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: Sushi Robata
The Atmosphere: Everybody who knows their Japanese food loves Sushi Robata, one of North Dallas' favorite destinations for good sushi that won't leave you bankrupt. (The other, Fujiyama, is almost exactly a mile away.) Its decor is modern, with Japanese motifs like bamboo and cherry blossoms. The lighting is warm and welcoming, appropriate for dates or dinners with friends. We'd both been to Sushi Robata several times before, seated at its tables or at the counter which runs the full length of the dining room. But we'd never gotten around to trying the ramen.
The Service: The waitstaff are attentive and efficient. They bring you a warm towel before eating, and the bill comes with Green Tea Throat Drops. Classy. Wait, do we look sick?
What We Ordered: A bowl of tonkatsu ramen and a bowl of shoyu ramen (pictured). The broth of shoyu ramen is based on soy sauce with chicken or vegetable stock, which gives it the darker color. Both bowls clock in at $8.75.
Of course, this being Sushi Robata, we couldn't resist ordering a billion other things as side dishes. Tuna sashimi with plum sauce on a bed of super-thin onion slices? Yes, please. Grilled shishito peppers? Of course. Grilled, bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms? Who says no to that?
The Ramen: This is the good stuff. So good even Michelle's crappy camera phone lens captures the deliciousness. (So good we were too excited to remember our real cameras.) So good you might remember why the ramen craze started. The tonkatsu ramen is milky, salty, porky, a holy trinity of flavors held in savory balance. Chomp into the pork slice quickly, because it cooks longer in the hot broth.
The shoyu ramen has a very salty broth -- expected, since it's based on soy sauce. What makes it great is that the salt doesn't overwhelm the other flavors. It's meaty and aromatic, as a good bowl of ramen should be.
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Both bowls of ramen are classically topped: a single slice of smoky chashu pork, green onions, seaweed, half a hard-boiled egg, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), and narutomaki (those pink-swirled fish cake slices that look like a cross between candy and spam). The noodles are straight, more like spaghetti than the thick curls of instant ramen. Heck, maybe it is spaghetti. But straight noodles are traditional in tonkatsu ramen, and often used in shoyu ramen, and Sushi Robata knows their stuff better than the instant packets. They also know how to cook noodles to perfection -- not slimy, not overly chewy, just right.
Recommended if: you want to introduce really good restaurant ramen to somebody who's only eaten it out of a styrofoam cup.
Sushi Robata, 4727 Frankford Rd., Dallas, 972-930-9428. $8.75 tonkatsu or shoyu ramen, $3.50 bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms
Previously on our hunt for great ramen: Slurping Up Maki Boy on a Hunt for DFW's Best Ramen