Use your noodles

Minato’s chef Y.B. and owner Tai Jung pose with a variety of dishes from their menu, including ramen, salad, takoyaki and bulgogi donburi.

Minato’s chef Y.B. and owner Tai Jung pose with a variety of dishes from their menu, including ramen, salad, takoyaki and bulgogi donburi.

Photo/Allison Young

Minato Noodles is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. to dinner.

My daughter has been staying with us for the holidays, so I’ve taken it upon myself to broaden her usual diet of potato chips and instant ramen. She’s a fan of real food but has been living on a shoestring budget, something I remember quite well from my own bachelor days. So it’s somewhat ironic I took her with me to try Minato Noodles, known for ramen and udon noodle dishes.

I started with a house salad of lettuce, carrot, red cabbage, sesame seeds and thin-sliced avocado, dressed with a housemade blend of soy sauce, vinegar, and a little hint of wasabi ($3). The rest of our appetizers arrived posthaste.

Takoyaki—my daughter’s favorite—is about the size of a golf ball, deep-fried in wheat flour batter with a gooey filling of tenkasu (tempura scraps), pickled ginger, scallion and chopped octopus, drizzled with Bull-Dog sauce and sprinkled with chopped scallion and smoked fish flakes ($3 for three pieces). The dried, thin bits of fish add a lot of umami to this Osaka street food favorite.

Also from the fryer were orders of chicken karaage and pork gyoza (both $3 for five pieces). The Japanese chicken nuggets and potstickers were crispy and tasty, though not as impressive as the octopus balls. Both were served with a soy and scallion dipping sauce.

My wife’s order of curry with chicken ($11.99) was something of a letdown. Unbeknownst to us, Japanese-style curry is nothing like the Indian and Southeast Asian varieties we know and love. The sauce is similar to brown gravy thickened with grated sweet potato, coating a blend of broccoli, mushroom, onion, cabbage, carrot and chicken. Being that she found the sauce to be pretty bland, my wife added soy sauce, chili oil, and Sriracha while making a mental note to order something different next time. A ball of steamed rice and a small salad are included on the plate. The salad with that zippy house-made dressing was her favorite part of the dish.

I made a similar goof in the opposite direction. Wanting to try something other than my favorite tonkatsu and miso bowls, I went with spicy sesame ramen noodles swimming in a mix of chili oil, sesame oil, snow pea, bean sprout, onion, scallion, fish flake, garlic, mushroom, bamboo shoot, hot chili powder, nori, sesame seed and a boiled egg half. Our server offered three levels of spice and I foolishly went with number three, being that I often enjoy Vietnamese and Thai food at their hottest levels. The subtle flavors of ramen broth—pork, beef, chicken—were completely lost in a three-alarm fire of chili. It wasn’t the hottest thing I’ve eaten, but felt like a real mismatch combined with all the other ingredients. If you’re feeling a bit stuffy, this dish will clear the ol’ sinuses right out.

More successful was an order of bulgogi donburi ($10.99), a popular Korean dish of marinated beef, onion, scallion, cabbage, and enokitake mushroom atop a bed of fluffy, steamed rice. The seasoning was both savory and lightly sweet, greatly enhanced by the delicate, earthy flavor of thread-like fungus. Though quite good as is, we did add a bit of soy sauce and enjoyed it all the more.

My daughter’s choice of fried rice with seafood was easily the best deal on the table, a generous helping of expertly cooked clam, octopus, shrimp, squid and mussel tossed with steamed-then-fried rice full of onion, scallion, mushroom, green bean, carrot and bell pepper ($7.99 and $2 more for seafood). Notable were the mollusks, with both squid and octopus cooked just tender and not rubbery. I’m lucky I got a taste as the hungry student wasted no time becoming one with her bowl of deliciousness.

With fast service and a menu full of Japanese and Korean options, Minato Noodles is a welcome addition to Reno’s burgeoning food scene.