Soba Izakaya Minami
24391 Avenida De La Carlota Sutie A
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
I'll definitely admit that I was way out of my comfort zone. Before visiting Minami, I really did not know what the difference was between udon and soba. If it wasn't for the pictures on their four-page menu I'd be as lost as the Miami Dolphins on a football field (for you non-sports people the Dolphins are having one of the worst seasons in NFL history).
Needless to say, I'm not very well versed in Japanese cuisine. Yes, I occasionally get roped into having sushi or have to go to a teppanyaki place for someone's birthday, but other than those instances I stick with the foods that I know. It's not that I'm not an adventurous eater or anything, but my love for burgers, sandwiches, Mexican, Italian, and too many others to list here are always on my mind.
This visit to Minami was brought about by my fantastic aunt Hiroko. She and my uncle moved to the OC a few years back and they have been raving about this place since it opened just about a year ago. Our schedules finally lined up so we could meet up on a recent Saturday evening for dinner. Also joining us was my cousin Chris, who suddenly had a void in his schedule, due to the Angels not making the playoffs for their 5th consecutive year. Don't worry big guy, they will turn it around soon.
Minami is adjacent to the stagnant, partially torn down Laguna Hills Mall. They are in the same shopping plaza as El Torito, Woody's Diner, Trader Joes, and brunch favorite Break of Dawn. I tried to find out some info about Minami, but from what I can gather, they are not a chain, and this is their only location. They do not have a website, but you can find minimal info about them on their Instagram account. The most information I've been able to get about them is a review from one of the best in the business, Edwin Goei in the OC Weekly. His review can be found here.
The inside of the restaurant is straight and to the point. Light-colored wooden tables and pretty uncomfortable chairs dot the space, which is pretty spartan, with little to no decorations adorning the walls. There are four separate laminated menu pages, one that highlights their soba offerings, another has rice bowls and mini bowls, Udon is offered on the third, and the last page showcases their izakaya dishes, which I'd describe as Japanese appetizers. Let's see what we ended up ordering off of these pages, and see if the food here will make me a fan of Japanese cuisine.
My aunt wanted to start out our evening at Minami with these Spicy Cucumbers ($4.95). I'm not a big fan of cucumbers usually, but I was pretty hungry so I decided to give them a try. They were pickled and had a good crunch to them. I must have gotten all the spice on my piece because it was spicy enough to make me drink some water right away after consuming it. I actually liked these cucumbers and would get them again.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a pretty tough time deciding what to have at Minami. I finally decided I'd try their Soba with Pork Cutlet and Egg Bowl ($14.95). You can have your soba noodles either cold or hot, and you can choose the amount of the noodles that you want, 100, 200, or 300 grams of noodles for the same price. I got my soba noodles hot and opted for the 200-gram size. This was plenty for me. I did not know it at the time, but soba noodles are made from buckwheat, which is healthier than the udon option. Their menu lists all the health benefits of soba. I found the soba to be all right but expected a bit more flavor from the broth. I grew tired of the soba rather quickly and instead focused on the pork cutlet and egg. I liked this part of the meal much better. The cutlet had a nice and crunchy breading to it and the egg added a good amount of richness. The bowl was rounded out with some rice underneath, which made this a very filling meal.
Even though my uncle has been married to my aunt for over 30 years and they have taken numerous trips back to Japan, he is pretty conservative when it comes to Japanese food. On this visit, he opted for the Chicken Cutlet ($12.95) with no rice, but salad underneath. No complaints from the big guy with this. From across the table, this looked pretty tasty, and it's nice to know that they are accommodating with modifications.
Katie had her mind made up to try one of the items off of the Minami izakaya menu. The Gyoza ($4.95) would be what she ended up settling on. I'm glad she did. I often find gyoza to be too rubbery and not really filled with anything that tastes so great. These were the exact opposite of that. Not sure what they had in them, but it tasted good and the outer portion of this was nowhere near rubbery. One of the better gyozas I have had.
Last but not least, Katie got the Hot Soba with a Pork Cutlet and with Curry ($15.95) as her meal this evening. Just like with mine, the breading was nice and crisp on this, but a little more pronounced because hers was devoid of the egg. The pork was tender underneath and was a good compliment to the comforting curry. I was a little surprised that Katie described this meal as very clean, which is not something you often hear when something is deep-fried. She was a fan of the soba, which she called comforting, but understated. It was more of a subtle dish, not as flavorful as the pho she gets at our nearby Vietnamese place.
I ate a good amount of food at Minami but did not feel crazy full or bloated after leaving this evening. I liked everything, but due to the fact that I have never had this kind of food before, I'm not sure how it compares to others. I can tell you that I liked it well enough to come back again and maybe get what Katie had, as it was my favorite thing I tried. The prices seemed more than fair for the amount of food that you receive. Service was a little spotty, but they were very busy by the time we ended our meal, and they had a little bit of a wait as we walked out the door. Glad my aunt Hiroko got me a bit out of my comfort zone, and I look forward to trying other Japanese restaurants in the near future.
Out of five coral reefs, (because Minami means south in Japanese and the most southern spot of that country is Okinotorishima, a coral reef in the Philippine Sea), five being best to zero being worst, Soba Izakaya Minami gets 3 coral reefs.
As mentioned earlier, Soba Izakaya Minami does not have a website, but you can find out more info about them on their Yelp page here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/soba-izakaya-minami-laguna-hills-2