Dish Duel: Tempura Soba

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The first of our occasional series where we'll pit the same dish from two different restaurants against each other concerns tempura soba, the Japanese soup dish of buckwheat noodles paired with a side of tempura shrimp and vegetables for dipping, in a battle between Sunset District noodle shop Hotei (1290 9th Ave.) and Mifune Don (22 Peace Plaza) in the Japan Center.

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The dish pictured above is Hotei's variety ($7.50), which is served with a tempura plate of two shrimp and one each of carrot, sweet potato, zucchini, and broccoli. Mifune Don's tempura soba (below; $8.50) is served with two pieces of shrimp tempura and one each of sweet potato, green bell pepper, and broccoli.

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Analysis

•Tempura: Despite being more expensive, there is one less piece of tempura in Mifune's version (although the two shrimp are larger than Hotei's). Hotei also succeeds in executing the better fry-up of the two, using less batter and residual grease to equal a superior crunch.

•Noodles: Hotei's noodles are dark in color and taste strongly of buckwheat, while Mifune's is brighter in color and tastes less intense.

•Broth: Mifune's broth seems more watered down, with only a hint of Hotei's full bonito fish flavor.

•Overall: Hotei delivers a superior product for a buck less than Mifune Don, but the price difference isn't worth driving across town for if you're closer to Japan Center -- they both taste good.
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