Tanoshii Rode the Ramen Wave to Dallas and Crashed

A popular trend noodles its way into Dallas' dining scene. Watch out for undercurrents.

While there were certainly ramen restaurants in New York City before David Chang began rolling and cutting his alkaline noodles in the East Village, they have exploded since he opened up his famed Momofuku almost a decade ago. Chang made waves with his creative take on traditional Japanese cooking, viewed through the lens of his Korean upbringing. In the years since, hundreds of ramen restaurants have garnered a cult following, percolating like lazy bubbles in a murky stockpot in New York and beyond.

But Dallas is one major city that hasn't experienced the ramen tsunami. Oblivious to the national trend, Japanese restaurants like Sushi Saki, Kazy's, Mr. Max and others have been serving unfettered bowls of ramen alongside their traditional Japanese menus for years. Tei-An, the modern Japanese restaurant run by James Beard-nominated Teiichi Sakuri, has produced elegant bowls of silky tonkotsu, too. But no local restaurant has been devoted solely to the glory of ramen noodle slurping. Without a ramen house to anchor them, there has been no throng of curious diners looking to remedy the plastic-wrapped Maruchan experiences of their poor and destitute college days, either. Ramen just isn't a thing here.

Enter husband and wife team Joey and Chi Le. The couple pushed aside careers in project management (Joey) and dentistry (Chi) to open Wicked Po'Boys and Seafood, a casual New Orleans-themed sandwich shop in Richardson, in 2012. They announced a coming second location in Plano later that summer, and then at the end of the year announced they still weren't done.

The tonkotsu ramen is one of your better bets.
Catherine Downes
The tonkotsu ramen is one of your better bets.

Location Info

Map

Tanoshii Ramen Bar

2724 Commerce St
Dallas, TX 75226

Category: Restaurant > Ramen

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

Details

Tanoshii Ramen Bar

2724 Commerce St., 214-651-6800, tanoshiiramen.com. 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday. $$$

Dishes

Pork belly dumplings $9

Gyoza $7

Tsukemen $11

Tonkotsu $11

Spicy miso $12

For their third act, the Les said they were tackling ramen, and had secured the spot next to Angry Dog in Deep Ellum. Their Tanoshii Ramen Bar promised to give Dallas a dedicated ramen restaurant and a late-night dining spot that didn't involve cold eggs, too. It took almost a year, compounding anticipation that was already swelling, but this fall Tanoshii finally opened its doors and customers poured in like a deluge.

Tanoshii's dining room may not be as chaotic as it was those first few nights, but it has been respectably busy since. Designer Jon Paul Valverde (Outpost, Mesero Miguel, Pakpao) is responsible for the dark-colored mix of brick, wood and cement, anchored by a mural of a crazed, staff-wielding monkey painted on the wall. The simple palette of grays and wood tones make for a clean and modern space, but the open floor plan could have been carved up a little. The large dining room is composed of one run from the front door to the open kitchen in the back, with high ceilings and lighting only adding to the cavernous feel.

Still, there's romance in the details — the three wood blocks the size of small bears used as seats at the end of the bar; the communal table that holds 12 mostly mixed and matched patrons desperate for a seat when the restaurant is packed; the Asian pop music videos dancing on screens in the bathrooms. They all affirm that you're not eating in another steak-and-two-sides Dallas restaurant, that Tanoshii has the requisite hip. It just needs some intimacy.

Oh, and some better ramen. The noodles, while made on-site, are cranked out of a machine you might find at any ramen chain restaurant. Despite the mechanization, they have an acceptable, toothy consistency some days and the texture of wet clay they next. Even at their best, they lack that springy, chewy texture and the trademark yellowish tinge of authentic ramen.

The broth they swim in can be inconsistent too, unless you're referring to the temperature, which is always warm and never piping hot. Expect a tepid noodle-slurping session less than halfway through your bowl if you don't eat fast.

The tonkotsu is a decent bet, with its silky broth and mild flavor, and a viscous, spicy miso puts in a good showing too, though the heat is modest. But all the soups, including a lemon grass version with floating pork-stuffed dumplings, and the curry, which is thick, clingy and heavy with coconut, suffer from a lack of identity and personality. None of them speaks with a careful creativity that says, This is Tanoshii ramen and, more important, this is why you should return. The rubbery pork belly slices that garnish many of the soups could use an upgrade, too. It's often inedible.

The best option may be the tsukemen, or dipping ramen, which arrives in two bowls and not one. The noodle bowl, dressed with nori, bamboo shoots and pork belly that is more palatable than what floats in the soup, is joined by a bowl of steaming dipping broth that's dark and rich with soy sauce. "Are you left- or right-handed?" your waiter will ask before carefully placing the dipping bowl in front of your dominant hand. What follows is a test of chopstick dexterity as you grab morsels from one bowl and baptize them in the ginger-laced broth in the other.

According to the website, Joey Le is listed as chef and takes responsibility for all the recipes, but he needs to find cooks who can handle the basics better if he plans on being taken seriously. Bone marrow arrives so undercooked it can't be cut with a butter knife, and crepes wrapped around over-salted mushrooms are delivered so burnt that they're bitter.

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5 comments
primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I asked someone at Tei An if they made their own ramen noodles. He shook his head and said "it takes many, many years to make ramen. "

beda
beda

I ate there shortly after it opened.  I thought it was a good bowl of chicken noodle soup; it did not have the depth and complexity of flavors that I thought the ramen should have.  I've not had the urge to try it a second time.

happytexan
happytexan

The night we were there, it was pretty good, but ever since we went to Tatsu-ya Ramen in Austin, nothing compared. Not even Momofuku.

JohnRoberts
JohnRoberts

In all honesty, I give this place 6 months and it will close. I am just speaking the truth. Sorry in advance if anybody gets offended.

Good Day,

John Roberts

MeanGreen
MeanGreen

@JohnRoberts 

It's always busy with a wait when I drive by, I doubt your hypothesis comes true.

 
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