First Look: Tanoshii Ramen in Deep Ellum

Yaki ramen
Yaki ramen – stir-fried noodles with red bell peppers, onions, and special soy-based yaki sauce (iPhone photos by Carol Shih)

Tanoshii, Tanoshii, Tanoshii.

It’s all that’s on everybody’s lips these days.

Okay, maybe just mine. But you have to admit that Dallas’ first ramen shop is a pretty exciting event.

Pizza (meh), burgers (meh), but a brand new place for noodles? Yeahhh.

Yesterday, as soon as the clock hit 4:30 p.m., I raced out of D Magazine headquarters and made a beeline for 2724 Commerce Street in Deep Ellum. I arrived a little after 5, right as a nice blonde girl in a cerulean blue shirt opened the door for me.

So far, so good.

Gua Bao
Gua bao (Taiwanese pork belly steamed buns)

Let me first say this: The restaurant looks just as nice as all the photos I’ve seen of it. Jean Paul Valverde did a smashing good job on the interior. Bar stools that looked like they were freshly carved off a tree line the bar area. Green chairs add just the right pops of color. Even the monkey painting on the wall screams HIPSTER ASIAN. Inside each of the two bathrooms, there’s a TV built into the wall that plays Hyuna music videos the entire time you’re doing your business.

My friend—upon making this fantastic discovery—rejoiced and said, “Good! So this means if I have a bad date here, I can hide in the bathroom and watch Korean pop.”

Tanoshii is pretty thoughtful that way.

Monkey decoration
Monkey decoration
Spicy miso ramen (left); hot sake (right)
Spicy miso ramen (left); hot Ozeki sake (right)

For the most part, lively Japanese pop music streams through the  speakers. A girl punk band sang Green Day in English at one point. This, plus some hot Ozeki sake from the sake machine, woke me up from a long day’s worth of work. Tanoshii knows how to do atmosphere and service right.

Even though yesterday was the restaurant’s first day open to the public, service ran impressively smooth. Our waitress was open to feedback and a couple people came by our table several times to ask us how we were doing. Granted, there weren’t too many people there between 5 and 7 p.m. We were seated quickly and given menus to mull over. There’s everything from your basic ramen (tonkotsu, curry, shoyu) to tsukemen (dipping noodles). People can chow down on small plates with bone marrow, Vietnamese banh xeo or Chinese-style steamed buns. The chocolate ramen dessert, the most quizzical item on the menu, wasn’t available. Sadness. (They might bring it back later. Apparently, it takes too long to make.)

To start off, we ordered gua baoTaiwanese steamed buns filled with braised pork belly, cilantro, shredded lettuce, this special orange sauce, Sriracha(??), and cucumbers. I’d go back and eat these again. I’ve had a lot of gua baos in Taiwan and the ones at Tanoshii aren’t the best I’ve ever eaten, but they’re still a decent appetizer that gets your stomach excited about the rest of the meal. I just wish they had bigger peanut chunks. The nutty crunch mixed with the soft pork belly is the best part of it.

Pretty soon after, our tonkotsu ramen with pork belly, bok choy, mushrooms, sesame seeds, and two ajitama egg halves arrived. The spicy miso ramen (a mix of tonkotsu soup+miso) came with mixed with corn and a few pieces of pork belly. It didn’t taste like miso. We felt some heat on our tongues, but that was about it.

Maybe the spicy miso ramen had first-day jitters.

Tonkotsu ramen with ajitama eggs, bamboo, sesame seeds, cilantro, and pork belly

If our broths had arrived hotter, it probably would’ve been a different story. I like my ramen tongue-searing hot, but our tonkotsu came to us warm. (Completely understandable. Not everything can be perfect on a restaurant’s first day.) When I eat ramen noodles, I like my glasses to turn so foggy I can barely see the bowl right in front of me. Plumes of wet, smoky air need to float above my head. It’s more fun when it’s hot. It’s a game. You’re trying to save your tongue from getting scorched as you strategically slurp chewy, gangly noodles the same way Rapunzel, in her Ivory Tower, pulls up her ridiculously long hair. Then you bounce them back-and-forth between your cheeks as you attempt to chew and swallow.

It’s a skill.

And so is the art of ramen. Tanoshii exploded with hungry noodle people around 9 p.m. Central Track posted an Instagram of people waiting outside for two hours to get in. Craziness. I’m not surprised, though. I hope all of them partook in the lemongrass pana cotta. Fresh strawberry slices on top of a not-too-sweet, zesty lemon dessert is always the best way to end dinner.

panna cotta
Lemongrass pana cotta


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