Gu Ramen Brings Slurp-Worthy Noodle Bowls to Town

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Kitiphong Thongdetsakul and Wicha Thossansin knew exactly what Laguna needed: a small but cozy noodle shop that’s one-of-a-kind in this city. The pair’s new restaurant, Gu Ramen, opened in June by Thalia Surf Shop on South Coast Highway. “Small space, big vibe,” is how co-owner and Executive Chef Kitiphong—“Kiti,” for short—describes his digs, and it couldn’t be truer. What Laguna’s new addition lacks in space, it makes up for in flavor.

Sit at the bar, where Coronado Brewing Co.’s Mermaid’s Red amber ale and Japanese lager Sapporo are on draft, or settle into a nearby booth to start your meal with a few shareable appetizers. Gu Ramen’s two-sided menu features traditional ramen bowls and Japanese tapas, but the melt-in-your-mouth Buta Belly slider could be the highlight of the entire spread: Sandwiched between a seductively soft pretzel bun, marinated chashu (barbecue pork) is slow-cooked for five to six hours before being dressed with a spicy Gu sauce, sweet mirin sauce and lettuce. Or, if you’re looking for a lighter, zestier option, try the senbei ahi tartare with soybeans, seaweed and a spicy sauce piled high on a crunchy rice cracker.

Perhaps the main reason so many Lagunans have converged on Gu Ramen, however, is its namesake item: ramen. Nat Pispratuang, the executive sous chef, creates a milky tonkotsu broth that’s like heaven in a bowl. The secret stock recipe made of chicken and pork bones, spices and vegetables is slow-cooked and double-simmered for 18 hours. Thin, wavy noodles provide the perfect complement, as diners can choose between three different proteins (chashu is a favorite) and desired spice level on a scale of zero to three.

Each slurp-worthy bowl shimmers with mayu (black garlic oil) and comes garnished with naruto (fish cakes), green onions and roasted sesame seeds; other toppings can be added, such as corn, spinach, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and egg. Kiti has also noticed a trend in diners ordering noodles and broth without other accouterments. But that’s no surprise to us: The basic components that make up the restaurant’s signature dish had our mouths watering the minute a steaming bowl was set on the table.

Be sure to look out for the warm sauteed poke bowl, slated to be added to the menu later this year. It’s perfectly portioned as a date night shareable and features tender ahi tuna offset by sesame ponzu amidst white rice, soybeans and seaweed. The dish is meant to be “sweet, salty, spicy and sour,” Kiti says, and it delivers on his intentions: Topped off with crunchy garlic chips and shredded Japanese peppers, it only adds to the array of flavorful combinations emerging from the Gu Ramen kitchen that will keep us coming back again and again.

Tip: Every tapa is offered at a discount during happy hour from 3-6 p.m., along with $5 draft beers and house wines, and $4 Ozeki sake.

Gu Ramen

907 S. Coast Hwy.

949-715-0825

Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

—Written by Kristin Lee Jensen | Photos by Jody Tiongco

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