When you hear the words "ramen noodles," your mind may turn to those 39-cent friends to both college students and the thrifty alike. But the ones you’ll find at Milwaukee area restaurants these days are a cut above.
In fact, these dishes might just be reclaiming the image of ramen, which wasn’t always cheap and sodium-intensive.
Lake Effect dining contributor Ann Christenson says it's hard to call the ramen renaissance a trend, given that the Japanese have been eating it in different ways, using different noodles or broths, for a long time.
"It’s super delicious, and you put noodles in there and you have various additions – vegetables and so on – it’s a full meal," she says.
But she traces the start of this recent ramen reboot to the New York City restaurant Momofuku and chef David Chang. He has written about his travels through Japan, where he observed their ramen varities and brought it back stateside.
Now the dish's popularity has spread from the big cities to smaller ones, like Milwaukee. Christenson says, "People have been saying, 'Well, why don't we have ramen here?'"
She says you can find ramen dishes, which vary by broth, noodle and toppings, at these three restaurants for around $10-13:
- Ardent: Chef Justin Carlisle opened this restaurant a few months ago and is now doing a ramen special only late nights on Fridays and Saturdays. Christenson says Carlisle serves a very rich kind of ramen in "sort of a decadent, almost milky broth, that comes from a lot of the fat and the meat and the bone."
- Tochi: Taking over the garden room space of the former Anaba Tea Room, this Shorewood restaurant does Japanese ramen in a different style, including a brothless version. It features unusual toppings like pork belly, deviled eggs, or grass-fed beef.
- The National: The Walker's Point staple has been featuring some Ramen Fridays, with a Tankatsu style (similar to the rich, thick broth served at Ardent). Christenson says people will be surprised by how filling the dish is.
Ann Christenson is dining critic and senior editor at Milwaukee Magazine and writes the Dish on Dining column.