Ramen. In America the word typically evokes memories of dorm rooms, late nights, and lean budgets. But in Japan, ramen is a hearty soup with myriad toppings – a favorite for lunches and nightcaps. It is a national dish with distinct regional flavors. Recently, Americans have seemingly grown to embrace this perspective on ramen. Last winter, a one night pop-up izakaya at the Khyber Pass Pub which featured Hakata-style ramen drew so many to its doors that the wait time for a table exceeded 3 hours. While ramen has been available at several restaurants, rumors of subsequent pop-ups and a regular ramen-ya have been buzzing in the foodie community for months.
Finally, as of last week, Philadelphia has its first authentic ramen shop. With a simple wood motif and plenty of counter seats, Ramen Boy (204 N. 9th Street) could easily fit in amongst its peers in Tokyo, Osaka, or Sapporo. The menu offers 4 kinds of ramen (tonkotsu a.k.a. pork, miso, spicy, and vegetable – for all you vegan ramen lovers), several varieties of gyoza, and donburis. I sampled the original, tonkotsu ramen which was topped with bean sprouts, menma, naruto, pork and a soft boiled egg. While the toppings were only good, the high quality of the noodles and broth made for a delicious whole. This is definitely the most authentic ramen I’ve had in Philly. At $10 for a standard bowl, ramen is definitely a bit pricier than other noodle houses in the area, but the heartier stock and more substantive ingredients will leave you more satisfied.
Most of the fare at Ramen Boy is lifted straight from traditional cookbooks, but there are a few distinguishing flares. The gyudon included shiitake mushrooms as well as the standard beef and onions. The vegetable ramen is made with soy milk and other vegan-friendly ingredients not typically used. I also sampled Ramen Boy’s homage to the Philly cheesesteak – beef and cheddar stuffed gyoza (dumplings). Served with 4 dipping sauces, the gyoza were remarkably cheesy, giving them a different but pleasing consistency . The various dipping sauces were also a nice touch – the yuzu spiced sauce was sneaky good. That being said, I’m a bit of a traditionalist, so while I enjoyed cheesesteak gyoza, I’m looking forward to trying the standard issue on my next visit.
More ramen options seem to be on the way. Roundeye Noodle Bar is planning a pop-up at Matyson on February 26th. It’s been rumored since last spring that Royal Sushi and Izakaya (the masterminds behind last winter’s Khyber event) would open a restaurant in Bella Vista. While the initially announced September open has passed, the project is still supposedly going forward.
With all these options on the horizon, it’s a great time for ramen in Philly. Take advantage of them while you can. And remember – It’s rude not to slurp.