Where's the ramen? It's a common question among food lovers in Connecticut, where the authentic Japanese noodle soup can be scarce, compared to booming scenes in big cities New York and Los Angeles.
But ramen's availability has been growing here, as established restaurants have responded to demand, and new noodle bars have popped up around the state in cities and suburbs alike. Here's a guide to some of Connecticut's top ramen (not to be confused with the packaged brand).
Tiger Belly Noodle Bar
Granby's Tiger Belly opened in August, and a few early visitors balked at the price tag for its pork and vegetable ramens, confusing the dishes with the inexpensive packaged instant noodles, said owner Ki'yen Yeung. Others in the know sought out the small restaurant in a suburban shopping plaza specifically for the soups —Yeung said customers travel from as far away as Farmington and western Massachusetts to get a taste.
The "Darkness" ramen ($16) is a best-seller, a pork tonkotsu broth simmered 30 to 36 hours with braised pork belly, fried garlic, soy sauce-cured egg, green onions and bamboo shoots, finished with black garlic oil. A "Buddha" vegetarian version ($15) has a spicy red miso and soy milk vegetable dashi broth, with tofu, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, green onion, bok choy and sprouts. Yeung said he'd like to add other ramens featuring chicken and roast duck.
Tiger Belly also specializes in Vietnamese pho and a full menu of sushi, drawing on expertise from its sibling restaurant, Mei Tzu in East Windsor. 9 Mill Pond Drive, Granby, 860-413-9323, facebook.com/tiggereatspiglet.
Adventurous diners flock to the Japanese izakaya-inspired restaurant in Westport by brothers Bill and Jeff Taibe for distinctive small plates (peekytoe crab rangoon with ginger-carrot dressing, smoked bone marrow with clam tsukemono, honey-gochujang chicken wings) and signature noodle dishes, like trout mazeman with wasabi butter. Kawa Ni dabbles in ramen, too ($14 to $18), with several creative varieties: spicy and beef miso versions; a pork and garlic bowl with braised belly and shoyu egg; mushroom dashi with green onions and hijiki; smoked duck with foie gras. Drinks are an integral part of the experience, with a focus on Japanese whiskey, sake bombs and cocktails inflected with yuzu, shochu and heat. 19 Bridge Square, Westport, 203-557-8775, kawaniwestport.com.
Anaya Sushi/Midnight Ramen
York Street Noodle House owner Soraya Kaoroptham and her husband opened Anaya Sushi in New Haven in January 2015, intending to add ramen as a late-night option. After nearly a year of study, including trips to NYC and Japan, Kaoroptham added four varieties of the noodle soups to the menu for the sushi restaurant's "Midnight Ramen" late-night offering from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Kaoroptham said Midnight Ramen brought a "full house" from the time it launched, thanks to large crowds of New Haven college students and locals. Guests have even traveled from as far away as Hartford and New Canaan.
Those four versions ($8.95 apiece) are now on the menu full-time for lunch and dinner, including a "10-hour" ramen with a proprietary pork-free bone broth base; a vegan spicy miso option; Tokyo shoyu ramen with fermented and aged soy sauce; and Sapporo style miso-shio. All bowls come with soft-boiled soy egg, pickled bamboo, nori and scallions; toppings and proteins include vegetables, beef brisket, pork belly, grilled chicken and soy-simmered tofu. 1150 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-891-6716, anayasushi.net.
Takumi Sushi, Ramen & Lounge
Takumi is a newer addition to Branford, a clean, stylish space with a full bar and innovative sushi creations. The ramen ($11 to $14) is an enthusiastic topic of conversation in the restaurant's online reviews,
with five types: a traditional tonkotsu with chashu pork; the Takumi Signature with a tomato-pork bone broth, grilled chicken and fish cakes; soy-broth shoyu with pork, chili and sesame oil; Sapporo with miso chicken broth and a vegetarian version with miso broth, firm tofu, veggie dumplings and corn.
All are served with soft-boiled seasoned egg, nori sheets and scallion; additional toppings and extra noodles are $1.50 to $4. Veggie and tonkotsu ramen options are available at lunchtime ($8 to $9.50), served with salad. 906 W. Main St., Branford, 203-208-1207, takumibranford.com.
For more than a decade, Murasaki has been a mainstay in West Hartford Center for sushi, teriyaki dishes and tempura — and now four varieties of Tokyo-style ramen (starting at $10), as we recently discovered while walking by and spotting a sidewalk sandwich board sign advertising the soups. Choose from soy sauce-based shoyu, miso, pork tonkotsu and kimchi with garlic flavor. 23 LaSalle Road, West Hartford, 860-236-7622, murasakijapaneserestaurant.com.
Genji, the vendor that supplies Whole Foods with its sushi and Japanese cuisine, added a ramen bar to the dine-in offerings at the
Glastonbury store in July 2015, with tonkatsu, miso, shoyu and vegetarian varieties. Ramen is on hold for the moment, though; the store's prepared foods section is currently under renovation, but an employee said the menu would return later in January. 55 Welles St., Glastonbury, 860-652-9800, wholefoodsmarket.com.
Mecha Noodle Bar
Great ramen can't be accomplished with shortcuts, says Mecha's Juan Reyes, who oversees operations at the group's three restaurants. "Not if you want to do it right."
Mecha's ramen options ($12 to $13) include a classic pork tonkotsu, with broth simmered for about 24 hours and loaded with chashu pork and spicy sprouts. Paiten chicken has a chicken-broth base made with
12 hours' simmer time, with black garlic, nori, soft egg and menma (bamboo shoots.) A spicy miso version is fiery with chili oil, with charred corn as a suggested add-on, and a vegetarian option features white miso, curry, tofu and seasonal vegetables. Ask for kae-dama once you've finished your first serving of noodles, and you'll get a second portion for $2. Locations in Fairfield, New Haven, South Norwalk; mechanoodlebar.com.
The owners of Hartford's Little River Restoratives recently took over the space next door to their Capitol Avenue cocktail bar, opening a noodle shop with three varieties of ramen, steamed buns with crispy
pork, and gyoza. Co-owner Chris Parrott, who operates both locations alongside business partner Patrick Miceli, said Bob Ramen came about as a way to fill what he calls a "huge, gaping void" in the region for the noodle soup.
"Bob Bowls" are all priced at $14, with classic pork tonkotsu, chicken shiro and miso vegetable and vegan options. Extra add-ins, including additional noodles, broth and meat; corn, sunflower seeds and chili threads, are $1 to $3 apiece.
The partners recently announced plans to rebrand 50 West, Miceli's Plainville bistro, as another Bob Ramen. The new location will have about twice the seating capacity of the Hartford restaurant, and with a larger kitchen, the partners expect to expand the menu with new bowls, steamed buns and additional items, along with what Miceli calls a "a very fun" beverage program with sake. It's expected to open by the end of January. 399 Capitol Ave., Hartford, and 50 W. Main St., Plainville, 860-904-5370, facebook.com/bob.ramen399.