Michelle learned to love ramen as a teenager, growing up in Singapore and traveling around Asia with her family. Brian is newer to the scene: He didn't even try instant ramen in college. Together, they're hunting for DFW's best ramen.
The Shop: Hanaki
Disclaimer: This review is slightly biased because of the authors' love of baseball and ice cream. Hanaki is paradise for baseball lovers in the mood for Japanese food, and has, in the month of May only, free ice cream. Should we put that in all-caps? FREE ICE CREAM.
The Atmosphere: Just down Belt Line Road from the recently-reopened Mr. Max is Irving’s other down-home Japanese institution, Hanaki. And, for Irving residents, it’s one of those rivalries where you want both sides to win.
Hanaki is super-welcoming. The casual atmosphere is set by a whole wall-sized shrine to the Texas Rangers. There’s memorabilia, a bunch of player autographs, bobbleheads, and a big-screen TV tuned to the ballgame. (Meanwhile, the bar TV was playing a singing competition comprised 100% of super-sincere, unintentionally hilarious J-pop ballads.) In the back Hanaki has a private dining room where you can take off your shoes, cross your legs, and partake in a family-style meal.
Also, the walls are papered with notices saying "Any alcohol 20% off, Go! Go! Rangers!" Don’t mind if we do! They served our 16 oz. Asahi Super Drys on Hello Kitty coasters, accompanied by Chex Mix.
The Service: Polite, welcoming, wonderful. Following tradition, our beers came with snacks, and our meal ended with free hot tea. By the way, the month of May is Hanaki’s 6th anniversary, which means that through May 31 every guest gets FREE ICE CREAM.
We were almost the only table seated during all the two hours we were there, until a family took up the private room and a solo Japanese guy sat at the bar and started bantering with the sushi chefs over delicious-looking grilled fish. Our service was faster because business was slow, but also, the Hanaki staff really are great people.
What We Ordered: Miso ramen, tonkotsu ramen, seaweed salad, and a sashimi sampler. Our meals came with a free salad of romaine lettuce and delectable dressing. The seaweed salad is heavy on the sesame oil, making it utterly delicious. The sashimi is relatively expensive but worth the money spent: each bite of fish is thick and flavorful. The sashimi is not served on ice, which helps with bringing the flavor out, but eat it quickly before it warms up too much.
The Ramen: Ranks right up there with Yutaka, Tei An, and Sushi Robata among Dallas’ finest. (Shhh: we haven’t tried Ten yet.) The tonkotsu ramen broth is by far the most flavor-forward we've tried, with the perfect balance of meatiness and creaminess. Tonkotsu broth can be bland, or even worse, oversalted to mask the blandness. This was neither; it was rich, satisfying, and perfectly balanced. The bowl contained a healthy amount of noodles, a generous double serving of pork, a sliver of seaweed, and a couple of bamboo shoots. This bowl is perfect if you're after slurpy, brothy goodness. However, if you're all about stuff in your ramen, opt for the miso.
The miso ramen is loaded with goodies: the same extra helping of pork, some bamboo shoots, egg, green onions, and pressed fish cakes. It’s interesting that the two bowls are so different in their contents. The miso ramen is a well-balanced soup with lots of ingredients, while the tonkotsu is all about slurping up its fantastic broth. We’d say choose based on your hunger level, except you’re going to be full either way.
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The one mild letdown is the noodles, which are obviously not fresh. They were a little chewy, and they didn't have the awesome absorbent quality where you strongly taste the soup in each bite. Still, given the quality of everything else, this is easy enough to let slide.
Would we go again?
Michelle: This is definitely worth the drive from Dallas. I want to try the udon, and the soba, and the shoyu ramen, and the sushi’s not cheap but hey. Five stars, would do again and again.
Brian: Oh yeah. My office is pretty close to Hanaki. I’m going in to our next staff meeting and telling everyone we can go to lunch and get delicious Japanese food and FREE ICE CREAM.
Recommended if: your idea of nirvana is a hot bowl of noodle soup, a pint of beer, bar snacks, baseball, and FREE ICE CREAM.
Hanaki, 3045 N. Belt Line Rd, Irving, 972-570-5151. Tonkotsu ramen $10.95; miso ramen $8.95.