R: In search of the best vegan ramen in Los Angeles, we went roamin' for ramen at Gokoku Vegetarian Ramen Shop on Lankershim Boulevard in Studio City to discover what's featured in their ramen bowls. We met our Facebook friends Jin, Laura, Faye, Yakir, and Chuck to share this fun exploration.
Z: Yes, even the San Fernando Valley has joined the rousing ramen craze that's gained momentum in food-centered Los Angeles. Opened in September 2016, Gokoku features a menu that is totally vegan with the exception of an optional soft-boiled egg tossed into a ramen bowl.
R: Dark wood-paneled wall, soft lighting, and padded chairs make the cozy little restaurant feel like a warm, inviting niche--just that kind of vibe that makes you feel right at home. Everyone was hungry, so we quickly studied the choices on the laminated menu. The left column listed an impressive 10 different kinds of ramen, making it a fun challenge to choose.
Z: The center column features Bibimbap, a Korean specialty served in a bowl with white rice on the bottom. Topping the rice is an array of Asian vegetables that are steamed and seasoned. Giving the dish its distinctive character is the spicy red pepper sauce called gochujang that's spooned over the top and mixed into the veggie melange with chopsticks. Also filling this center column are two rice dishes, Kabocha Rice and Curry Rice.
R: On the right are Pokimon Tofu, Sautéed Mushrooms, and Spicy Miso Eggplant, three unique Bento Box choices considered the restaurant's signature dishes. The section labeled Small Cold Dishes features appetizers and side dishes to share.
Z: Reuben chose the Bibimbap, and so did Yakir. Faye, Laura, and I ordered the Curry Ramen, while Jin chose the Mayu Garlic Jalapeno Ramen. Chuck also went for the Curry Ramen but added the optional egg. For those on a gluten-free diet, the restaurant accommodates diners with gluten-free noodles for an extra $2.
R: Owner Peter Lu is Chinese but has chosen a menu that reflects Pan-Asian leanings with ramen and Bento Boxes from Japanese cuisine and Bibimbap, a Korean specialty.
Z: Our meals arrived, each served in a large white bowl, heaping with generous quantities of vegetables and traditional garnishes. Each of the ramen bowls contains the same broth base and is loaded with 20 different ingredients. To create variations, the chefs infuse certain bowls with garlic sauce, some with sesame sauce, and others with a housemade soy sauce.
R: Some of those 20 ingredients include baby bok choy, jicama, wood ear mushrooms, fried onion and garlic, cilantro, green onions, and sesame seeds. The sauces, toppings, and ramen choices make up the remaining portion.
Z: My Curry Ramen featured tender slices of kabocha and pieces of leafy kale in addition to the long list of basics. The broth itself is enriched with kabocha squash blended into the broth to add thickening and delicious flavor.
R: Because I enjoy bibimbap so much, I have an appreciation for one that's well made. Gokoku's Bibimbap is a real treat and a gem of a dish for any veggie lover who appreciates Asian vegetables. Hidden beneath all the veggies was the fluffy bed of white rice that soon became covered with bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, leafy kale, and chunks of firm tofu attractively arranged in sections. Over the top was a blanket of garnishes--green onions, minced cilantro, sesame seeds, and seaweed.
Z: Splashed across the top of Reuben's Bibimbap veggies was my favorite delight--the special sauce that makes this dish zing with flavor.
R: My favorite, too! Gochujang sauce is a traditional Korean specialty that flaunts thick, sweet, and spicy flavors that vary with every chef preparing this dish. Some versions are sweeter and some more savory, but they always have a knockout kick of spice. This gochujang sauce had the perfect balance of flavors. I dug right in with my chopsticks and mixed the sauce into bowl of veggies at the table.
Z: My Curry-Ramen-buddies and I were in delicious ramen-land enjoying the tasty broth thickened with cooked kabocha squash. There's plenty to love about this ramen that showcases its unique style of golden brown broth. Generous portions of baby bok choy, sliced jicama, leafy kale, wood ear mushrooms, and slices of kabocha floated over the broth and were also amply garnished with fried onion and garlic, fresh cilantro, green onions, and sesame seeds.
R: Both these generously heaped dishes are hearty meals only a few of us could actually finish. Jin's Mayu Garlic Jalapeno ramen was a bit spicy with its infusion of jalapeno and garlic with black beans added to bok choy, jicama, kale, and wood ear mushrooms.
Z: And, of course, those wonderful ramen noodles that make this dish so universally loved were there, hiding beneath the heaping veggies. Never having seen so many ramen varieties on one menu tested our curiosity. In addition to Jin's Mayu Garlic Jalapeno and our Curry Ramen with Kabocha and Kale, other ramen choices are Mushroom, Pineapple, Kabocha, Kale & Black Bean, Hard Tofu, Tomato, Tantan Men, and Jaajaa Men, a soup-less bowl called Naked Ramen.
R: Diners can order their dishes mild, medium, or super spicy, and if one desires more spice, there are bottles of Sriracha on each table. Jin, who blogs as Korean Guy Eats, loves his food nice and spicy. We watched him pour surprising quantities of Sriracha into his ramen. We learned diners can also create their own ramen bowls by choosing their preferred sauce, toppings, and garnishes.
Z: We also tasted Kang Banjian, a small dish of black beans seasoned with sugar, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Our delicious dining experience left us curious to return for Bento Boxes or the other rice dishes and the multitude of ramen varieties.
R: Prices are very affordable, and portions are so generous no one could possible leave hungry. Ramen bowls are $12.99, Bibimbap Rice Bowls are $11.99, Bento Boxes are $12.99. Small Cold Dishes like Cucumber & Seaweed, Garlic Broccoli, are $4.99.
Z: Beverage-wise, there is iced tea, hot tea, juices, sparkling water, and sodas, but not beer or wine. For those riding the Metro, the Red Line Universal stop is only a ten-minute walk from the restaurant. Parking is easy, too, with plenty of metered spaces on the street.
R: Gokoku features only fresh vegetables, organic when possible, and uses no canned or frozen produce. Everything is homemade using non-GMO oils, a rare and valued treat in today's world of so many processed, canned, and frozen items found on some restaurant menus. Here's our salute to another delicious bowl of ramen!
Gokoku Vegetarian Ramen Shop
Reviewed March 2017