Up until a few years ago, ramen typically brought to mind those little cakes of dried noodles with seasoning packets that cost $4 for a dozen that could easily be cooked in a dorm room hot pot or microwave. But in reality, ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle soup filled with protein, vegetables and complex flavors. Recently, it has become a popular food trend across the country, with ramen shops on top trend lists and well-known ramen chefs making the TV and magazine rounds.
Memphis has caught on to the trend. Skewer opened in the Sanderlin Center in early 2014 with Robata opening up a few months later in Overton Square. Both shine with their ramen and yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers) offerings.
Winter is the perfect time to explore the delicious noodle soups of Memphis, but ramen isn’t the only noodle game in town. Crazy Noodle in Midtown serves Korean-style noodle dishes, and we’ve been enjoying the Chiang Mai Noodles at Bhan Thai for more than a decade. The choice of pho at local Vietnamese restaurants, including Pho Saigon, has filled our noodle needs for even longer. So here you go — here are five amazing noodle restaurants in Memphis.
2116 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN 38104 • (901) 410-8290
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Robata is in the cute little house that used to be a part of the Paulette’s buildings. If you are new to ramen, Robata is a good place to start, because the menu features a handy how-to-build-a-ramen-bowl chart, complete with photos. Choose your noodle, broth combination, protein and seasonings, and then add a small side dish. Try rich, pork tonkatsu broth for a meaty, hearty bowl, or a lighter shio or miso broth filled with vegetables. The portions are generous, so consider sharing. The Kar-age Don fried chicken makes a great little bite to go with a big bowl of vegetable-laden broth. Ebi Gyoza shrimp dumplings are a great starter, but I can’t help thinking they would be good floating in a bowl of ramen.
5101 Sanderlin Ave., Suite 105, Memphis, TN 38117 • (901) 682-9919
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 12 to 9 p.m.
Skewer in the Sanderlin Center has a full menu of ramen, yakitori (that’s the skewers) and donburi rice bowls, so there is lots of choice. Tonkatsu ramen is a deep bowl of rich, pork broth loaded with noodles, roasted pork, greens and shredded seaweed. The typical soft boiled egg in this version soaks up the broth and is particularly good.
And if you really want to be up on the ramen trend, they offer a ramen burger. I’m not sure I understand the point of this — it’s a burger and toppings with ramen noodle patties for a bun. The glaze on the burger was delicious, but the best we could manage was picking at the concoction with a fork. The accompanying fries sprinkled with nori seaweed seasoning and the tangy dipping sauces made the plate worthwhile.
2015 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN 38104 • (901) 272-0928
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
You’ll find Crazy Noodle next to the Kwik-Chek on Madison, famous for its Korean bibimbap. Crazy Noodle was opened by the sister of the owner of the Kwik-Chek to serve a wider range of Korean food. The location has been many different restaurants over the years, and the small space is now serving up some very tasty noodles and Korean ramen. The curry ramen is notably good, with a deeply flavorful broth, thin noodles, chicken and vegetables. At Crazy Noodle, you can order your own level of spicy, which is a bonus.
1324 Peabody Ave., Memphis, TN 38104 • (901) 272-1538
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing about Asian noodles, she immediately reminded me of the Chiang Mai Noodles at Bhan Thai. Though the dish is not technically a soup, the broth-y coconut curry concoction is close enough for me. Choose shrimp or tofu and slurp up the delicious curry sauce and vegetables. There are noodle soups on the menu, as well, and I am always a fan of the coconut milk-enriched versions. Add a few satay skewers, and you’ve got a great meal.
2946 Poplar Ave., Memphis, TN 38111 • (901) 458-1644
Hours: Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Pho Saigon has been serving big, beautiful bowls for at least 20 years. You can’t go wrong with a beef pho bowl. The broth is full-bodied and meaty, with plenty of slippery noodles and vegetables, plus your choice of beef from tripe to meatballs. And pho is fun, interactive food — layer on the herbs, bean sprouts and greens that come with each bowl. Thick-noodled yellow noodle soups give you options, too: chicken, shrimp, pork, vegetables and more. Order a few cool shrimp rice paper spring rolls as a nice contrast to the warming soup.