If the sound of slurping is alien to you, it’ll soon be quite familiar. It’s the sound you make when you eat ramen – and in case you haven’t noticed, Atlanta’s overflowing with new ramen restaurants. Although the Japanese noodle soup has been around since the early 1900s, it’s certainly having a moment as it has regained popularity over the past couple of years. One of the best newcomers to the ramen scene in Atlanta is Nexto, found next to the BeltLine and its sister restaurant, TWO Urban Licks.
Upon entering you’re immediately struck by how undeniably cool the space is. Set in a repurposed metal shed with large windows and red-hued tables, the vibe is quirky and industrial. Don’t let the coolness fool you, though, with its no-reservations policy and simple menu, the spot is still quite welcoming.
A quick glance at the menu and you’ll notice that the coolness doesn’t stop at the décor. For those keeping it classic, there is a classic tonkotsu with pork belly and egg. It’s soothing and is bound to take the chill off a wintery day. But more adventurous diners should opt for the spicy bacon miso ramen, a ruby-hued bowl packed with smoky, thick bacon pieces, charred eggplant and lots of spice. Ramen with a Southern flair can be found in the tori paitan with chicken, collards, and sweet potato chips.
The genius behind these creative bowls of soup is Chef Mihoko Obunai, Atlanta’s ramen darling. You may remember her from the Ramen Freak pop-up at the Sound Table or her appearance on The Food Network’s “Chopped.” Obunai cut her teeth in French restaurants in New York, and realized that although the two cuisines are quite different, they’re actually similar in some ways as well. She says, “The French kitchen is like a Japanese kitchen: everything takes time and you have to be patient.” She realized she could apply this to her childhood staple, ramen. “I grew up eating ramen and every time I go to visit family in Tokyo, this is what we eat. I quickly realized that people think ‘ramen’ is four for $1, MSG bricks of instant noodles for college kids’ dorm room meals,” she explained. After training with Shigetoshi Nakamura, owner of Nakamuraya in NYC, she brought her long-simmering passion back to Atlanta.
Whichever bowl of soupy goodness you choose, you’ll immediately notice that the broth is rich and packed with umami or, “the savory flavor you can’t quite put your finger on.” Why? The most important flavor factor for ramen is its broth. Nexto’s patinan (chicken) broth cooks for about 12 hours and the tonkotsu broth takes a full 24. To ensure the most flavor bang for her buck, Obunai sources high quality pork, fish, and chicken bones along with dried anchovies from Japan.
Beyond the thick broths, Nexto sets itself apart from other ramen shops with a sense of adventure. Besides the classic tonkotsu ramen, the menu offers up playful takes inspired by the season with a local flair. Vegetarians can warm up this winter with the veggie miso bowl with kabocha squash, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and tofu. Seafood lovers can cure their salt tooth with the ebi shoyu, a blend of Georgia white shrimp, wakame, scallions and eggs.
If your tummy isn’t too full from all of the delicious broth and noodles, go for one of the cold or hot appetizers. We particularly enjoy the oyster mushroom buns and diver scallops off the robata grill. Wash it all down with a raba, an elixir of shochu, vodka, lemon and pineapple ginger syrup.
And in case you were wondering, there is a right way to eat your ramen. Obunai says, “Slurp, chopsticks and spoons … No silverware!” Are you ready to get to slurping?
Nexto is located at 828 Ralph McGill Blvd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30306. Hours are: Lunch — Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dinner — Monday through Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Learn more at (404) 809-3763 or visit nextoatl.com.
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