The State of Ramen Shops in Austin, Texas

What is Ramen anyways? It doesn’t always come in cheap packs from the grocery store?
Japanese Ramen has it’s origins in the Chinese noodles 拉面 “La-Mian” which literally means pulled noodles (see this picture of this guy the Chinese version). In fact, in Japan Ramen is still sometimes called Chinese style noodles. Somewhere along the way, The Japanese took the Chinese import and morphed it into something all their own.

How is authentic ramen different from instant ramen?
Real ramen broth has a depth of flavor not present in the instant form, which relies on salt and MSG to enhance taste. Good ramen derives it’s flavor from boiling a combination of animal bones and vegetables for a long time to give the broth a richness that that can’t be replicated otherwise. Much in the same way that Texas BBQ meat tastes magical when exposed to slow and low heat, the same is true of soup broth. Good ramen when done right, is a time intensive labor of love (just like great TX BBQ). Good ramen also comes garnished with all sorts of fresh, delicious things as well that complement the broth.

Simply put, great ramen can blow your mind.

For an in depth explanation about Japanese Ramen culture and the different styles of Ramen, David Chang and Anthony Bourdain dedicate 20 minutes to the subject in the awesome series “The Mind of A Chef” (bonus @ 8:45 for learning how the noodles are made in a factory from a man in a bright red wrestling style mask)

There’s also this great how to make ramen article on Serious Eats.

Ramen in Austin – sad beginnings
With all of the great food in town, the absence of a truly authentic ramen restaurant in Austin was one of the most obvious gaps in Austin cuisine. I had many conversations with Austin foodies about how one of the only things holding Austin back from being a great food city was the lack of more authentic Asian restaurants, specifically a Japanese ramen place. Most restaurant ramen in town served noodles that weren’t much better than the kind you can make from a package.

A couple years ago, along came Kome with it’s better, but not quite authentic ramen which expanded local palates. Later came (and soon went) the Michi Ramen food truck, which frequently sold out and commanded long lines – their broth showing great promise. Shortly after, Ramen Tatsu-ya exploded on to the scene – their product creating even longer lines on the daily despite scorching Texas summer heat.

Currently, Michi has returned with a brick and mortar and very recently Daruma Ramen came on to the scene. There’s another Austin ramen place rumored to be opening in June called Ramen Ninja. East Side King @ Hole in the Wall serves “ramen” but it’s so far from traditional that it’s not on this list.

How does the ramen in Austin stack up to the other good ramen around the world?
Austin ramen is currently really good at some places, and just OK at others. Haven eaten some very good and very dissapointing ramen in my time, I feel like I can give an informed opinion. Here are my reference good ramens:

Kyushu Tonkatsu Ramen in Japan – first time I ever had “real” ramen – thick broth with delicious slices of pork belly

Ramen in the back of a grocery store @ Santouka in LA – amazing and only 6 bucks – served along with fermented Natto (which is nasty).

I’ve also been to Ippudo in New York, but felt like it was extremely overrated and not worth $16 a bowl or a 2 hour wait. Also, recently I’ve had ramen from Miso Izakaya in Atlanta, which is great and a chef friend has made good homemade ramen based on the Momofuku recipe for me too.

The State of Austin Ramen – which ramen is best?

Ramen Tatsu-ya – my favorite ramen in town and the only broth that really stands up to the other non Austin places I’ve had. Everything here is good, and I’ve almost eaten the whole menu. Favorites are the Shoyu ramen and the miso ramen.

All of their sides are on point too – whether it’s the chashu bowl, brussel sprouts (yodas), curry bowl, almond tofu, or the cocopioca. The toppings in the ramen here are the best of any ramen spot in Austin too, especially the chashu (pork belly) and the ajitama egg (the yolk is sweet, gooey, and perfect). Ramen Tatsuya also has a good, inexpensive beer and sake selection, so that’s always a plus. Also, it’s owned by one of my favorite DJs in town – so that’s a plus.

You can also get the Tsukemen (dipping ramen) at Tatsu-ya that David Chang mentions in the “Mind of a Chef” video linked above.

Only downside here is a line to get in – I usually show up at 6pm and wait 20 minutes. If you go during prime time, you might have to wait 45 minutes.

Daruma Ramen opened in early 2013 and is related to Kome, the Izakaya / sushi restaurant in central Austin. The ramen at Daruma (which means a wooden doll) uses a chicken based broth, which is much lighter than the traditional pork based broth. Also, instead of pork belly, they give you chicken meat – so it’s a little hard to judge Daruma against the other spots in town, but I think the product is good for what it is.

Despite being lighter (notice no fat floating around), the shoyu broth still has a depth of flavor and you can tell that much care went into it and the toppings that are served with the ramen. The ajitama egg at Daruma is almost as good as the one at Tatsuya, and I enjoy the sweetness of the bamboo shoots. Their miso ramen packs A LOT of flavor, but might be a little salty for some people’s taste.

Sides at Daruma like the delicate croquette and the special soft serve ice cream (I had the chocolate / ginger) are also light but full of flavor. I recommend them both. I’d say Daruma is my 2nd favorite ramen joint in Austin.

Michi Ramen started as a truck and they opened a brick and mortar restaurant in late 2012. There was a huge amount of excitement when they first opened because they were the first ramen restaurant on the scene.

I enjoyed Michi when it was a truck, and I really want to like Michi as a brick and mortar. I have friends that are huge supporters whose taste I trust, but I think I’ve been going on off days and they are experiencing growing pains. I’ve been there 2 times and each time there were some technical difficulties. Pictured above is the Michi regular. The broth is pretty good, but I don’t feel that Michi’s product has the balance of the other 2 places in town, or that the staff is as obsessed about the broth / authenticity.

Here the ginger is very overpowering and the pork keeps changing every time I go. This time around it tasted like honey baked ham. Other times it tasted more like pork belly, but Tatsu-ya’s is definitely better. My friend swears I need to get the stout broth, but I have not tried it yet.

The sides I’ve had at Michi are not refined or original, they are your standard octopus salad, seaweed salad, and edamame that you’ve seen at countless generic Japanese restaurants or the sushi section of your local HEB (grocery store for you non Texans). Most people seem to like the noodles at Michi best, so they do have that going for them.

Bonus Tanuki for good luck in the Ramen Tatsuya mens’ bathroom

So there you have it, the current state of ramen shops in Austin Texas. Agree, disagree? Did you learn something new about ramen?

Let us know in the comments.

Happy Tasting,

26 thoughts on “The State of Ramen Shops in Austin, Texas”

  1. Have you tried the Tonkotsu Ramen at Kome? The broth is tasty and the wait time is reasonable. (Note: This is not a paid endorsement!)

  2. @Amy – yes I had the ramen at Kome a couple years back. The broth was pretty good, but salty. Those who have reactions to MSG said they felt bloated though so I think they take shortcuts on the broth. Someone also mentioned that they probably add milk to the broth as well. Also, the pork is tenderlion (i think) – which isn’t nearly as good as the pork belly.

  3. What do you think about Musashino’s beef ramen? Surprised you left that out completely.

    1. Have they changed it in the last 2 years? B/c I went with about 6 other people and we were all extremely disappointed by their ramen (price, taste, similarity to instant ramen). In this article I was only covering the dedicated ramen only shops in Austin – similar to how I wouldn’t review BBQ at a non BBQ joint b/c it really is a labor of love to get it right.

  4. Hey Peter. Thanks for the ranking of ramen. I’ve heard similar reviews of Daruma Ramen as yours. I definitely want to try it, but I have heard that it’s a distant second to Tatsuya from my Japanese friends. I’m just excited that there is a seriously competitive atmosphere around ramen shops in Austin now. It has been a long time in coming, and this can only result in multiple tasty benefits for the ramen-hungry consumers of Austin.

    1. Thanks for your kind words and glad other people agree with my article. Also, you make an excellent point about the ramen environment in Austin now.

      Yea it’s hard to rank Daruma since it’s chicken vs pork based. I enjoyed the experience a lot and can tell they put a lot of care and attention into their ramen. Based on their marketing materials, I think they are targeting the health conscious crowd without sacrificing too much on taste. They even have a vegan ramen (that didn’t look bad although I didn’t try it). Their croquettes are very similar to what I had in Japan and I haven’t seen those anywhere else in Austin.

  5. Hey Peter, Mike here, Ramen Ninja, I just wanted to say thank you for the shout out about my upcoming venture, I hope Austin will find it pleasing and enjoyable. Also, to be sure, the name “Ninja Ramen” is being used by a different future venture by a different owner/ramen fanatic.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks clearing that up and letting me know that there is yet another ramen fanatic opening up in town (i think I actually know some of the folks involved in that one). Hope that gets cleared up for you both (for the sake of not confusing everyone else) before you open.

      Good luck & looking forward to trying your ramen – everything looks good from the pictures you have on on Facebook.

    1. thanks Linda! Daruma is pretty cool, I liked the ramen and especially their sides. MJ said it’s cute inside.

  6. I haven’t tried a ramen shop yet. What do you recommend for a beginner?

    1. Ramen Tatsu-ya, #2 with an extra egg and brussel sprouts on the side 🙂 Go early

  7. Nice write-up! “Simply put, great ramen can blow your mind.” Well said, and so true. I love how Austin has embraced ramen with open arms and how it’s changed the food landscape of the city in such a short time.

    I think we should organize a ramen crawl.

    1. if salt ramen = shio ramen, Daruma has it, but again they use chicken broth instead of pork, so it’s not the standard ramen that you get there

  8. I wish I was closer to Austin so I could enjoy ramen on a regular basis. Tatsu-ya ramen is the best and really the only good ramen I’ve had outside of Japan. I’ve been craving Ramen for years and literally dream about it, so the 100 mile drive from San Antonio is worth it to eat at Tatsu-ya. I doubt I’d even bother to try the chicken-based ramen at the other place you mentioned. I’ve had other Ramen in the states made with chicken and it was always a let down. It’s awesome to see Ramen taking off here in the states. It is my favorite meal!

    1. Awesome! 100 mile drive for Tatsu-ya, that’s quite an endorsement. I’m sure they would appreciate the comment. I get cravings for ramen all the time too, but I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about it (you are hard core!).

      I just had Tatsu-ya today after all the ramen talk today 🙂

  9. I’d say Tatsuya is a consistently great ramen place. I love the chashu pork and their curry bowl. It’s cramped and noisy and not for a large group, so I end up going to Michi quite a bit as well. While I love Tatsuya’s broth, I prefer Michi’s noodles and their chashu burnt ends are amazing, although admittedly, the last time I went there, they were overly salty. Also, Michi should take that ‘jungle’ ramen off their menu entirely. All in all, I love both of these places whole heartedly. I grew up on Okinawa, so I’m thrilled to see good ramen take root in Austin. Now, if only one of these places would serve ‘cold ramen’, that would be even better.

    1. Great to hear the opinions of someone who grew up in Japan!

      Love the chashu bowl at Tatsuya too – it reminds me A LOT of the street food in Taiwan, where we have a very similar dish.

      I’ll have to give Michi another try – maybe in a few months once they get everything ironed out. I’m not the only one that feels the same way about them – I think they have potential, they just need to get it together. I think they aren’t trying hard enough maybe.

      Not sure I’ve had proper ‘cold ramen’ – I had the cold noodles from 7-11 in Japan / Taiwan, but I’m sure that’s a pretty bad version. I’ll have to add proper cold ramen to my to-eat list

      1. Cold noodles, or hiyashi chuka, are typically served in the hot summer months. Kome has had them during the summer in the past, they’re not on the menu now but I bet they’ll be back soon. Definitely something Austin ramen shops will need to offer once the mercury tops 100F.

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