On this stretch of Maple Avenue, it's clear that the neighborhood is changing. Tire shops, lovingly run-down taquerias and dollar stores are interspersed with vape shops, a shiny new Starbucks and a perpetually packed Maple & Motor. And now, another little bit of new: Ichiro Ramen, which opened a little over a week ago a few hundred feet from Maple & Motor.
The interior is simple, with quiet electronic music playing and otherwise nondescript decor, save for a cute mural of people making and eating ramen. On a recent lunch hour, the crowd was mostly lone Oak Lawn office workers and tables of Japanese businessmen.
The restaurant is owned by the same company behind Wild Sushi & Ramen in Fort Worth.
"We decided to expand because ramen is coming to Texas now," says Samuel Chusorpin, the chef and GM at Ichiro.
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The menu is anchored by ramen bowls featuring "good quality noodles fresh from Japan," Chusorpin says — red curry ramen ($9.95/$10.95), Kimchi ramen ($9.50/$10.50) and classics like tonkotsu ($10.50), spicy miso ($10.50) and Shoyu ($10.50).
Under the starters — house salad, edamame, crispy octopus balls — we tried the steamed buns with barbecue pork belly ($8), which featured three fluffy buns stuffed with pork belly, scallion, lettuce, hoisin dressing and a creamy mayonnaise. The mayo was a bit overkill and overpowered the flavor of the buns, but the bun was delightful and the pork belly juicy and tender. An order of tonkotsu kuro arrived, a creamy and fragrant pork/chicken broth filled with sweet corn, napa cabbage, green onion, seaweed, half a soft-boiled egg and black garlic oil, which gave the dish an incredible earthy umami flavor that proved seriously addictive.
The meal was quick, fresh and comforting – the only thing lacking was in the bowls, which were made of plastic. It's a small complaint, but there's just something delightful about slurping ramen from a happy ceramic bowl.
There's a bar by the entrance but no alcohol just yet — Chusorpin says booze is forthcoming. For now, stick with a cup of hot green tea and crave-worthy ramen that takes any standard weekday lunch to the next level. The restaurant is currently in its soft-open phase, so not every dish is available, but should be fully up and running soon.
Ichiro Ramen, 4906 Maple Ave.