Both Tsurumaru and Marugame are Hawaii transplants. Both use fresh cut noodles, which, by the way, have been rather difficult to find in Los Angeles, unlike a good bowl of Chinese hand pulled noodles. Marugame has a fancier transparent kitchen directly in front of the noodle bar. Most say those seats in front of the noodle bar are the best. Personally, watching these Japanese men cut noodle (why are there no women?) only invokes the geriaric business operator in me — all I can think of is they’re going to sue the restaurant for repetitive injury and carpal tunnel syndrome. The only difference between the two Little Tokyo operations boils down to uni and parking. I don’t need uni in my udon, but I need parking to get to said udon.
So, like I said, team Tsurumaru:
$4.50 for a medium bowl of splashing udon, $5.50 for a large. $1 to $2 for tempura add-ons sitting under the heat lamp. The entire QSR set-up is rather spartan, but the spirit of the udon house just jives with me so well: quality ethnic foods with no MSG, made from traditional methods, made affordable thanks to the monstrosities of the US food system, made quick thanks to Japanese efficiency. It’s mostly efficient unless you want the cold noodles. Since all noodles are freshly cooked, cooling the noodles take repeated shocking in a separate cold water bath. It’s the quick service restaurant I prefer over any Subway; Bourdain would approve of this as “Asian Fast Food”, or, fast food done right.
One final unimportant note: the chopsticks boxes are Chinese. I’m OK with the inauthenticity as long as it means the restaurant was able to keep their opening costs down, because I’m not paying $10 for a few strands of wheat noodles topped with a nugget of uni. Not doing it. It’s also good to see a new Japanese restaurant opening on the third floor of the Korean-Little Tokyo plaza. Fight the power that be, you nisseis and isseis.