There was a time in metro Phoenix when tracking down a good bowl of Japanese ramen took some detective work. Thankfully, we are currently enjoying something of a noodle boom around town, a very welcome development for those of us whose hearts are flush with a passion for noodles, in all their diversity and carb-rich glory. Several noodle-centric restaurants have popped up around town in recent months, and I suspect we may not even be close to peak noodle saturation.
From a late-night downtown cafe specializing in unconventional noodle dishes, to a Scottsdale restaurant that celebrates the cult of ramen, here are our five favorite places to enjoy the special comforts and near-medicinal power of a good bowl of noodles.
Hot Noodles Cold Sake
Chef Josh Hebert's Tuesday night ramen nights at the avant-garde-leaning Posh Improvisational Cuisine in Scottsdale were the stuff of popular legend for years. Now, you can enjoy Hebert's studious, reverent presentation of traditional Japanese ramen on other nights, too. Hot Noodles Cold Sake, which opened last month in Scottsdale, offers a small menu of goma, shoyu, miso, shrimp and even vegan ramen, plus sides like salads, gyoza and edamame. Is the house specialty ramen - the sesame oil-kissed goma ramen with char-shi pork and a tangly skein of noodles - the deepest, most flavorful bowl of ramen around town? Possibly.
Chef-owner Marco DiSanto's dual-concept restaurant, Otakumen and Pat & Waldo's, recently consolidated its two distinct menus, and the downtown Phoenix noodle parlor has re-branded with the highly appropriate moniker, Noodle Bar. The Adams Street restaurant is a noodle-lover's dream, where lovers of Italian bolognese and devotees of Japanese ramen may dine side by side, united in the name of flavorful, carb-rich eating. The hakata ramen, perfumed with wood ear mushrooms, is a highlight from the ramen side of the menu, and you should probably try the heavenly, wok-seared yakisoba noodles. And if you have a yen for creamy, buttery fettuccine, this one should fit the bill nicely.
SoSoBa Noodle Shop
SoSoBa, a recent arrival on Roosevelt Row, offers a boon to late-night diners seeking respite over a hot bowl of noodles. This is the second location of the Flagstaff-based restaurant, and its menu offers an unconventional take on Japanese ramen, along with menu items like kimchi tostadas and fried mac 'n' cheese balls. The restaurant bills its noodle menu as "unabashedly inauthentic," and you, too, will probably celebrate totally inauthentic but creative mash-ups like the sweet chile glazed udon, a bowl of sweet-spicy, thick udon noodles topped with pork belly, chicharron, and veggies. Ramen bowls are made using a house-made broth, which is nicely balanced, and your ramen is generously topped with lots of fresh veggies and meats.
Nishikawa in Chandler is a strip-mall ramen bar offering six types of ramen, with noodles made in-house daily. The most popular ramen bowl in the house is probably the Nishikawa Black with straight noodles, which registers deep notes of garlic, sesame, and comes packed with texture-rich add-ons like fried onions and hunks of soft-boiled egg. If you're hunting for an extra-spicy bowl of ramen, you may have found what you're looking for in the tonkotsu. Order it medium-spicy, and then proceed to slurp up the straight noodles, which soak up the pork-scented and fiery broth. A glass of water on the side never hurt anyone.
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China Magic Noodle House
If you haven't yet made a pilgrimage to China Magic Noodle House in Chandler, it's time to experience the pleasure of slurping the restaurant's tender, hand-pulled noodles. The hardest thing is picking out what you want for lunch or dinner - the noodle menu is sprawling, divided between pan-fried, braised, noodles in soup, or chilled noodle dishes, with several different noodle types and sizes available. Highlights include an ox tail soup - try it with the shaved noodles. It's hard to go wrong with any of the pan-fried dishes, especially the beef stir-fry drenched in the spicy house "XO" sauce. Magic, indeed.