Hiro Igarashi and Nori Akasaka each moved from Japan to pursue the American dream. After making ramen from Tokyo to L.A., (often working 14-hour days), they opened HiroNori Craft Ramen in Irvine in 2017. They now run two Irvine restaurants – nine in California – that have twice earned Michelin’s Bib Gourmand Award for the highest quality food at “good value.” We recently asked Hiro about their newest Irvine location in Sand Canyon Plaza.
You get rave reviews. What’s the key to a great ramen?
We make everything from scratch, and we have our own factory where we make our noodles to match our broth. We change the recipe almost every month, depending on the temperature and the humidity. Others cannot do that. Also, we slow-cook our broth for over 20 hours.
What are each of your duties?
Nori’s a pure ramen-noodle maker from Japan, so he’s in charge of our factory side. I ran an L.A. ramen shop for years – I made the menu, the recipes and ran operations – so I’m in charge of our restaurant side.
You encourage diners to slurp?
Yes, for two reasons. One is not to get burned by the broth, which is extremely hot. The second reason is you mix the broth with air in the mouth, and that creates a better aroma that goes into your nose, like a wine sommelier. They do the same thing.
What’s your ‘ramen rule’ for the wait staff?
When the chef sets a bowl of ramen in the window, drop whatever you’re doing to serve it. When I was in the kitchen, I would tell them to come within five seconds – because the noodles get soft and the broth gets warm. And after a few minutes, the quality is different.
What if the customers don’t eat it right away?
If they’re taking pictures or talking, that hurts my feelings, you know? When I would see that, I’d go to the table, pick it up and say, ‘I’m going to make a new one.’ I used to do that when I was in the kitchen. I’m that intense.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.
When I was 10, my parents sent me to the U.K. by myself for one month. I didn’t speak any English, and I somehow survived. That makes me feel like I can do anything.