First Taste

First Taste: Getting Messy at Origami Ramen Bar in Ahwatukee

Lauren Cusimano
The new, and great, Origami Ramen Bar from Chef Yusuke Kuroda.
When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).

Restaurant: Origami Ramen Bar
Location: 4810 East Ray Road, Suite A-1
Eats: Ramen and Japanese street food
Open: About six weeks
Price: $4 to $18.99
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., 4 to 8 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday

Before bringing home food from Origami Ramen Bar, make sure you have a large bowl and spoon at the ready. Don't fuck around with the little soup mugs and teaspoons in your kitchen. You'll not want to be constrained while enjoying the creamy, signature ramen from this new Ahwatukee restaurant.

click to enlarge The Japanese Strawberry Milk Tea and the Calpico Mango. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The Japanese Strawberry Milk Tea and the Calpico Mango.
Lauren Cusimano
Origami's quick backstory: Former Nobu chef Yusuke Kuroda opened the place in August hoping to “introduce authentic Japanese food to countryside” — i.e. not Beverly Hills, where he'd been since 2015.

The Foothills Park Place Shopping Center is lucky to have him. Kuroda received official credentials from the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan, where he got his fugu license — meaning he knows how to prepare poisonous pufferfish. He worked in Japan’s restaurant industry for eight years, then at sushi shops in the American South. Then Nobu. Now here.

Origami is currently offering takeout only, and they have this down to a tight process. The inside is arranged like a soup stand for now, meaning an employee behind a table most likely has your order already assembled and ready to carry out. Everything was well packaged (and labeled) for our order.

First, the drinks.

The Japanese Strawberry Milk Tea is like a lighter version of Nesquik Strawberry Milk. It’s a comforting pink, with whipped cream and a plump strawberry topping it off. The Calpico (a non-carbonated soft drink) in mango flavor is so smooth, so well balanced, I could have finished it in three big gulps. I don’t mind mentioning, either, that this beverage would seem to mix well with a few splashes of vodka. The fruit at the bottom appeared to be quite fresh, still firm after soaking in the drink for more than an hour.

click to enlarge The incredible fried karaage — Japanese-style crispy fried chicken made in house. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The incredible fried karaage — Japanese-style crispy fried chicken made in house.
Lauren Cusimano
Onto the food.

The appetizers here are stellar. Stalwarts like edamame and seaweed salad are listed, but the karaage — Japanese-style crispy fried chicken, made in-house — should be required ordering.

The smells coming off that karaage made it easy to decide which carryout container to open first. I started popping chunks of that crispy, crinkly chicken skin into my mouth right off, delaying the proper start of the meal even though the ramen was waiting. Pro tip: Get the large order so you can enjoy cold karaage the next day. Incredible.

click to enlarge The fried Takoyaki — a specialty of Chef Kuroda’s hometown of Osaka. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The fried Takoyaki — a specialty of Chef Kuroda’s hometown of Osaka.
Lauren Cusimano
The fried Takoyaki is a specialty in Chef Kuroda’s hometown of Osaka. These are like octopus hushpuppies. They, too, are quite aromatic, and topped heavily with mayo, green onion, and bonito flakes. Many, many bonito flakes. Atop and below the octopus balls is a goopy layer of semi-sweet okonomiyaki sauce. It's best to get as many of these ingredients as you can into one rollercoaster of a bite.

The hand rolls arrive like ready-to-assemble kits with instructions and sides of soy sauce and ginger. We ordered the Baked Crab Hand Roll (pretty spicy), Unagi (tasty barbecued eel), and sweet corn.

That last one was super crumbly, with corn nibblets going everywhere. Still good. The corn bits have a mist of a sweet sauce on them. These are solid hand rolls. Standard, but good.

The ramen at Origami is bowled with creamy, house-made chicken broth. Options include the Origami Classic, spicy bowls, Japanese style (i.e., way more vegetables) bowls, Origami Cha-Shu (pork belly like whoa), and a Creamy Vegan.

The choice was tough, but we went with Origami Spicy, straight noodles in a very creamy chicken broth topped with house-made pork belly, egg, green onion, chili oil, and black pepper. The spicy is truly spicy, and very good on its own without any add-ins (there are options for additional toppings like corn, garlic, cabbage — fun, but not even necessary).

click to enlarge The famous creamy ramen, deconstructed. Just be sure to stir the broth better than I did. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The famous creamy ramen, deconstructed. Just be sure to stir the broth better than I did.
Lauren Cusimano
As a carryout dish, the ramen comes divided into two containers: one with the creamy broth (be sure to stir well), the other with the noodles and toppings. This is where the big bowl comes in handy. You’ll want to dump all the ingredients into a third container. The noodles will keep the form of the cup, but it just takes a few pokes from at-home chopsticks or a fork to break the mold. Now for the big spoon. Anything smaller just won’t deliver Chef Kuroda’s creation as intended. You need a hefty spoonful of the broth, pork belly, and onion before even fooling with the noodles.

I’m sure this ramen will be somehow better when we’re able to enjoy it in Origami's physical restaurant, but I don’t see how. Even just warm, the broth is incredibly flavorful. Even on the brink of overfeeding yourself, you’ll still be spooning this creamy broth into your mouth. It deserves any hype.

click to enlarge Black sesame and matcha cakes. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Black sesame and matcha cakes.
Lauren Cusimano
Dessert was not part of the original plan. But upon seeing Origami’s cakes on its very visual menu, we called an audible and ordered some mini cakes, perfect for a personal dessert, with a colorful top layer with a woven-looking sheet of flavored frosting. We got matcha and black sesame. They were damn good.

This food here at Origami is messy, but in a fun, interactive kind of way. You’ve got to use your hands to assemble the rolls, mix and prod the ramen, pick through the karaage. Noodles and broth will fly, corn will roll off the table, a finger may be used to scrape up the remaining whipped cream from your strawberry milk tea cup.

Eating here forces you to employ all your senses and hand-eye coordination. This is not a meal to enjoy in front of the TV, and we mean that in the best way possible.