The Fried Pork Chop Ramen is served steaming hot.EXPAND
The Fried Pork Chop Ramen is served steaming hot.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

First Look: Koji's Ramen Bistro

First, it was Banh Mi. Then pho. Now, ramen is the rage. These trends have passed this pasta-making, fajita-eating suburbanite by. As a food writer, I am aware of these restaurant trends. I read about younger, hipper people raving (or complaining) about where to get truly authentic tonkotsu (pork bone broth) or karanegi (miso ramen).

Still, I have been stuck in my world of boeuf Bourguignon and sole meuniere. Butter and I are besties. My husband and daughter are the sushi lovers, the oyster slurpers, the noodleheads. When a small restaurant by us rebranded itself, we decided it was time to give my Franco-Italian tastebuds a change.

Koji's Ramen Bistro is located in a strip center at Jones and Grant in a solidly suburban area teetering between Cypress and Houston zip codes. Formerly a boba tea and crepe shop called Creapshun, this location was a place I never visited due to the fact that I am usually seduced by the Mexican restaurant in the same shopping center and its powerfully delicious margaritas. However, the new restaurant, which opened October 18, is getting props from people way more experienced in the culture of Japanese ramen than I. That fact, along with the dropping temperatures, lured me into the small, quaint restaurant.

I took along my husband and daughter for my first ramen experience. I knew a little of what to expect because you can't turn around in this city without reading or hearing about Houstonians' dining experiences. Since I write the Openings and Closings section for Houston Press, I get first-hand facts about many of the newest places and I always mean to try them out. For once, I made good on that promise. It was easily done since Koji's is a ten-minute walk from my house.

First Look: Koji's Ramen BistroEXPAND
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The small restaurant is cute and clean, with the usual lucky cats and happy Buddha. The lighting was soft, which worked well with the natural light coming in.

With only seven tables, there's not much space for large parties, but we were the only customers at first, so we were seated right away and our drinks were brought quickly. The sodas are served in cans with a glass of ice out of a vintage-style turquoise cooler. Turquoise seems to be the accent color, along with dark gray walls.

There is no liquor served, but BYOB is allowed. Milk boba teas are available, a good option for families with teens.

Edamame is a tasty starter at Koji's.EXPAND
Edamame is a tasty starter at Koji's.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

A dish of roasted edamame was put before us and we popped the green seeds into our mouths. I haven't eaten a whole lot of edamame in my life, but when I have, it's usually been undercooked and hard. These were perfect, with the roasted, nutty flavor coming through. Highly addictive.

We ordered pork dumplings to start, with the option of steamed or fried. We went with fried. A pretty turquoise platter of six dumplings arrived with a crepe-like top that usually comes from a slurry of water and some form of starch. I was able to actually use my chopsticks for these and the dipping sauce of rayu(hot chili oil, soy, and vinegar) was the perfect addition of umami to the dumplings.

Delicious dumplings are hiding underneath the crispy top.EXPAND
Delicious dumplings are hiding underneath the crispy top.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Koji's offers two sizes of ramen. We opted to split two large since the price between the regular and large is just 62 cents. We ordered the spicy miso and the fried pork chop ramen and watched the chef at work in the kitchen. This isn't fast food. It takes a little while, as it should, but not overlong in any way.

Our server, who was very efficient and pleasant, brought out the miso ramen first. The serving was huge, or at least it seemed so to my inexperienced eyes. Next came the fried pork chop ramen, which was served with a sliced, bone-in chop on top.

All the elements were there: the menma ( preserved bamboo shoots) chashu( fatty slice of rolled, braised pork belly), tamayo ( soft-boiled egg) and a little bit of seaweed and green onion. Of course, I had to google all of this.

Our server brought us an extra bowl to share. I am sure there are those who would criticize the sharing of ramen and rant about it being a singular experience and the necessity of eating it all in one go. That didn't happen with us. I enjoyed trying the two different flavors, which definitely varied in taste. The fried pork chop ramen was my daughter's favorite because she really enjoys the flavor of pork and this broth was so piggy it oinked. I thought the pork chop itself was a bit tough and chewy, but she declared it delicious, so opinions are like, well, you know...we all have one.

Me so spicy.EXPAND
Me so spicy.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The spicy miso ramen truly was, as corny as it may sound, a revelation. The aroma was odd to me, not having had miso more than a couple of times in my life. However, with the first sip of the broth, I was hooked. It delivered on the heat, but not dangerously so. If I get the flu this year, I am drinking this by the bucketful.

My daughter and I had to resort to asking for forks for the noodles. And yeah, we kind of twirled them, Italian-style. I say, whatever gets the delicious noodles in your mouth is your business. My husband continued to eat his ramen with chopsticks. Show-off.

Said husband did not care for the tissue-box napkins on the table, but it wasn't that big a deal to me. I thought it was a convenient way to deal with the inevitable errant dribbles of broth.

A couple of young men sat at another table and from their conversation (it's a small restaurant), they knew their food and had driven from the southside of Houston to try this new place. The word is getting out about this little, hidden gem.

Eventually, we had to ask for to-go containers. That's how big the portion sizes were. Extra noodles can be had for $1.50, but why you would need them is beyond me. I have read that ramen noodles don't hold up well and some ramen places won't even sell it to go. Trust me when I say, we ate these ramen the next day and they were just as delicious. It was a nice second serving to look forward to.

First Look: Koji's Ramen BistroEXPAND
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Our server brought us each a complimentary dessert glass of coconut milk with tapioca pearls. It was a perfect, light ending.

We left Koji's feeling as if we had eaten a beautifully balanced four-course meal. It was a delightful, tasty experience and I look forward to trying the ebiramen or the beef with kimchi, next time. I feel myself getting hipper just thinking about it.

Koji's Ramen Bistro
13207 Jones Road, Ste. B

Spicy Miso Ramen, Reg. $ 10.88, Lg. $ 11.50
Fried Pork Chop Ramen, Reg. $10.88, Lg. $ 11.50
Pork Dumplings, $5.88
Canned sodas, $1.50

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