Marugame Udon - Sawtelle

I really liked the udon here, nice and thick with just the right amount of chew. The broth was good but slightly on the sweet and salty side, I had to down a whole bottle of water after lunch. And the egg had a nice putty like texture.

The tempura was inconsistent. I had a nicely fried and crunchy shrimp, but some of the other pieces were limp and flaccid.

I should have known better than to get the rice bowl, it wasn’t even worth finishing.

Service is cafeteria style, with a fixin’s bar at the end for scallions, cilantro, tempura flakes, and condiments.

The line was about 30 people long before opening and grew to about 50 people when I left.

Lastly the udon is served in ceramic bowls with nice wooden chopsticks, but they cheap out and give you these flimsy plastic spoons to eat with. Really?!? If you don’t already, I suggest to #bringyourownspoon

Nikutame - kake sauce with sweet beef and soft boiled egg (cold)

Tempura - shrimp, fish, squid, fish cake

Tuna avocado rice bowl


Thanks @PorkyBelly. Sounds like a mixed bag. Does does the Udon compare with Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo?

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Yeah, the udon was just as good as little tokyo’s, the tempura, not so much.


Thanks, good to know. In that case, it might be worth it (and much closer); I’ll just skip the Tempura and Rice Bowls. :wink:

Same experience. Truly excellent udon, tempura hit or miss–largely dependent on if it is made right as you get there or it’s been sitting for a while. In other words, a standard cafeteria issue.

One of my great udon experiences was in a Tokyo train station at a cafeteria style place. Unsurprisingly, it moved much, much faster–the goal was getting people in and out. This line is not like my Tokyo experience at all. But overall, this is a nice option to have on the West Side. Also, this udon is better than what I had in that train station.


Quick note: Marugame Monzo and Marugame Udon are not related.

Marugame Monzo is operated by the Mon Restaurant Group.

Marugame Udon is operated by Tori Doll–a behemoth with 1,265 restaurant locations around the world (892 in Japan).


Thanks, didn’t know that.

Sadness. Passed by the other night and was wondering about the tempura.

To confirm:
The Marugame on Sawtelle is connected to the Marukame in Honolulu.
The Marugame in Little Tokyo is unrelated to the above restaurants.


It is not bad, just average. But the noodles are awesome.

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The Nikutama is really tasty and reasonably priced. I’d go during late lunch when there isn’t a long line.


Marugame Udon on Sawtelle has long been on my wife’s list. Given a choice, we prefer udon to ramen, especially when the weather is cool. But those queues going down the sidewalk…

We finally went early-ish yesterday at 1830 and were met with a line that was only 8-deep. The eatery is cafeteria-style - very assembly line. You can observe the noodle preparation process at an industrial scale. You’re face to face with two beasty caldrons of boiling udon noodles. The noodles are fished out with nets, rinsed and measured out by weight. A nice touch is a slot in warm water to warm the udon serving bowls.

Because it’s cafeteria style, grab a tray, order your udon by menu choice number/hot or cold/regular or large. Your order is filled in a reasonably short time. Sidestep and slide your tray along the counter and choose any freshly made tempura, nigiri and drink options. My wife snarked, “kind of like the Soup Nazi.” I countered, “but a very polite one.”

A condiments station is across from the cash register, where you can load up your udon with negi, tenkasu and cilantro, and tentsuyu for the tempura.

We thought the food in general was good - not great. The noodles weren’t significantly better than the average udon places around town. The broth was fine - sweeter than accustomed to, but the quantity seemed far less than usual. This puts the focus more on the everything else in thw bowl. And because the noodles are cool upon serving, the lack of broth results in a warm bowl of udon - not hot. In my mind, udon is served either piping hot to offer comfort from the winter chill, or pleasingly cold to counter the summer heat.

Another ingredient that I found wanting was the negi. It appears to be rinsed, half-assed dried, haphazardly sliced and dumped into baskets at the condiments station. This results in the onion tasting extremely pungent, bitter and acrid. I know it’s nitpicking, but udon in its basic form is a very simple dish with very few ingredients. The negi garnish is a key flavor component. If it is off, the whole bowl is off.

Don’t let the “Marugame” name mislead you to think that this is Marugame Monzo on a larger scale. The latter is artisan level udon. The former is industrial scale assembly line udon and tempura done with great efficiency with better than satisfactory results.

I’m not sure how many noticed this, but my clothes were impregnated with tempura fumes. My jacket and pullover underneath, as well as my hair pulled in the smell of the frying tempura. Give that fry stations section a wide berth.


I noticed this as well. Almost as strong as smoke at some Korean BBQ joints.

I agree w/ industrial, great efficiency, and that the udon has better than satisfactory results. I think the tempura is highly dependent (of course) on how long it’s been sitting out. I’ll be moving offices to a place that’s just a few blocks away… And I’ll be fine eating there as long as the line is short, and I’ll be sticking to the udon (“just the basics, ma’am”). I cannot understand the long lines at all.

IMHO, this is kinda like the ramen phenomenon, but at a smaller scale. Over here, udon is the wallflower red-headed step sister of its racy blonde standout, ramen. They’re both soupy, versatile and pleasing but in different ways.

Ramen seems to have an immediate appeal to most who are willing to try it. Udon is more elemental, and it’s basic form, far more subtle. One first has to notice it, give it probably more than one chance to accept it, then, if it’s the real deal, the appeal will stay with you. The thickness and bite of the noodle, its clean rice-like simplicity, and its ability to work from the most basic level, to more compounded iterations like curry or mentaiko udon pasta.

I won’t be surprised if we see more udon places opening. There’s obviously a growing demand for it. Time will tell if it’s a trend or has some staying power.

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Would you say that the less industrial versions of udon you’ve had are substantially better? I grew up on the packaged stuff from the supermarket (and I’d literally just eat the broth seasoning straight out of the packet, as a little kid). Marugame tasted better but not significantly better to me (although, at it’s price point, I wouldn’t expect it to). And I can’t say that I’ve ever had udon that did delight me w/ clean simplicity.

I’m sort of just wondering if I need to think about udon differently to “get” it more.

I grew up in my early years having the basic version of udon (kake udon) for lunch almost every Sunday. My mom just used the udon equivalent of dry pasta. But she focused on making the broth portion (kakejiru). Homemade dashi, shoyu, some mirin, and maybe an occasional beef or pork bone added for depth. She usually added simple toppings and garnish of kamaboko and think sliced negi. Egg in some form (thin sliced omlette, boiled or raw). Less often, she’d add some thinly sliced beef or shio yaki chicken; maybe even some shrimp or tempura. Nothing in great quantity or too heavy in flavor.

I didn’t really “get” udon when I was a kid. I actually grew very tired of it. I thought of it as very boring and bland. “Ghost flavor” is how I described a fair amount of Japanese cuisine, and udon was the epitome. It was competing with stuff like burgers, Tito’s and Mac & cheese.

But in my adult years, I would order udon on occasion out of nostalgia. I noticed that the interplay between the udon noodle and kakejiru (broth) was very important. If the broth wasn’t properly balanced, the aftertaste left in my mouth was unpleasant, sitting on the back of my tongue. And the noodles wouldn’t have a clean taste to them (think of that perfectly tasting glass of water v. just some random water).

I realized that my mom had the most basic version dialed in - at least to my tastes. On occasion, I’d ask my mom if she could make a batch for lunch. Her version had the right balance, no unpleasant aftertaste and although the noodles were the dry store bought variety, still had a nice clean taste. And because she took care in the little details like properly slicing the negi just before serving, those had a wonderful slightly pungent kick that was a nice accent to the subtle flavors of the udon.

Since mom passed away, I think deeply about these kinds of times. I’ve randomly tried some versions in the South Bay (Sanuki no Sato, Kotohira, Otafuku, Mitsui) and they’re all pretty to very good. When Marugame Monzo opened in J-town, I gave them a try and thought, “Damn, now this is good. Sorry Mom, but this is even better.”

The broth was different (darker) but at least as pleasing. It was the noodles. Hand made, hand sliced, and cooked to order. More Al dente, much thicker, and just a joy to eat. I considered this place the temple to udon. Kotohira was probably the first that I knew of to offer this type of noodle, which is still very good to my knowledge, but Marugame Monzo IMHO is just better.

So my upbringing had always experienced the most basic version of udon. The other versions that have become more commonplace at eateries are riffs that are foreign yet interesting to me. I’ve tried a couple (curry udon and mentaiko pasta) and I have to say that they work well for me too. But the true test from my perspective is still - can this place make a straight up bowl of kake udon?


Touching about your Mom.
Also, this post made me think of going to Oumi Sasaya but (according to Yelp) they are closed. Another big loss.


Hi @CiaoBob,

Darn! Oumi closed? Really sad.

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