Ramen (when it doesn't come in noodle-brick form out of a package from the grocery store) is a Japanese dish made of wheat noodles served in a flavored broth. The dish has been a part of both Chinese and Japanese cultures for decades and thanks to Nissin Foods, in the early 60s it made its way deep into the heart of all loan-burdened college students, albeit in a less-than traditional form.
But where can you the real stuff, Ramen made fresh with actual vegetables and meat? No, you don't have to travel to Japan--or even Japantown. We stopped in for an affordable noodle lunch at Tempe's Republic Ramen and Noodle Bar on University Drive.
For under $7, Republic Ramen offers six varieties of ramen and seven other noodle dishes. Sides such as pork gyoza and seaweed salad ring up at under $3 allowing lunchers to get a full meal (ramen, side and drink) for just over $10.
All six varieties of ramen come with your choice of pork, tofu, spam, chicken and beef as well as spinach, sprouts, scallions and carrots. We ordered the shio ramen, a light sea salt flavored broth with pork and after soliciting the advice of the friendly employee, a bowl of tonkatsu ramen also with pork.
For side we selected edamame and gyoza both of which only cost an extra $2. Salads and tempura will put you back an extra dollar but will still keep your total under a ten spot. If you don't feel like ramen, you can always opt for udon, similar to ramen but with thicker noodles, or soba, also similar but made with buckwheat noodles.
After ordering we grabbed seat by the large windows, which give the restaurant a pleasant open feeling. While I chose a spot on the chic but rather uncomfortable bench, my lunch companion made the wiser choice to pull up a chair.
Our sides came out first. The portions were small--three pieces of gyoza and a small bowl of room temperature, lightly salted soy beans--but for only a couple bucks the value was still there. And when the heaping bowls of steaming noodles arrived at our table, we almost regretted ordering sides at all.
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The shio broth was light and the perfect amount of salty without feeling like a saltlick. The real star however was the tonkatsu broth, which had a full-flavor and heavier consistency. Noodles in both dishes retained a slight chewiness and vegetables were neither wilted nor overly raw.
In terms of authenticity, Republic still falls on the low end of the scale but there's no denying that they offer a tasty, filling meal at a great price. The location just off campus is also perfect for students looking for a quick bite on the way to those things you're supposed to go to...what's the word...oh right, classes.
Republic Ramen is open 11 am to 9 pm Sunday through Wednesday and stays open an hour later till 10 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday.