By Raiza Giorgi

A partnership between old friends and former colleagues is bringing a new restaurant to Solvang.

Ramen Kotori is a joint venture of Budi Kazali of The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table and Chef Francisco Velazquez with his wife Ikuko “Erica” Velazquez. 

Ramen is a broth-based noodle soup from Japan. Recipes vary based on where you are, Velazquez said, because the premise behind the recipes is that typical ramen uses local produce, meats and spices. 

Ramen Kotori will source some of the traditional spices from Japan, but for the majority of their ingredients they are working with local farmers, producers and others. 

Photo contributed

Kotori in Japanese means “little bird,” and when the trio started preparing their space at the corner of Copenhagen and Second Street in Solvang, they learned that a family of little birds lives in the vines along the building, chirping sweetly during the day. 

The trio starts their soft opening on Monday, March 25. 

“I got my start in the culinary world by working for Budi after high school, and he taught me how to live in the kitchen,” Velazquez said. 

 “We are thrilled to bring this type of dining experience to the valley, and I am looking forward to partnering with Francisco and Erica,” Kazali said. 

After working at the Ballard Inn for eight years, Velazquez took a job at La Jolla Beach Tennis Club, where he met Erica. Originally from Kyoto, Japan, Erica first wanted to be a chef on a cruise ship, but her mother encouraged her to go to college. She came to the United States at 16 years old with her uncle, who was stationed in Huntsville, Ala. She recalled with a laugh that she went back to Japan speaking English with a Southern accent. 

She attended Penn State and went to work for a yoga prop company in San Diego. Then, on a whim, she decided to really try her skills at cooking and enrolled in a college course. 

Since Francisco and Erica met in La Jolla, they have always worked in the same kitchen and have cooked at La Toque, a Michelin Star-rated restaurant in Napa, and helped launch Ramen Gaijin in Sonoma.

When Velazquez told Kazali they wanted to move back from Northern California, Kazali said he was thrilled to help. 

“What we loved about working in smaller restaurants was the connection to our customers and our farmers,” Velazquez said. 

Ramen Kotori at 1618 Copenhagen Drive in Solvang will seat 40 patrons. The owners will use social media and their website to announce the specials of the day and week.

Hours are noon to 2:30 p.m. for lunch Wednesday through Sunday, and 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner on weekdays and until 10 p.m. on weekends.

To learn more, log onto or follow the restaurant on Instagram and Facebook.