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Tiger Den's Noodles and Broth Are Vying to Be Houston's Best

This hole-in-the-wall has lines out the door.

Tiger Den's Noodles and Broth Are Vying to Be Houston's Best
Troy Fields
Tiger Den's tonkotsu ramen will transport you to Tokyo.

On average, a bowl of ramen takes 27 minutes to eat.

Ramen takes an average of 27 minutes to eat, Rosa tells me after my first bite.

When it comes to your table, you first must feel the bowl. Cup your hands around the patterned porcelain and let them linger a moment before the radiating heat becomes too much to bear. The bowl should be so hot that you can hardly stand it.

Next, take your chopsticks and poke around a little. Push some noodles to the side and dig deep to see how much pork is in your soup. Examine the egg, which likely took five to six minutes to cook. The yolk should be solid, but barely, and the white should have taken on a light-brown or beige tint from marinating in sake, soy sauce and mirin. Don't eat it yet. It's still marinating.

Tiger Den places emphasis on aesthetics, as well as on the food that comes out of its kitchen.
Troy Fields
Tiger Den places emphasis on aesthetics, as well as on the food that comes out of its kitchen.
Tiger Den pulls its own noodles for its ramen, which is part of what makes it so good — and so authentic.
Troy Fields
Tiger Den pulls its own noodles for its ramen, which is part of what makes it so good — and so authentic.

Location Info

Map

Tiger Den

9889 Bellaire Blvd, Ste. D-320
Houston, TX 77036

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

Hours: Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.; closed Monday

Chicken wings: $3.50
Chicken skin: $3
Berkshire pork belly: $5
Ribeye: $4.50
Lamb: $5
Mushroom medley: $5
Shiitake mushroom: $3
Ramen: $8-$9
Tofu cheesecake: $4



Go behind the scenes with our photographer Troy Fields in our slideshow, "Tiger Den: A Closer Look."

Taste the broth. Let it roll over your tongue as the rich umami invades your taste buds. It should be salty. Almost too salty, but not quite. Miso broth should be thicker than tonkotsu, but they should be equally complex, full of the flavor of boiled-down fat, soy sauce and garlic.

And then the noodles. These are Hakata-style, thin and springy and cooked, as the Italians would say, al dente. These are as important to ramen as rice is to sushi, which is to say, they are everything. Put down the oval plastic spoon that accompanies your dish; instead, focus on the chopsticks. Pick up about 20 noodles and wiggle them back and forth to detangle them from the rest of the ingredients floating at the top of the bowl. Lift one end of the clump of noodles to your mouth. Then begin slurping.

This is not a dainty slurp of the sort you might practice once you realize you shouldn't have ordered spaghetti on a first date. It's an aggressive slurp. The noodles are extremely hot, and inhaling air with the strands helps cool them down. There should be specks of broth on your shirt and on anyone sitting within splashing distance of you and your bowl. In between slurps, use the spoon to eat some broth or some mushrooms. Use the spoon and chopsticks in tandem to pull apart strips of pork and put them into your mouth with either utensil. Eat rapidly.

Ramen is to be consumed with abandon.
_____________________

Check out more photos from our photographer Troy Fields in our slideshow, "Tiger Den: A Closer Look."

I'm sitting across the table from Carl Rosa, president of the Sushi Club of Houston and resident ramen expert, and that's exactly how he's eating his. Slurping and sucking big clumps of ­noodles, indifferent to the golden-brown broth flying around him. Rosa says this is some of the best ramen in Houston.

We're at Tiger Den, a hole-in-the-wall ramen joint and yakitori that opened this past October in the Chinatown Disneyland that is Dun Huang Plaza. The restaurant, owned by partners Linh Nguyen, Martina Yang and Mike Tran, who also operate Aka Sushi, had planned on enjoying a quiet soft opening, but that became impossible after word of a new ramen hot spot began circulating around an already ramen-crazed Houston.

Shortly after the restaurant opened, the owners decided to close for several weeks to retrain the staff and make adjustments to keep up with the high demand. Tiger Den ­reopened in mid-November, with lines still out the door and around the corner. Even now, four months later, there's a waiting list hanging on the wall next to the door, and before you even enter, someone will take down your information and make sure there will be a seat for you.

It's not a huge dining room. There are a number of booths, a few long, family-style tables in the middle of the narrow dining room, and a short counter overlooking the kitchen at which diners can watch the cooks in action. One wall is lined with a black-and-white collage of snippets of life in major Asian cities, from Beijing to Kyoto to Hong Kong; the wall opposite features the undulating strokes of oversize Japanese calligraphy. The rest of the space is all wood paneling and sleek black design elements, save for the small bar, where people sit with a bottle of sake and a bowl of ramen and face the steamy kitchen.

On a Monday evening, the dining room isn't packed (though I'm pleased to note that everyone else in there seems to be Asian), so Rosa and I have a spacious booth to ourselves — I've heard in the past that people shared booths with complete strangers for a chance to taste some of ­Tiger Den's ramen.

We each order ramen from eager servers typing away furiously on iPads slung across their chests, and Rosa walks me through the criteria you look for in a good bowl. He says this is indeed some of the best in Houston, though it still doesn't quite measure up to what he finds in Japan.

The bowls are incredibly hot, as they should be, and the broth is ideally salted and as rich and meaty as one might hope for in tonkotsu, which is made of pork bones. Rosa's miso broth is nuttier than the tonkotsu, with a slight sweetness and an extra dose of spice, courtesy of the chef, who knows Rosa and was eager to try out a new dish on the ramen aficionado. There's ample pork in each bowl, and it's sliced thinly, with the fat still rimming the slightly pink edges. Some of the roasted pork belly is floating on the top, but most of it is buried beneath a layer of noodles. It's tender and infused with the flavor of soy, and it's lightly charred to up the umami.

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8 comments
del.martinis
del.martinis topcommenter

One of your best written reviews!  You had me seeing, feeling and tasting it, to the point it's on my top of the list places to try next! 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Would this travel well, or does it need to be eaten immediately after serving?

erichenao
erichenao topcommenter

There really should have been a Vine video of you demonstrating proper ramen slurping technique. 

dtjones86
dtjones86

This place is really good, but it isn't a "hole-in-the-wall".   It is actually a nice place with very nice decor, and is near another good ramen place, Kubo's.

CarlRosa
CarlRosa

@FattyFatBastard If you're referring to the ramen, yes, eaten immediately. I'm currently toying with a handful of concepts that might allow us to bring ramen home (to enjoy a late night snack when the time is just right).  Unfortunately, at this time, nothing has allowed the quality of the broth, noodles and toppings to maintain a suitable level.  I'm still trying.  Wish me luck.  :)

james.brock
james.brock

@dtjones86  

hole–in–the–wall

noun

: a small place (such as a bar or restaurant) that is not fancy or expensive (Merriam-Webster)

 
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