In the Dun Huang Plaza off Bellaire Boulevard near Beltway 8, big, flashy neon signs are the rule rather than the exception. In the midst of it all sits Houston's best ramen house, and it's almost as invisible as Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books. The name in sedate white lettering above the door is not nearly as obvious as the crowds of people waiting for a seat, even on a Tuesday night. Inside, the atmosphere is a bit reminiscent of a gritty nighttime scene in Blade Runner. Benches are crowded with diners clasping their ramen bowls. A touch of smoke fills the air, the result of pork belly, gizzards and chicken skin being grilled to crisp perfection in the kitchen. While the yakitoris, or skewered items, are mindless fun, the ramen broth is a meditation on flavors, whether it be the creamy tonkotsu that takes hours to prepare or the sultry, salty undertow of the garlic and black bean rendition. Tiger Den is too fun and deliberately casual for a printed sake list, but there are always a well-chosen handful of good selections available.
READERS' CHOICE: Ninja Ramen