Photo by Troy Fields

Jinya Ramen Bar

JINYA Ramen Bar’s sleek, sophisticated atmosphere stops just shy of “dress to impress,” but it would make total sense to take a date there—as long as you don’t mind your date watching you wrangle noodles into your mouth. (If he or she doesn’t mind it, that one’s a keeper.) JINYA is one of the franchise locations that evolved from Robata Jinya, which started in Tokyo. They now have 14 locations and as far as ramen goes, they’ve got it down to a science. Their milky-white, porky tonkotsu broth seems to take over every taste bud with its goodness and noodles are the perfect firmness every time. Servers are more than capable of guiding diners to a good beverage choice, whether it be craft beer or dry sake. An order of gyoza, pan-seared until a deep amber crust forms, is a splendid starter and an order of green tea mochi is a fine conclusion. JINYA is open late: to 11 p.m. on the weekdays and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s no finer incentive to close out your tab early and make your way over. Samurai Noodle has finally expanded outside its hometown of Seattle, and Houston is lucky to be the recipient of the first outbound location. It’s a casual environment. No one is going to look askance at your jeans and T-shirt. The tonkotsu, or broth made of pork bones simmered for days, is not the best in the city but it is quite good nonetheless. Even better—especially on hot, humid days, is the Kanro Tsukemen, or cold dipping ramen. Just as it sounds, diners can dip the contents of a bowl of noodles, shredded pork and big, bulbous chunks of bamboo into the slightly sweet, thick, fish-based broth. Only fools, though, would constrain themselves just to a bowl of ramen when there are so many fun appetizers to play with. The sabayaki, or broiled mackerel with shredded, pickled daikon, is a thing of simplistic, natural beauty while the gyoza will thrill with their frills of starchy, pan-fried lace.