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: Chino Chinatown
The Atmosphere: Yuppie fusion chic. Chino Chinatown is the Trinity Groves development's Latin-Asian fusion concept, and it comes with a full bar, red ropes strung across the ceiling, a big lantern-bedecked patio ideal for people-watching, and vibrant paintings on the walls. Don't miss the bathroom hallway, with its gallery of giant photos of exuberant Dia de los Muertos figures in loud corsets. When we visited, the clientele was in a festive mood - several tables were enjoying multiple rounds of fancy cocktails and decidedly unfancy wine, and a dozen women chatted, toasted, and laughed around a big table inside.
The Service: Maybe we got unlucky, but service was slow. From getting a table to getting our first bite of food: 38 minutes. And we had a reservation, on a Wednesday.
After we finished eating, our friend Elaine had time to get up, walk over to Kate Weiser Chocolates, watch Kate prepare a mold for her next batch, buy a dozen truffles and three macarons, and walk back, all before the waiter came to take our plates or ask if we wanted dessert. (To be fair, maybe he was waiting respectfully for her, wondering if she'd fallen asleep in the bathroom. That would be funny.)
What We Ordered: Our trio shared three appetizers and the bowl of ramen. Honestly, all the appetizers sound awesome. We probably could've had five more. We probably needed five more - they're not exactly massive. There were six yucca fries, and the duck egg rolls came in a set of three. This was perfect for our table, but if you're on a double date, things could get awkward.
Those duck egg rolls were the highlight of our meal. They're smallish, thin-skinned, and crisp, like spring rolls. And they're oh-so-ducky. They're accompanied by a sweet hoisin dipping sauce, evoking the flavor profile of a traditional Peking duck roll. The yucca wedges were presented with crumbled cheese and sweet-spicy sriracha ketchup. Maybe more sweet than spicy, honestly, and the yucca wedges themselves aren't as addictive as C Señor's crisp-outside-buttery-inside devil magic yucca fries. We also sprung for mariquitas, an item we'd never heard of, and were rewarded with the plantain version of potato chips.
The Ramen: It comes in a big bowl with shredded slow-cooked barbacoa, a big chunk of barbecued pork, mushrooms, an egg, cilantro, and lime. When the servers know you're sharing, they'll bring extra bowls, spoons, chopsticks, a ladle, and grabbers.
The broth is very meaty: they're serious about their stock (and use bone marrow). By the time your bowl grows cold, the meat flavor converts to a weird, nasty attack of nonstop salt, but as long as the ramen is still piping hot, it's slurpably delicious.
The noodles were cooked well, firm but soaking up broth flavors. The big chunk of meat fell apart nicely, and the shredded barbacoa was scrumptious, but with intensely meaty broth too, is this overkill? It depends on your carnivorism. We appreciated the mushrooms for adding some balance to the mix.
The Latin flavors powerfully affected all aspects of the ramen. That's a formal way of saying there's a lot of cilantro. A lot. If you (like Michelle, and Julia Child) have that gene that makes cilantro the devil incarnate, avoid this dish at all costs. The lime is surprisingly noticeable over all the meat, cilantro, and salt. Hey, what's another Asian soup with cilantro, lime, and a tasty meaty broth? If it weren't for the kinky noodles and the lack of basil, we could have been eating pho.
Would we go again? Michelle: Well, I definitely wouldn't. The cilantro tried to strangle me and I went to bed hungry. Brian: I was lucky enough to escape the cilantro-tastes-nasty curse, though not Chino Chinatown's slow-service curse. If you're in the neighborhood, the "ramen" is a scrumptious meal worth trying. Until my bowl grew cold, I enjoyed myself.
Recommended if: you need a gateway drug to get you from Tex-Mex to Asian soup, and you're really into being surrounded by the color red when you eat
Chino Chinatown, 3011 Gulden Lane #110, Dallas, 469-513-7457. Duck fat fries (yucca wedges) $7, duck egg rolls $8, barbacoa ramen $15.
Previously on our hunt for great ramen: Order Your Ramen in Bulk at Shiawase, Allen's Hybrid of Tokyo and Vegas Sushi Robata's Ramen Is So Good They Could (but Shouldn't!) Rename it Ramen Robata Slurping Up Maki Boy on a Hunt for DFW's Best Ramen