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Slurp Heaven

For a fast-food place, Cafe Kubo's knows how to produce one good bowl of ramen.

Much of that, of course, can be attributed to our rather lackadaisical attitude towards the stuff. Many Houstonians think that ramen is the cheap brick of crap that comes in orange-and-white dust jackets from your local Fiesta, so why seek out "real" ramen?

Even some Japanese don't really care for it. Witness the young Japanese woman behind the counter at Cafe Kubo's who, when I complimented the kitchen on my bowl of miso ramen, shrugged her shoulders and simply said: "Eh. I don't really like ramen."
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Whether you like ramen or not — or whether you care to even find out if you do — Cafe Kubo's has other dishes to suit your palate, Japanese or not.

Think of tonkotsu ramen as the Japanese version of pho.
Troy Fields
Think of tonkotsu ramen as the Japanese version of pho.

Location Info

Map

Cafe Kubo's Sushi

9889 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

Hours:11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Shrimp tempura $3.99
Kara age $4
Spicy tuna roll $4.99
Miso ramen $5.99
Tonkatsu ramen $6.99
Katsu don $6.49
Chicken udon $6.49
Kubo's roll $6.99
Nigiri combo $8.99


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Japanese Fast Food Rules at Cafe Kubo's
BLOG POST: Handmade Ramen! Get Your Handmade Ramen!


There are rolls here, of course. Deep-fried ones at that. These garish American creations seem to be becoming more popular even at the more authentically Japanese restaurants in town. The Rudy Roll — a deep-fried tuna roll stuffed with avocado and drizzled with a now-ubiquitous sweet soy sauce — is one of the most popular offerings, and is even more discounted during happy hour. It's not bad, but it's not good either. I might be alone in thinking that, though, as my table of dining companions picked the Rudy Roll's plate clean in a matter of minutes one night.

Cleaner rolls like the simple Spicy Tuna Roll are better, to my taste at least, although the eponymous Kubo's Roll is also good: fried shrimp topped with spicy mayonnaise and three kinds of tobiko (flying fish roe). Still, I can't help but picture Yoichi Ueno's face when a similarly gaudy roll was plunked in front of him during a sushi roll contest that I judged along with him last year. It was a look of horror mixed with disgust. And here we have a roll just like it on his menu.

You can't argue that he doesn't know his audience, however, because it sells like hotcakes. Sometimes you have to give the people what they want.

On the other hand, there are plenty of more traditionally Japanese dishes at Cafe Kubo's to balance out the deep-fried hand roll side of the menu: katsu don, available in a regular size or a large that will feed two people for just over $8. Several varieties of udon, which all give you the option of adding extra seaweed or egg. A kara age bento box that's a steal at $6.99, with a generous amount of that soft-yet-crispy dark-meat chicken that verges on addictive. And on certain days, there's even takoyaki. I haven't made it out there on takoyaki days, but am determined to get back and try Cafe Kubo's grilled octopus balls.

And, of course, there's plenty of shrimp tempura. An acquaintance of mine who is an expert on Japan and a former employee of the Japanese consulate here in Houston once remarked that the most common restaurant meal in Japan was a bunch of diners happily crowded around a table full of shrimp tempura and sake. Cafe Kubo's has shrimp tempura, sake and happy diners in abundance, as well as some exceptional bowls of ramen for a fast-food joint.
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katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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17 comments
Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I hate doing this but unfortunately, I'm going to be the voice of dissension based on 1) never having tried it; and 2) just looking at your picture and the picture of a friend (who went there after reading this review).

Although your ramen looks studiedly more fresh, my observation of both pics I've seen are this: there's not enough topping, too many noodles and not enough broth. In your picture all the toppings sit on the top of the noodles. In my friend's picture, the toppings were drowned a bit below the surface and didn't look appetizing at all.

So for me, having had a sub-par experience with their tonkatsu curry plate (such a disappointment), the two statements "This is Japanese food as the Japanese eat it" and "it's difficult not to love the little place" are really a stretch. I would rate it as "just OK" Japanese fast food --at best. I've had far superior Japanese fast food in West LA / greater Los Angeles / San Francisco / Vancouver, and unfortunately Cafe Kubo's does not compare favorably to the generally excellent Japanese fast food there.

Craigley
Craigley

Where can I find the real stuff like you can get in Vancouver?

Ramenator
Ramenator

Thanks for the review. I tried it, and it was definitely delicious.

However, I have to say that I have never met a Japanese person who didn't like ramen. And I lived there for 8 years. It's regarded there with even more of a fervor than pizza is here.

I don't think the girl behind the counter is Japanese. She looked lost when I ordered in Japanese. She didn't even recognize the name of the ramen when I ordered it in English (tonkotsu shoyu ramen).

Noodlemonger
Noodlemonger

Thanks for the review. The ramen at the original Kubo's is a favorite meal of mine, but I've never had it at the Chinatown location. Will have to try!

Also, anybody know where else in Houston serves good ramen? I've tried Umai and found it not quite as good as Kubo's.

winelush
winelush

Please go an review the takoyaki asap!

Jaredrf
Jaredrf

I love the vague comparisons everyone makes between a particular dish at a particular spot in Houston and the "superior" food in LA or SF. We all have nostalgic places and fond memories of this place or that place, but cut the west coast food arrogance already, its so silly. When a good Japanese chef moves to Houston and makes the same exact dish he made in NYC, LA, Chi, or Japan, the food and ambiance immediately gets poopooed by everyone whose ever driven through LA. So weak.I went to this place, and while I am not Japanese, nor a ramen connoisseur, I do cook and eat good food, and my miso ramen bowl was very tasty.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Having never been to Vancouver nor tried their "real stuff," I honestly don't know. But maybe one of our readers can help out. What is it exactly that you're looking for in a bowl of ramen? And what kind of broth?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm guessing there are probably a few different folks who work the counter, because my ramen-phobe seemed to understand when I ordered a few things in Japanese. Regardless, I'm just psyched that you tried the ramen and liked it. :D

anonymous
anonymous

The pork ramen at Nippon Cafe is great as well.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I've been really impressed with the ramen at Soma Sushi. And I found out on Sunday that the chef, Jason Hauck, makes the noodles himself every morning. He's experimenting with a Hokkaido-style pork ramen right now that's garnished with Berkshire pork and a pat of Way Back When Butter. It is eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head stuff.

Craigley
Craigley

Thinkg of big chunks of meat or seafood and even bigger chunks of fresh veggies. Clear broth. Everything is more less fresh and less of the freeze dried look. And the bowls are HUGE.

Noodlemonger
Noodlemonger

Thanks to both of you for the suggestions. I'll have to check them out.

Craigley
Craigley

Thanks for all the info. I guess I liked it so much becuase it's "not your average ramen". That and the fact it was Texas sized.

I'm thinking I could pull this off at home. Drooling!

Ramenator
Ramenator

The one you had was most likely shio (salt) ramen with seafood toppings. It's the only one with somewhat clear (it's still a bit cloudy) broth. But it's not anymore real than the cloudy broth ones that Kubo's serves. In fact, I'd say it's much more common for real ramen not to include seafood (unless you count kamaboko, which is a fishcake that often ends up in ramen).

The most common ones you find in Japan are the shio ramen (which is the basic one flavored with salt), shoyu ramen (which adds soy sauce), tonkotsu ramen (the pork bone marrow and fat make the broth cloudy and rich), miso ramen, and chashyu-men (which just adds lots of braised porl), and Hokkaido ramen (adds butter and corn).

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Hmm. You might want to try the stuff at Soma. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the seafood ramen has that clear, miso broth I think you're looking for. And the pork ramen has enormous chunks of Berkshire pork in it, although the only veggies are shiitake mushrooms.

 
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