Restaurant News

First Look: Ramen Tatsu-Ya

The tonkotsu original at Ramen Tatsu-Ya
The tonkotsu original at Ramen Tatsu-Ya Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
Basil seeds are weird. That was one of my first thoughts at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, where a drink called the Baezilla, an innocuous limeade that can come with sake (as mine did) or without, harbors a billion little chia-type seeds bobbing about like organisms in a Petri dish. Despite the fact that the cocktail looks like it might contain the answer to whatever guano disease contaminated the casino pork that killed off everybody in Contagion, it's actually quite refreshing if not weak in the sparkling and booze departments and totally bizarre when it comes to the gummy viscosity of those larval little seeds.

Also totally bizarre, the lines that had plagued this restaurant since its opening in mid-February, had come to a halt as I’d arrived for lunch after 1:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. Various two tops and what appeared to be a family of 12 were exiting, a veritable parting of the seas, as I made my way inside. Though I found myself behind a four top, two couples and a backpacker with dreads down to his knees,the line moved quickly. I got my Baezilla right away and a tattooed wrangler of sorts escorted me to a large square stool at a long dining counter, where the dreaded dude was nearby, his handler showing him how he could stow his backpack in a stool’s hidden cubby hole, lest he need his camping gear during lunch.

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Yodas (Brussells sprouts) and a pork slider.
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
My food arrived quickly, almost too quickly to go unnoticed. The Munchie Katsu Slider, a panko fried beef slider, wasn’t much to look at but it tasted magical at least, salty and easy to down in a few bites. The perfect party food, or stoner food, though all I could think of was that this slider’s Hawaiian sweet roll wasn’t Hawaiian sweet roll enough. Granted, I was coming off of two weeks judging desserts and carnie foods at the rodeo, which really destroys your ability to detect anything sweet that’s not a deep fried peanut butter cup.

My tonkotsu— I went for the original— seemed a tad too salty at first, but when my side (or what the menu calls a ‘bomb) of spicy sauce was added along with intermittent bites of candied vinegar-bright Sweet & Sour Yodas (brussels sprouts) between umami broth-slurpage, the lunch evened out with a bent toward synchronicity. I would’ve preferred a little more of the tender chashu (soy braised pork belly), and a gentleman to my left was happily downing his tsukemen, or dipping ramen, with the broth served on the side and a much thicker noodle in his bowl than mine. I got a tiny bit jealous.

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The Baezilla cocktail is delicious but kinda creepy, bae.
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
So was it worth it, after already attempting to go several times, each drive-by ending futilely at the sight of the Ramen Tatsu-Ya line? Yes, but there are caveats. The music is loud. I was alone so didn’t mind the seamless flow of Shirley Ellis’ Clapping Song into MGMT into ethereal synth whateverness, but the neighbors living around the outdoor loudspeakers might, and people trying to have a conversation inside when it’s packed? Better off just texting, which would put you in the majority of diners here anyways, likely Yelping on their phones. One drink does not get you (or, well, me) buzzed, and the curry on the Brussels sprouts was not really detectable. Overall, though, despite the hype, despite the owner chefs, Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya “Tako” Matsumoto, who also double as DJs and the street art on the walls and the funny named drinks and the straight-from-Austin hipness of it all, this eatery does get down to business in a casual and quite welcoming way, whether you’re a party of one or a family of 12.

Cost-wise, a bowl of the original tonkotsu, a ‘bomb’ of spicy sauce, the Yodas, a beef slider and cocktail set me back $26 before tip. Not too bad, but not your typical $3 banh mi lunch in Midtown either. 

Ramen Tatsu-Ya
1722 California, (512) 893-5561,
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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.