Kotohira Noodle Restaurant - L.A.

The slippery joys of fresh udon

In a hidden corner of a Gardena strip mall, there is a noodle experience not often found outside of Japan.

Unlike the many restaurants in neighboring Torrance that have tamed temperamental soba, Kotohira has been showing the finer sides of Japan's workhorse noodle, udon, for nearly 20 years.

Square-cut and pale white, the freshly made lengths are light on flavor, allowing their nuanced texture to steal all of the attention. Each strand exhibits a range of consistencies that runs from slick to yielding to chewy.

Reading the menu under the watchful eyes of the barely recognizable paintings of Elvis or Lady Di, you'll be deciding what you want with your udon. Go the combo route and you might end up with a well-charred fillet of mackerel ($10), a pile of tempura ($9) or a bowl of vegetable-studded sushi rice ($9).

For the texturally brave, there's a slippery, slimy bowl of udon with grated mountain yam. Noodles can also be had cold or in soup, but we prefer the hot, brothless version. Anoint the bowl with a touch of soy and give it a few turns with your chopsticks, adhering bits of the shaved bonito flakes to each strand, and slurp away.

Kotohira, 1747 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena; 310-323-3966