For every one person in Houston who complains that the ramen fad is over, there are ten more people who get really excited about every new ramen joint opening and every bowl they have yet to try. Like the cupcake, ramen refuses to die.
Fortunately, as Houston's ramen universe continues to expand, the offerings get better and better. Soma Sushi's chef Gabe Medina has made a point of testing new ramen recipes to keep the menu evolving, while Goro & Gun recently experimented with a crawfish ramen that was somewhere between the traditional Japanese soup and gumbo. Whatever you call it, it was mighty tasty. Newcomer Ninja Ramen is already getting positive reviews, while Kata Robata continues to impress with the spicy soy ramen, which regularly sells out.
Whatever sort of ramen you find yourself craving, chances are there's a Houston restaurant that can satisfy. It might not be quite what you'd get in Japan, but as far as comfort food goes, it's hard to beat.
Aka Sushi House There's only one ramen dish on the menu at Aka Sushi House--tonkotsu ramen. It's as traditional as can be with a thin, salty pork bone broth, egg noodles, a fish cake, roasted pork and corn. At lunch, it comes with soup and a salad for $9. At dinner, the soup alone is $8.
Cafe Kubo's Sushi Among a sea of restaurants in Dun Huang Plaza, Kubo's stands out for longevity and variety. The menu features sushi, soups, izakaya offerings and main courses, as well as tonkotsu or shoyu ramen for lunch or dinner.
Fat Bao Fat Bao on Kirby serves $9 bowls of ramen only on Monday and Tuesday nights after 5 p.m., but the Sugar Land location has it or lunch or dinner every day of the week. There's also an ongoing "Ramen Challenge" at the Fat Bao in Sugar Land: Finish one giant bowl of ramen (equivalent to five regular bowls) in one hour with no breaks and you win a cash prize.
Goro & Gun When it first opened, Goro & Gun was touted as Houston's premier ramen destination. The other food on the menu quickly eclipsed the ramen (dem wings!), but the ramen has steadily improved. Try the lobster ramen for an unusual take on the dish. It's worth the $16 per bowl price tag.
Gyu-Kaku The international Japanese barbecue chain is known for its grilled meats, but it also offers two types of ramen: kalbi and goma negi. Kalbi ramen features a spicy beef broth with kalbi beef (Korean marinated short ribs) while goma negi makes use of a clear oxtail broth with roasted pork. Each is $8.
Jenni's Noodle House The three locations of Jenni's Noodle House around town offer five varieties of ramen--chili oil beef, ginger, chicken, pineapple and miso. The miso is the cheapest ($8 as opposed to $9) and the most traditional of the bunch.
Kaneyama Japanese Restaurant Kaneyama in Westchase doesn't do fancy fusion ramen. There's one type on the menu--soy ramen for $8.65--and if you don't want that, there's an elaborate sushi selection.
Kata Robata Chef Hori at Kata Robata makes two types of ramen, duck dumpling shoyu and spicy miso, but it's the spicy miso that draws crowds in for an early lunch so they can get a bowl before the kitchen runs out. The duck ramen is $15, while the soy is $14, and both are quite large portions.
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Miso Yummy Ramen from a food truck? Why not? Miso Yummy offers $8 tonkotsu or kimchi ramen, though neither are traditional versions. They're served in styrofoam bowls for ramen on-the-go.
Mochi Sushi CultureMap introduced Houstonians to this new Sugar Land restaurant earlier this week in an article highlighting the similarities between Mochi's menu and the menu at Kata Robata. While we haven't tried Mochi yet, the place does appear to serve ramen for $10 to $12 per bowl. To see what kind, check out Kata Robata's ramen descriptions. We kid, we kid.
Ninja Ramen The new ramen joint on the block (Washington Avenue, to be exact) serves only one thing: Ramen. Paired with a signature cocktail, the ramen (original, spicy, miso or spicy miso) will whisk you away to a hole-in-the wall ramen restaurant in Japan.
Ramen Jin Like Ninja Ramen, this dedicated ramen restaurant serves little else. Try one of the six varieties of ramen, each served with a signature five-minute egg printed with the Ramen Jin logo. A bowl of ramen here will set you back $9.
Sasaki Sasaki is a traditional Japanese restaurant with $7.95 bowls of tonkotsu ramen on the menu. The ramen broth is good--if a little underseasoned--but the noodles are perfectly al dente.
Soma Sushi Known for its wildly successful ramen experiments, Soma Sushi is constantly pushing the ramen envelope. Try the Texas ramen with barbecued pork belly, mushrooms, wakame and tofu for a little something different or the spicy miso ramen for something more classic. Prices range from $12 to $17.
Teppay Japanese Restaurant Owned, operated and frequented by Japanese families, Teppay is about as authentic as you can get, and the ramen is no exception. The broth in the wafu ramen is soy sauce based, as opposed to the pork-based tonkotsu, but both are rich and dynamic.
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Taiko The ramen portions here might be smaller than what you're used to, but what they lack in size, they make up for in flavor. This is not the same Taiko that Robb Walsh reviewed for us back in 2003, calling it "Chuck E.-nese cuisine." This is the real deal, and the complex, perfectly cooked ramen proves it.
Tiger Den We brought along local ramen expert Carl Rosa when we tried Tiger Den, and we both agreed that the main dish at the Chinatown eatery is pretty solid. The noodles are pulled fresh in-house, and the broth is full of the flavor of boiled-down fat, soy sauce and garlic. When it first opened, lines were out the door, but the crowd gathered for the $8 to $9 bowls of ramen has thinned slightly since then.
Coming soon Continuing the Houston ramen explosion is JINYA Ramen, which is set to open two locations--one in Midtown and one in Clear Lake--in the near future. The chain has received many accolades in California, where it originated, for its flavorful broth, "pumped up with industrial quantities of dashi and dried fish." There's no set opening date for either location yet, but according to the website, the Houston hours of operation are "coming soon."
Also coming to Houston in the near future: Ramen Tatsu-Ya. Maybe. So far, that one's just a rumor, but the owner of the Austin-based restaurant, Tatsu Aikawa, told Robb Walsh that he was looking for a space in Houston a year ago. Hopefully that's still on the horizon.