Word comes that Justin Holt isn’t done with his ramen pop-up shops. He’s doing another one this Saturday at Ten Bells Tavern. Just a little over a week ago, Teresa Gubbins posted on CultureMap that the Lucia-turned-Driftwood chef decided he would take a break from mass-producing his noodles in disposable bowls. But the ambitious man hasn’t slowed down, and he told Steven Doyle he’s gonna stick to his “road to ramageddon.”
I have to admit I wasn’t too sad when Holt said he was done with midnight ramen for good. I know a lot of people have given Holt’s handmade noodles positive reviews, so maybe I had a weird batch at Ten Bells that February night he opened his pop-up shop, right after a successful run at Tradewinds. But I also can’t help wondering if maybe – just maybe – people in Dallas are so overhyped about ramen (Ten Bells was scarily packed that day. It felt like Shanghai.) they think anything that resembles ramen tastes like the stars and planets aligning. That Saturday, I overheard several people say Holt’s ramen was fantastic – and the pork belly definitely was – even though the broth tasted overwhelmingly like soy sauce. It was so salty I could feel the insides of my cheeks swell up. It was like getting my wisdom teeth pulled all over again. But, like I said, it could have just been an off day for Holt. I’d be happy to try his ramen again at a sit-down place where hungry masses aren’t going haywire.
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It’s obvious that Texas loves it some ramen right now. 2012 was a significant year for Austin; that’s when it welcomed some decent ramen-dedicated restaurants, like Ramen Tatsuya. Now Dallas is like, “Oh! Ramen is cool!!!” when ramen was already a hot fried nugget in NYC and LA. But I’m glad there’s ramen rage in Dallas. I like the playfulness I see in Marc Cassel’s 20 Feet ramen, with its yasai fumi furikake (rice seasoning with pieces of nori and sesame seeds) floating on top of curly noodles. I don’t think he makes his noodles by hand like Holt does, but adding rice seasoning to ramen is something I’ve never seen before. It’s fun.
There are wonderful little pockets of creativity in Dallas that balance out all the not-so-great ramen I’ve had. (Sapporo Ramen and Sushi in Richardson and Whiskey Cake in Plano come immediately to mind as places you should avoid.) I know Dallas’ first ramen-dedicated shop, Tanoshi, is still four or five weeks away from opening. The owners, Joey and Chi Le of Wicked Po’Boys, are still debating whether or not to change the name to “Tanoshii,” since that’s the proper spelling for the word “enjoyable” in Japanese. I think it’ll come down to an aesthetic choice, from what Chi was telling me over the phone.
The truth is I go back-and-forth on whether I should lament the state of ramen in Dallas or celebrate what we already have here. It’s hard to say; and to be fair, we’re only getting started. Of course there’s more to be desired, but at least we’re trying, right? To get the best ramen in Dallas, you just have to know where to go, especially since we don’t have obvious, established hotspots yet. And since I’m on a never-ending quest for noodles, I’d love to know: where do you guys go for your ramen? Let’s see if we can put our brains together and come up with a dependable list.