruin)
Opting for experimental decor, 9th St. Ramen is illuminated in a reddish-blue hue, reflecting a departure from the colors of a typical naturalistic ramen shop. (Esther Li/Daily Bruin)

[Related: Restaurant review: Tacos 1986 spices up Westwood food scene with vibrant, authentic Mexican flavors]

Within its compact space, the restaurant primarily features bar seating with only a handful of booth tables. The lack of chairs in favor of bar stools adds to the sleek aesthetic, but may lead to uncomfortable seating for some customers. Still, the neon atmosphere strikes the right balance between cool and cozy, making it a ripe spot for a late-night social.

For appetizers, 9th St. submits its takes on the usual Japanese fare like edamame, spicy tuna and a mushroom tempura. The karaage fried chicken, which is marinated in koji sake, arrived with bite-sized chunks of chicken, a charred lemon, preserved sesame mayo and sliced pickles packed onto a small black plate.

Although the lemon functioned more as tangy garnish, the mayo provided a sweet, piquant contrast to the saltiness of the chicken, which popped with savoriness underneath its crispy batter. The pickles were fresh and helped cleanse the palate after consuming the fried delights. At $10, the portion size wasn’t generous, but the excellent flavors justified its price.

While 9th St. opts for an experimental decor, it doesn’t aim to reinvent the hallmarks of traditional ramen – and wisely so. Beyond choosing one of its five broths – including tonkotsu pork, chicken tori, spicy lamb, black double soup and vegan onion and mushroom – 9th St. permits some basic customization to personalize your ramen. Its signature noodle is created from toasted wheat and rye flour, but the restaurant also offers a gluten-free option. Additional toppings, which cost extra to include, are fairly standard in their variety – though $4 for truffle butter seemed a tad excessive.

Priced at $16, the black ramen double soup mostly succeeded at creating an appetizing variant of the traditional Japanese dish. For black ramen, the broth was lighter in color than expected, leaning more on saltiness than sweetness. Sesame seeds, shredded nori and red cabbage floated decoratively at the top of the bowl, making for a pleasing presentation, though these elements quickly disappeared into the opaqueness of the broth.

While the garlic oil was disappointingly undetectable, the double soup preparation brought complexity to the broth, coating the toasted wheat and rye noodles with an unmistakably umami sensation. Though a bit heavy to finish, the broth had a sophisticated amount of richness that permeated throughout the bowl.

[Related: The Quad: Different styles of ramen and where to find them in Los Angeles]

The noodles themselves were satisfactory, but not the highlight of the dish. With a medium thickness, they were appropriately firm, chewy and not too overcooked. On their own, however, they didn’t add much in terms of flavor or texture, serving instead as a delivery system for more exciting ingredients.

The toppings were a somewhat mixed bag but acted as a complementary set of flavor profiles. The shoyu egg, which costs $2 to add, was the perfect consistency, with just a little runniness to its sweet and savory yolk. On the other hand, the slice of chashu pork was bland and tough instead of fatty and tender, making it a chore to consume rather than a harmonious part of the ramen. The pieces of cabbage swimming in the soup tasted fresh and crunchy, and their charred texture created a pleasant balance to the softness of the sliced mushrooms and charcoal grilled chicken.

Not every component was equal in quality, but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, elevated by a complex broth and a handful of tastefully selected ingredients. The prices for ramen range from $15 to $17, providing above-average ramen at an average price point. If exploring the iconic sites of Downtown LA, 9th St. Ramen provides a delicious way to satisfy ramen cravings with solid appetizers and a one-of-a-kind science fiction ambience. Follow a visit to the historic Bradbury Building just a few blocks down with a stop by 9th St. Ramen for the ultimate “Blade Runner” experience.

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Matthew Chu
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