Oni Ramen is not the first ramen shop in Deep Ellum, but it is by far the best.
The Fort Worth import opened on Elm Street a few weeks ago between Hide and IdleRye in a block that's come to epitomize new Deep Ellum — exposed brickwork, $14 cocktails and expansive rooftop patios. Oni Ramen is a small presence, a shotgun restaurant with limited seating and places to stand at the edge of the open kitchen when seats fill up.
Unless you're sitting at the bar, upon arriving at Oni Ramen, you place an order at an electronic kiosk where you'll find several options: classic ramen (miso, tonkotsu, vegetarian) and specialty bowls like Kyushu Tonkotsu, a creamy, rich pork broth with bamboo shoots, woodear, mustard greens, red ginger, green onion, black garlic oil, a perfectly cooked and slightly runny egg, and the piece de resistance: two big hunks of pork belly so juicy and tender, they nearly fall apart when lifted with chopsticks.
The specialty ramen menu is also where you'll find Oni's most famous dish, the Oni Reaper, a ramen so spicy that it comes with a challenge: Eat chef-owner Jesus Garcia's version of the Reaper, nearly three times as spicy as the classic Oni Reaper, in less than 12 minutes without drinking water. Of the more than 100 people who've tried, Garcia says, only about three people have successfully completed the challenge.
What makes the Oni Reaper so spicy? It's made with a base of gochujang and spiced bean pastes, garlic, ginger and the big guns: Carolina reaper pepper, habanero pepper, Trinidad scorpion pepper and 7 Pot Brain Strain pepper. The sauce can be added to any ramen, but it fits best with Oni Reaper's "demon-spiced" miso broth, pork belly and veggies (bean sprouts, leeks, green onion and Parmesan-buttered corn.
I lack the emotional and physical fortitude required to tackle the Oni Reaper, so I settled on the Kyushu Tonkotsu. The big, beautiful bowl was perfectly rich and filling, with plenty for leftovers. Halfway through the bowl, I asked a staff member for a takeout container. That request was pointless; 10 minutes later, the bowl was empty, and I left full and happy.
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Oni Ramen is a simple place, and that's just what Deep Ellum needs right now. It also knows its audience: Oni is open until 4 a.m. Friday and 3 a.m. Saturday, and it's the perfect food to sop up the night's drinking. Arrive before 2 a.m. and you can supplement your ramen with the Deep Ellum Punch, a cocktail made with Myers’ dark rum, Malibu, razzmatazz, pineapple and cranberry. Expect to spend $12 to $13 on ramen, except during happy hour (5-6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday), when classic ramen bowls are half off.
This ramen weather may not last, but here's hoping Oni Ramen does.
Oni Ramen, 2822 Elm St.