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Restaurant Reviews

A Lakewood Restaurant Deliciously Answers the Question: What if Ramen Was Italian?

WAYA Izakaya is one of East Dallas' ultimate under-the-radar gems, and its tomato ramen is a standout.
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Tomato ramen at Waya Izakaya. photo by Brian Reinhart / illustration by Anita Moti

When a restaurant’s owner tells you which dish is the best, right on the menu, you have to trust him. So it is at WAYA Japanese Izakaya, a Lakewood restaurant that practically defines “hidden gem.”

“‘Best Ramen’ by owner,” the menu declares about WAYA’s tomato ramen. Yes, tomato ramen. It’s more or less exactly what it sounds like: a fusion of Japanese ramen and Italian flavors, with burst cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, and a blizzard of two kinds of cheese, Parmesan and Muenster. The cherry tomatoes are cooked in light garlic oil to order. Underneath the cheese, a scoop of bright green pesto offers a contrasting flavor, so you can pull up ramen noodles from the tomato only, or mix your noodles with pesto for a second experience.

In short, we’re ready to agree: this is great ramen. The broth is savory but nicely bright, the noodles are perfectly cooked, and the bowl would be equally good in winter (as a nourishing soup) or summer (as a showcase for tomatoes). I ordered the gently spicy version, which costs the same as unspiced. There is an upcharged version available with double cheese. Tomato ramen is, I should mention here, not suitable for vegans even without the cheese, since chicken broth forms part of the base.

WAYA’s owner, Daisuke Mori, says that he first tried and enjoyed tomato ramen in Honolulu in 2014. “It’s not mainstream, but sometimes we can see tomato ramen in Japan and it’s getting popular little by little,” he says. “New customers are surprised when they see ‘tomato ramen’ for the first time. Then I always say, ‘please try it, trust me!’” He pointed me to a chain called Taiyo Tomato with a dozen locations in and around Tokyo.

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Aburi shimesaba requires some vigorous blowtorching. Brian Reinhart

There are more delights at WAYA. The ramen bowls are sized so that you can share an appetizer before tucking in—or order a side “li’l curry rice” bowl to go alongside. WAYA’s gyoza are good-quality dumplings pan-fried with a lacey crust connecting them together. If you’d like the blowtorched mackerel dish displayed here, order aburi shimesaba.

The rarest dish of all, though, might be soup takoyaki, which takes the hushpuppy-like fritters with nuggets of octopus inside and submerges them in a bowl of broth. This is more like akashiyaki, an eggy dumpling that’s served in soup or with a cup of soup for dipping. The dumpling falls apart easily and is extremely soft—more like the dough-ball “dumplings” from the American South than wrapped gyoza—so be prepared to use a spoon.

WAYA has been open in Lakewood for five years. The fact that I didn’t know about it for most of that time motivates me to do a better job writing about Dallas’ restaurants. A traditional but eclectic Japanese restaurant with a cozy, quiet dining room has been hiding in plain sight in a busy shopping district for a half-decade without the media noticing. Consider this your hot tip. Tomato ramen awaits.

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

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