|Otaku Chic||Dominic Armato|
With one night remaining in San Diego and the rest of the crew crashed out in preparation for what would be a busy departure morning, I found myself without a good plan and trawling the 'net in search of some late night grub for a solo diner looking to get one more fix of some kind of Asian cuisine before heading home. Korean was mighty tempting, but seemed better suited to a larger group. Meanwhile, out in front of Yakitori Yakyudori, there had been a markerboard suggesting that if the wait was too onerous (it wasn't), we could try their sister restaurant, Hinotez, about a mile down the road. Well, okay then.
Hinotez is a bit of a seating hodgepodge, a mix of standard tables, counter seating, and formal-looking tatami rooms with sliding panels in the back. The place is strewn with pop culture paraphernalia, and the almost 'round-the-clcck hours pretty much peg it as a hipster hangout, if one that comes with a pedigree. Much of the small crowd that night was, indeed, conversing in Japanese, and like Yakyudori, Hinotez is part of a restaurant group that extends back to Nayoga. There's a lot of crossover with the Yakyudori menu, including a limited amount of yakitori, but a little heavier on the noodles, including more ramen options and some udon and soba as well. But I knew what I was coming for.
|Tonkotsu Ramen||Dominic Armato|
I figured I could get in at least two bowls of ramen. Same as Yakyudori, Hinotez offers half bowls of ramen. I'm still trying to decide whether I think they're a good thing. They certainly aren't from a value proposition. A reduction of at least 50% in size knocks $1.50 off a bowl of ramen that ranges from $6.50 - $8.00. More importantly, I've had so many bowls of ramen that seemed okay at first, but whose charms truly emerged only once I was halfway through the bowl and deep into it, tongue now coated with the oil and fat. Sometimes, when it comes to a great bowl of ramen, I feel like the first half of the bowl is just the warmup. With this, there's no second half. For that reason, I doubt I'd make the half bowls a regular practice if I lived in San Diego. But having only one crack at a good-lookin' ramen menu before heading home, I was exceptionally grateful for the option.
|Goma Ramen||Dominic Armato|
It's no small wonder why milky, rich tonkotsu broth now dominates the Tokyo ramen scene. Again, as with Yakyudori, I had an impossible standard still fresh in my mind. But I thought this was a really nice, smooth, rich bowl of tonkotsu, a little salty from the miso but not overly so. Good chashu, some scallion, nori and ginger, fairly firm noodles... the only outright complaint would be a cold egg. But it was a solid bowl, and I'd be flipping ecstatic to have this back home. The spicy sesame ramen was tasty, but I was a little disappointed with its construction. No fresh ground sesame, here. It was a viscous (and delicious) chicken-based broth that had been spiked with rayu (a chili-sesame oil), whether purchased or made in-house, I'm not sure. It had a really nice flavor, very subtle on the sesame and a nice, subtle burn. I was hoping for a little more sesame, but I suppose I can't fault it for what it is. And so, with two half bowls of ramen in my belly, I got to thinking... hey, it's vacation... I'm going home tomorrow... who knows when I'll have a shot at a good spot like this next? I could do one more small dish.
|Tonkatsu Curry||Dominic Armato|
Oops. The tonkatsu curry was not so much with the small. Not evident from the angle of the photo is that the plate must've been 16" long. But it was quite good. The tonkatsu was hot, crisp and well-seasoned. The curry seemed underpowered at first, but after a couple of bites the subtlety came out. It had a really nice flavor, an almost chunky texture and was strewn with ground meat. They offer curry at breakfast, and I wonder if the lighter approach is so that the same curry can do double duty? In any case, I'd have this again in a heartbeat. I did, in fact, since at least three-quarters of it went into a box to take home for breakfast the next morning. Speaking of which, one of the most interesting-looking offerings at Hinotez is the breakfast menu, where three bucks gets you a tray with rice, miso soup, cold tofu, pickles, nori and tea, and then for either $1 or $2 more you add your main dish which includes options like grated yam, a three minute egg, natto, grilled salmon, mini udon, gyoza, etc. It makes me wonder if I got to Hinotez about five hours too early.
Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it. This was by no means top notch ramen by Japanese or even SoCal standards, but it's a cool little joint that's practically always open and serves some tasty grub. There's a big menu here, and I'd love to sample more of it. And while that'll have to wait, I suspect it won't be too long before we return to San Diego.
|7947 Balboa Avenue|
|San Diego, CA 92111|
|Mon - Fri||7 AM - 2:30 PM||5:30 PM - 2 AM|
|Sat - Sun||5:30 PM - 2 AM|