If you've been paying attention to the food buzz in Austin lately, you know that ramen noodles are one of the hottest things out there. The Japanese restaurant Kome serves ramen at lunch time (see my post from January here; I did rather like their ramen!). There was a ramen trailer called Michi Ramen that opened in late spring/early summer, and ultimately closed to search for a brick and mortar home. (Their website announces they have secured a spot at 6519 N. Lamar Blvd., in the old Korea Garden spot, and that they were aiming for a November opening...so SOON, hopefully) Then Ramen Tatsu-ya opened in a strip mall in North Austin. And Paul Qui's new East Side King at Hole in the Wall on The Drag just opened, and is also serving ramen. (Hey! We could use some ramen in South Austin!)
Very quickly, that's become a lot of noodles!
Ramen Tatsu-ya did succeed in opening in September, on Research Blvd., at Peyton Gin, in the strip mall that houses Target, Sunflower Vietnamese, and Din Ho Chinese BBQ. They are only open for dinner, and immediately, they gained a following, with people were lining up outside, waiting for the doors to open at 5 pm. The owners are two Japanese guys who have both been in the restaurant business for a while. The stylized design on the wall in the picture below is the mon, or family crest of one of the owners.
The interior is small, only about 40 seats, with a modern feel. The light fixtures have ropes dangling from them -- to resemble noodles? We arrived about 4:45 pm, prepared to do our duty and stand in line. There were seven people in front of us, but the line quickly grew behind us. Just before 5 pm, they opened the doors for business. As we entered, one of the waitstaff asked how many were in our party, handed us an order number placard, and directed us to where we should sit after ordering at the counter.
There were four in our group, and four different types of noodle bowls, we we agreed to each get a different one (more on this coming up). I also wanted to try some of the other menu items, like the Katsu slider, which is lightly breaded and fried, and served on a Hawaiian roll with a little potato salad. After successfully cutting the slider in half with chopsticks (!), I thought it to be quite delicious! Relatively tender and flavorful. The potato salad wasn't particularly memorable.
The sweet and sour yodas, or Brussels sprouts, we all agreed were amazing! Roasted, and seasoned with apricot vinegar and some curry seasonings. I have become a fan of Brussels all around!
Ramen #1 -- Tonkotsu original, a creamy pork broth with pork belly, marinated egg, mushrooms, and green onions. I tasted it, and it was a fairly rich-tasting broth.
Ramen #2 -- Tonkotsu Sho-yu, like #1, but with the addition of soy sauce, bamboo, and roast seaweed.
Ramen #3 -- Mi-So Hot, a miso-based tonkotsu broth with ground pork belly, cabbage, corn, bean sprouts, and marinated egg; this also has the addition of chile, but can also be ordered without the extra spice. This was my bowl, and I did like it. It was not overly spicy for those of you concerned with spice levels. (A solid medium spicy? But every person is different!) The broth was creamy and velvety, with a certain sweetness to it, but upon further contemplation over the broth later that night (I took my leftovers home), the broth does not have a depth to it, and certainly lacking in a umami-character that I would really expect from a miso-based broth. Miso is something that is known to provide that umami quality, that savoriness, that extra layer of hard-to-describe-flavor that really can give a dish it's depth. This didn't have it. Don't get me wrong, it was tasty, and a nice large bowl of soup for $10, but it did not change my life.
Ramen #4 -- Tsukeman, or dipping ramen. A bowl of noodles, with pork belly, nori (roasted seaweed), and a nice side bowl of broth to dip into. I had a taste, and it seemed good; the person who ordered was quite happy. This is probably what I would order on a return trip, as it's a bit different.
Bathroom decor is quite colorful!
If you go to Ramen Tatsu-ya, be prepared to wait in line for a bit. I have talked to one friend who has been a few times, and has never had to wait more than 30 minutes, having gone at different times in the evening. It appears the staff runs a pretty tight ship, and are fairly quick to bus plates from the tables. Apparently they do not have to go containers (nor do they prepare to-go orders), but customers are welcome to bring their own, which is what I did. I don't think they have forks either, so if you are not comfortable using chopsticks, BYOF. The one thing I am confused about, if you look at Ramen #3, you'll see thin, red strands of something topping the bowl. I got no discernible flavor out of them (though they looked pretty on top); I asked one of the wait staff what they were, and was told saffron. There's no way this is saffron! One, I've never seen saffron threads that long (these were probably 3" long), and again, no real flavor, and saffron has a very distinct one. Must get to the bottom of this mystery!
So it will be interesting to see what kind of Ramen Battles will ensue once Michi Ramen opens. I've already seen various debates and opinions formed various food bloggers and foodies as to who has the preferred ramen between Tatsu-ya, Kome, and East Side King. Food and flavor is such a personal preference, I don't think there could ever be a clear cut winner. Go to Austin's first official ramen noodle house, and judge for yourself.