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.
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.
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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.