Ramen at Nudo House. | Sara Graham
It’s officially ramen weather and, while it used to be a rare treat to get your hands on a steamy bowl of unctuous broth and noodles in St. Louis, the area now has a plentitude of good options.
Ramen originated in Japan more than 100 years ago, but has become popular worldwide in the last decade as diners seek authentic flavors tied, perhaps, to a simpler time. At its core, ramen consists simply of noodles, umami bone broth and toppings. The art is in the perfect balance of flavors and textures.
The most prevalent broth is tonkotsu
, an opaque pork bone broth replete with fat, minerals and proteins that are released from bones after up to 48 hours of boiling. Other broths are made with chicken, beef or fish bones and even from kelp or dried seafood, accompanied by aromatics such as garlic, ginger, spices and salt (sea salt, soy sauce or miso). But while some St. Louis restaurants carefully replicate Japanese techniques, others use the springy noodles and rich broth as a base for wild experimentation — adding ingredients from southeast Asia, Mexico or even your breakfast table to the mix.
Here are seven great places to get your flavor fix.
11423 Olive Boulevard, Creve Coeur
Mai Lee scion Qui Tran and his business partner, Marie-Anne Velasco, opened Nudo House earlier this year after three years of research and development, including training with Shigetoshi Nakamura — one of four recognized ramen masters in Japan. Their final menu offers four types of ramen — tonkotsu
, chicken, a spicy pork with miso, and a vegetarian broth from oyster mushrooms. The spicy miso broth features pickled mustard greens, which is not a traditional ingredient in Japanese ramen, as a nod to Tran and Velasco’s southeast Asian roots. They explain that the most important aspect of ramen is how well the ingredients work together. They are also particular about the noodle selection, saying, “Choosing the right noodles can make or break the ramen.”
2609 Cherokee Street, Cherokee District
Pozole ramen at Vista Ramen. | Mabel Suen
Ramen at Vista Ramen veers from traditional recipes for an experiment in flavor. Smoked ham hocks provide the base for the house ramen broth, while smoked oxtail broth is featured in the smoked brisket ramen along with succotash and kimchi. A chicken-based pozole ramen is garnished with hominy and palapa — a spicy, Filipino condiment made from coconuts. How long the bones are cooked and a certain broth alchemy is the secret
to a good ramen here. If you do it right, “your lips should be sticky after eating ramen,” explains co-owner Chris Bork.
14027 Manchester Road, Ballwin
Tonkotsu ramen. | Courtesy of Ramen Tei
Ramen Tei’s rich tonkotsu
ramen (pictured) is made from pork bones cleaned by hand for a pure consistency and carefully boiled for 24 hours to produce an optimal density and fat-to-collagen ratio. The shoyu
ramen is made with chicken broth and tare — a concentrated sauce made of soy, hon mirin rice wine, a house-made katsuobushi tuna blend and local apples, boiled for 48 hours. Finally, a vegetarian white miso ramen features tofu, king oyster mushrooms and
enoki mushrooms. Executive chef Nick Bognar traveled the world eating ramen, dining in several shops in each major city before crafting his own, which he now serves in a spot next door to his family’s flagship Japanese restaurant, Nippon Tei.
46 North Central Avenue, Clayton
Seafood ramen at Nami Ramen. | Michelle Schwartz
At Nami Ramen, pork and chicken bones are sourced specifically for their high gelatin and bone marrow content in order to render a thick, umami broth after simmering 16 to 24 hours with a variety of vegetables and herbs. What’s left is what owner Jason Jan calls the “crème de la crème.” The menu offers a study in ramen, with a full-page glossary on ramen-related terminology and no less than ten different ramen dishes, each different from the next. A butter miso ramen is made with chasu
(braised pork belly and shoulder) cooked to a crisp exterior with juicy meat inside and charred before serving for a nice glaze, while the seafood ramen (pictured above) is made with a tomato and seafood-based broth and topped with crispy tempura shrimp and fresh crab. A breakfast ramen features smoked thick-cut bacon, a poached egg and
spinach and is available any time of the day.
Hiro Asian Kitchen
405 Washington Avenue, Downtown
Ramen at Hiro Asian Kitchen. | Jennifer Silverberg
While ramen isn't the main offering on the menu at Hiro Asian Kitchen, chef and owner Bernie Lee offers several bowls as part of his mission to showcase his culture, as well as his passion for the ultimate comfort food. In fact, Lee participated in the Slurp! Ramen Fest at the Craft Alliance in the Delmar Loop this past spring, which honored ramen and the vessels it’s served in. His spicy seafood ramen is made with shrimp and clams in a shrimp-based broth. The pork ramen includes both braised pork belly and five-spice-seasoned pork. A tofu ramen features a mushroom broth and seasonal vegetables.
7260 Manchester Road, Maplewood
Tonkotsu ramen. | Courtesy of Robata
Owner Thom Chantharasy
explains, “A good bowl of ramen needs to have quality ingredients, firm and chewy noodles and a broth that is unhurried.” Chantharasy
decided to open a ramen restaurant in St. Louis because he saw diners falling in love with pho and knew they were ready for ramen. He then trained with a ramen chef from Tokyo for five months to learn technique and modified it to make it his own. In addition to sushi and izakaya-style small plates, his menu offers three traditional ramen dishes — tonkotsu
, tori (chicken broth) and yashi, a
vegetarian ramen that he serves with vegetable stock, bamboo, bean sprouts, nori, red ginger, tomato, corn, mix greens and wood ear mushrooms.
Midtown Sushi and Ramen
3674 Forest Park Avenue, Midtown
Hakata ramen at Midtown Sushi and Ramen. | Emily Higginbotham
The menu at Midtown Sushi and Ramen is fashioned after traditional recipes of Japan’s Hakata region near Fukuoka, where owner Conan Sutton’s mother — a chef — was raised. The Hakata ramen (pictured) is infused with the flavors of the region and topped with a slow-cooked egg, bamboo, green onions, corn, bean sprouts and pork belly, which is smoked next door at Dixon’s Smoke Company. The menu also features Nagasaki champon
ramen, which is a little different: Pork, seafood and vegetables fried with lard are added to a broth of chicken and pork bones along with special champon
noodles. All are boiled together to create a richly flavored one-pot ramen.
Follow Sara Graham on Instagram and Twitter at @engagetaste. E-mail the author at [email protected].