There’s elegance in a bowl of soba noodles, so simple, grounded, humble. You can trace that feeling to soba’s profound transformation from rustic and rough-hewn shocks of buckwheat into wispy, nutty, delicate noodles. It might never have the cultish fanfare of, say, ramen, but buckwheat adherents have plenty to love.
Tanakaya is Orange County’s first true soba specialist. It’s a sparse place, with a Japanese sense of restraint. But it’s inviting: warm woods, heavy earthen bowls, and a window for watching the noodles being made. There are composed plates, including the ume shiso soba flavored with Japanese plum paste and verdant shiso leaves, and the unadorned zaru soba. But Tanakaya’s noodle soups are what you want on a blustery night, like the curry soba swimming in a viscous, soul-warming broth, or the classic kitsune soba with fried tofu.
Convenience is key at Miyabi-Tei, one of the stalls of Mitsuwa’s famous food court. The universal order here is the cold zaru soba, a skein of noodles piled on a mat and topped with shards of dried, seasoned seaweed. Grab a few noodles and dip them through the accompanying cup of mentsuyu (a multipurpose dipping sauce) to let them soak up the flavor. Paired with a few pieces of perfectly fried tempura, it’s an excellent lunch.
Fukada does it all: izakaya-style appetizers, terrific tempura, and an encyclopedic selection of soba. Try the kamonanban with slices of rosy duck, or kinoko soba suffused with so many mushrooms you’ll never miss the meat. For the coldest nights and the warmest company, share the nabeyaki soba, a hot pot-style noodle soup with a surplus of seafood and vegetables all cooked in a yawning metal pot.
NO FRIED CHICKEN is quite like Japanese karaage—boneless cubes of meat sheathed in a subtle, finely spiced batter that exists primarily to trap every ounce of moisture. Tanakaya’s karaage all but bursts with juice; the bite-sized nuggets taste truly of chicken in a way you might consider a fine steak to taste precisely of beef.
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