Review: Not your dorm room ramen

Because your taste buds’ pleasure is worth much more than 13 cents.

A bowl of Karai Miso ramen sits on a table at Ippindo Ramen House, which recently opened on Washington Avenue. The restaurant serves traditional Japanese dishes.

Maddy Fox

A bowl of Karai Miso ramen sits on a table at Ippindo Ramen House, which recently opened on Washington Avenue. The restaurant serves traditional Japanese dishes.

Sophia Vilensky

It’s common knowledge that ramen is the quintessential college food, but are you ready for an upgrade?

And, no, I’m not talking about adding shrimp flavoring.

Coming on the heels of the Americanized ramen trend, Ippindo Ramen House opened quietly on June 20 in Stadium Village.

At around 2 p.m., a week after opening, the restaurant was bustling. Big groups chatted at tables while people slurped noodles between overzealous journal scribbles at the bar.

The restaurant is pretty. On the walls, there is no overtly stylized wall art — like so many restaurants that cater to college folk — just soft wood walls and exposed pipes painted matte black.

The just-the-right-amount-of-friendly staff wear black shirts with “Ramen for Life” embroidered on the back.

While the restaurant was busy, it seemed almost too staffed. Waiters hung around lost, eager to jump on a patron’s request for an extra block of noodles.

Having never tasted traditional ramen before, I ordered the waiter’s recommendation. The “tonkotsu” is listed on the menu as “the original silky soup noodles topped with pork loin chasu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, menma, red pickled ginger and scallions.”

Sitting at the bar allowed a view of the joint’s cooks, who crafted each order with precision. Order-to-plate turnaround was quick; a last dash of spice before table delivery was never forgotten.

Having a fairly good grasp on the definition of all ingredients — a quick search told me that menma is a Japanese condiment made from lacto-fermented bamboo shoots — I prepared to dive into the bowl. This was more of an experience than a typical lunch break offers.

Each place setting had a package of chopsticks, and bowls came with ceramic soup spoons. Not knowing the proper technique to devour the meal, I took it one step at a time, starting with the ginger with the anticipation of noodles as the end goal.

My wait was not in vain. The noodles were fabulous; the texture was similar to what anyone would expect from their Keurig-water brew, but this time there was no disappointment on the first chew.

The opaque broth was tasty but not overpowering, with the dish’s bright toppings pulling their weight in the flavor department. The plentiful serving of meat was tender, but as someone who prefers MorningStar to Jimmy Dean, I was satisfied with just a bite.

Ramen selections hovered at about or less than 10 dollars — cheaper than most other places in the Twin Cities. A single order lasted me a few meals, with the exception of the menma, which were gone all too fast.

For those who don’t do soft egg, there are a few non-ramen items available. Salads are offered, and a traditional fried chicken over rice dish is also a hot pick.

The new restaurant still doesn’t have a liquor license, so beverages were limited to fountain selections. Luckily, a cool glass of water complemented my meal just fine.

As a new fan of the art of ramen, it took me a while to finish eating the meal. The vibe — while not overtly chic — was comfortable, so this was no problem. 

Sufficient seating prevented my loitering from becoming a nuisance.

There is always something better out there if you’re willing to look for it: more menu options, more flavor, more spice, fishcakes with cooler designs. This being said, a solid mixture of convenience and taste prove that Ippindo is well worth the jaunt down Washington Avenue.

If anything, check it out just to say you did. One more check off of the “foods to try before you die” list, and your more adventurous foodie roommate will appreciate the leftovers.