I went to Shin Sen Gumi several years back, but I recall it being more of an izakaya place. Then a friend of mine in response to my search for udon options in the OC mentioned Shin Sen Gumi, and Overworked agreed that it was a relatively new place that was worth checking out. It turns out this is a Southern California chain serving everything across the Japanese food spectrum but each location specializes in different things. So I had gone to the Robata & Yakitori place in Fountain Valley and this location in Irvine focuses on Hakata Ramen & Udon. The space is definitely the largest I’ve been to, but I guess its location in one of the newer retail developments in Irvine (Woodbury) affords it a lot of space and opportunity to offer a open and modern ambiance not found elsewhere. Like all the other locations, the restaurant staff loudly welcome every diner by shouting something in Japanese as they enter.
The menu is quite extensive, not only in its offerings for udon and ramen, but there are a good selection of hot and cold appetizers as well if you need something to balance out all the carb-filled options.
The Creamy Crab Croquette turned out to be quite tasty. Although it was cream and crab filled, I thought that the sauce wasn’t too rich or heavy and added a nice bit of umami to the crunchy outer batter. Even Overworked enjoyed it and she constantly mocks my love of cream.
This was an unfortunate call on my part. I really love this mentaiko spaghetti that Curry House used to serve until they changed their menu several years back. I found a good one at Cafe Hiro, but it is inconveniently located in OC. The best one in the Bay Area is at Usagi, but they recently changed owners and the pasta is not the same. So I’ve been searching every where I go and my hopes were high that this might be good, but the flavor was overpoweringly fishy without any cream to balance it out. So disappointing.
This udon was for the Twin Tornadoes, so although it looks plain, the noodles and broth were still good. I ordered the one below, the Shin Sen Gumi Special Udon, which came with a lot more toppings including 2 pieces of shrimp tempura and a scrambled egg in the broth.
There probably was a little too much going on with this udon, but I would still give the udon some solid marks for a savory broth unctuous udon noodles.
Hands down though, I think the Tonkatsu Curry Udon was the winner. I like the richness of the curry, and since it was wet and rainy outside, this not only warmed me up but the tasty pieces of nicely deep-fried tonkatsu made for a hearty meal. I would definitely order this again.
Speaking of going back, Shin Sen Gumi definitely warrants a repeat visit, and I would be interested in trying some of their other creamy broth udons. They look quite tasty from the pictures in the menu. In addition, I didn’t even blog about the ramen this time. For all their ramens, they offer each diner the ability to tailor the saltiness and fattiness of their broths. I’m not sure if this is the case at all the locations or if it’s in response to our generation’s desire for healthy eating. Either way, it’s too confusing for me, so I stuck to the udon this time, but my mom ended up ordering it with low fat. Honestly, it tasted so blah that I didn’t even want to take a picture of it. So I’ll have to go back and give it a try to really evaluate it. After all, they specialize in Hakata-style ramen which you don’t find as often in the US.
Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen & Udon
6404 Irvine Blvd
Irvine, CA 92620
PAFO Ratings for Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen & Udon:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3½ stars