Slurping Down the Austin Ramen Scene
Austin is buzzing about ramen, thanks to two restaurants currently serving what I’m told is authentic Japanese ramen — Komé and Ramen Tatsu-Ya. Now that I’ve had a chance to try both, I wanted to share pictures and first impressions from the point of view of someone new to this dish.
Komé serves ramen only at lunch, and they offer three varieties for about $9 each — shoyu ramen, miso ramen, and tonkotsu ramen. The ramen comes with lots of goodies along with the broth and fresh noodles — the tonkotsu toppings include corn, bamboo shoots, ginger, seaweed, greens, slices of fish cake, and a perfectly cooked creamy egg. Shakers of pepper and sesame seeds are provided to add extra flavor to taste.
There is often a wait to get into Kome for dinner, which is a small, sit-down restaurant on Airport Boulevard at 49th Street, but it’s generally easy to get a table without a wait for lunch during the week, and with a short wait on weekends. They currently only serve the ramen dishes for lunch.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya is currently only open for dinner — Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. I went to grab dinner with my friend Ann last Tuesday. Our strategy was to arrive as early as we could get out of work to beat the dinner rush — and we had the added bonus that it was election day — so there was no line when we arrived at 5:30. Ramen Tatsu-Ya is one of the hottest restaurants among the food nerds of Austin right now, so I had heard that we should be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes. Folks that arrived later than us did have to wait.
Located at 183 and Ohlen Road in a shopping center that specializes in Asian cuisine (its neighbors include Sunflower, Pho Van, and Din Ho), Ramen Tatsu-Ya is the first restaurant in Austin where ramen is presented as the star of the show. Like Kome, the ramen is listed at around $9 a bowl, and like Kome, they don’t allow take-out orders (but you can bring your own tupperware in case you can’t finish your meal), but one thing that really turned me off about Ramen Tatsu-Ya is that in order to compare it to the dish offered at Kome, I’d have to order a side of at least one of the flavor bombs (at $1-$1.5 each), fish cakes ($.50), bamboo ($.50), pickled ginger ($.50).
In comparing the Tonkotsu at Kome vs. the same dish at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, I’d recommend Kome based on value, atmosphere, and overall experience. I didn’t like the rushed feeling I had at Ramen Tatsu-Ya (my beer was whisked away before I even finished it), nor the piecemeal ordering of the ramen and the lack of complimentary spices that I’m used to being offered on the side. It was good, and I especially enjoyed the Tsukemen (dipping noodles served with a rich sauce on the side) — but for me, Ramen Tatsu-Ya just didn’t live up to the hype.
It will be interesting to see how both Ramen Tatsu-Ya and Kome stack up against Michi Ramen, the food truck that plans to reopen in a brick and mortar location at Lamar near Airport Blvd soon. Adam and I tried Michi Ramen earlier this year, and for me, the broth was way too fatty, although it received rave reviews from others.
Overall, I’m thrilled that Japanese comfort food is available in Austin, and all three ramen offerings I’ve had have been really delicious. I’m looking forward to more ramen options, at more times, with less of a wait as the scene continues to grow.Tags: japanese, kome, michi ramen, ramen, ramen tatsu-ya, tsukemen