A guide to ramen around Houston
With cold weather approaching, one might be tempted to turn to heated blankets, chicken noodle soup or yet another cup of coffee. Instead, consider going beyond the hedges to explore Houston’s rapidly growing ramen scene. Hot, full of flavor and with many options ranging from pork to vegan, ramen is a great introduction to the diversity of Houston food. We bring you our opinions on ramen spots around town, based on our personal experiences. And to those blessed with culinary ability, scroll to the bottom for instructions on how to make your own ramen.
JINYA Ramen Bar
Distance from campus: 3.6 miles
Metinee: The opening of this Californian chain a few years back was arguably the start of Houston’s ramen craze, with its prime location in Midtown and its hip, laid-back vibe. The Jinya Tonkotsu Black won’t disappoint, with its hearty, flavorful broth and chewy, perfectly cooked noodles. If you’re not in the mood for ramen, the pork chashu bowl is my go-to alternative — the super tender braised pork and ramen eggs are a perfect combination. It’s a great place for a fun group dinner, with enough options that are sure to satisfy everyone from vegans to meat lovers (peep the spinach noodles, a new menu item). Peak mealtimes usually result in a wait between 15 and 30 minutes, so check out the dessert bar around the corner while you wait for a pre-dinner snack.
Distance from campus: 2.1 miles
Metinee: My favorite thing about this ramen joint is how customizable everything is. Not only can you add extra toppings, but also “bombs” — flavorful pastes that add even more depth to the soul-warming umami broth. I usually split a bomb with a friend, because sadly my third culture kid stomach can’t take the full heat of an entire bomb. Tatsu-Ya also features a thinner noodle type, unlike most of the joints on this list. The tonkotsu sho-yu is my favorite here — yes, I have a type — and with the addition of a spicy bomb, this one is a real kicker. My only complaint with Tatsu-Ya is that their toppings come in single servings. You get only half a ramen egg and one piece of chashu, and I’m a strong believer that when it comes to toppings, the more the merrier.
Distance from campus: 2.1 miles
Metinee: Kata Robata is widely regarded as one of the best Japanese restaurants in Houston, helmed by a chef who is a three-time nominee for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards. While the majority of its somewhat intimidating dinner menu features innovative takes on Japanese cuisine and top-quality sushi, its lunch menu is much more affordable and features two ramen dishes. I tried the spicy soy ramen and was pleasantly surprised by the use of braised ground pork in lieu of the traditional chashu. The soup was well balanced, with just the right amount of spice, and was a lot less oily than those from some other locations, which I appreciated.
Tamashi Ramen and Sushi Holcombe
Distance from campus: 1.6 miles
Metinee: Located in a tiny strip mall across the road from the Rice student-frequented Whataburger, this no-frills spot offers up some pretty decent ramen. Diners will appreciate the three whole pieces of chashu, as well as the option of thin or thick noodles — a pretty standard offering in most authentic ramen restaurants that for some reason the majority of Houston locations do not offer. As I did for Tatsu-Ya, however, I have to take off points for the half egg (Who does this benefit, really?), and while I do love the inclusion of a tonkotsu miso broth, it still lacks a certain depth that is a hallmark of a well-brewed pork bone broth. Nevertheless, its proximity to campus and low prices do make it an appealing option when you’re looking for some last-minute comfort food.
Distance from campus: 11.7 miles
Christina: Tiger Den is fine. You can find a solid bowl of ramen here and an array of other Japanese snacks, such as squid teriyaki and tofu cheesecake. That being said, the ramen is okay at best — lacking in complex flavor, the broth tastes mostly of garlic. A saving grace is the ajitama egg, which is cooked to perfection, yolk oozing out and all. And although this location is far from home, it’s in the center of Dun Huang Plaza, a Chinatown hotspot that boasts many dessert and entertainment options at which to postgame. Expect a significant wait.
Distance from campus: 4.5 miles
Christina: Ninja Ramen, a hole-in-the-wall spot down Washington Avenue with moody lighting typical of many ramen spots, has a great vibe. It is more of a bar than a restaurant, with lots of customers chatting with the owner over beers. The praise ends there though, as the ramen is nothing to write home about. Served in a paper bowl, it has the potential to soak through before you even finish eating. On top of that, the broth is bland and the meat is overcooked.
Samurai Noodle – Heights
Distance from campus: 4.9 miles
Metinee: I haven’t been back here in a while, but the last time I visited this Heights location, the ramen was pretty good. There are quite a few options to choose from, with the classic shoyu and tonkotsu offerings supplemented by veggie options and tsukemen. A huge plus is being able to choose how your noodles are cooked — another standard offering that Houston locales lack. The ramen egg does cost extra here, however, and a bowl of ramen is never truly complete without soft, yolky ajitama. Overall, it was a pretty good experience, but a little too far away to be worth it, especially with other comparable or better locations nearby.
Ramen Bar Ichi
Distance from campus: 15.7 miles
Christina: The only downside to Ramen Bar Ichi is how far away it is. All the way on Dairy Ashford, Ramen Bar Ichi sits next to Seiwa Market, one of two such markets in the nation. Similarly, Ramen Bar Ichi is the real deal. The noodles are thin and chewy, the broth is full of layered flavor — including the all-important umami flavor — and the pork is sliced precisely and cooked to perfection. On top of that, Ramen Bar Ichi offers authentic poke and other treats, like takoyaki.
Homemade ramen recipe
Serves: two friends on a cold night
For the meat:
1/4 lb of minced pork (or more if you prefer)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp Mirin (or any cooking wine)
1 tsp light soy sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
For the soup:
3 cups water
2 tsp miso
1/4 cup dashi
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Splash of rice vinegar
3 baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tomato, quartered
1 baby bok choy, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
3 or 4 bunches of your choice of dried/frozen noodles, we used dry Chinese wheat noodles
Soft boiled ramen eggs
Bring enough water to cover 2 eggs to boil, and gently lower in eggs. Boil for 6 minutes. Immediately transfer eggs to ice water bath, and let cool for around 10 minutes.
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp dashi
1 tbsp honey
Combine ingredients in a plastic bag. Peel fully cooled eggs, and place gently in marinade. Ensure that eggs are fully covered (try putting the bag in a narrow bowl or cup), so they can soak up all that flavor! Allow eggs to marinate at least 30 minutes, and cut in half to serve with noodles. Eggs should last 5 to 7 days in the fridge.
Begin by combining minced pork with all seasonings except the sugar in order to allow it to sit and marinate. This would also be a good time to start marinating the soft-boiled eggs.
Pour the water into a large pot, and bring to a boil. When the water begins to boil, add in two teaspoons of the minced pork, miso and dashi stock. Once the water is fully boiling, add in the remainder of the seasonings. Feel free to alter the ratios to your preference, and always taste as you go (But only try it after the meat has been boiling for a little while, to ensure that it’s cooked).
In a separate pot, bring 2 to 3 cups of water to a boil. Once the water is fully boiling, add in the noodles and cook for 4 to 7 minutes depending on the thickness of the noodle. Remember to keep checking the noodles for their texture, and remove from hot water once the desired texture is reached. Split the cooked noodles into two bowls.
Add baby bella mushrooms to the soup, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to medium, add tomatoes, and cover. In a separate pan, heat up the vegetable oil. Add the marinated pork and sautée for a few minutes, and add in sugar. Continue to cook until golden brown and caramelized.
Add the bok choy to the soup, and half of the spring onions. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the bok choy is soft (approx. 3 minutes). Take the soup off the heat and carefully ladle out the soup into the noodle bowls. Garnish with soft-boiled eggs and remaining spring onions.
Slurp to your heart’s content!