Ramen is undoubtedly the Harajuku girl of the noodle world. While Japanese teenage Harajukus bedeck themselves in rainbow kneesocks, Lolita dresses and steampunk goggles—usually all in the same outfit—with this Japanese noodle dish you’ll find ramen served with minced pork, bok choy, miso and kamaboko (pressed fish paste), all in the same bowl.
Ryu Jin Ramen House is another restaurant bringing this culturally popular dish to Sacramento. It’s admittedly a challenge, considering that many North American eaters’ only experience with ramen involves cheap rectangular packages that come with a flavor packet.
Upon entering, guests are quickly welcomed with a cheerful “Ohyao gozaimasu,” from the staff. It’s a pleasant start, as ramen should always be a relaxed and friendly meal.
Diners can order green tea that comes in a large mug, an appreciative change from the traditional 2-ounce teacup found in many restaurants. There is also box sake—interpret that as you will.
Most of the appetizers offered here are frozen and reheated. I was informed the gyoza (potstickers) were made in the kitchen, but they were mushy and bland—no bite of scallion or sour ping of vinegar, not even a hint of ginger. Total gyoza sacrilege.
Regardless, it is best to save your appetite for the main event: ramen. And I mean it, as the servings here are so overwhelmingly large, you’ll likely end up taking some home.
The biggest pull at Ryu Jin are the tonkotsu ramens. Tonkotsu (pork bone) is a type of ramen in which the broth is made by boiling pork bones, collagens and fats over high heat, imparting to the broth an intense pork flavor along with a creamy color and a milklike consistency.
Ryu Jin tonkotsus come in three styles. The shiro is a straightforward tonkotsu ramen that tastes delightfully of pork. There’s also the kuro, one of the true stars of the menu: It’s served with a fermented black-garlic oil that pools on the surface of the broth, as if a tiny oil tanker had run aground the pickled ginger. This ramen offers husky earthiness, with that telltale balsamic sweetness that’s so characteristic of black garlic. Finally, the aka tonkotsu glows ember red due to its being drowned in a pool of sharp chili oil. At first taste, some may feel disappointed. Where’s the heat? But then—wham!—it comes up hard and fast, like the broth is putting out a cigarette on the back of your throat. A few seconds later, it vanishes. It’s one note, but a delightful one.
Each tonkotsu has plenty of noodles, a sparse offering of thinly sliced barbecued pork called chashu, often some greens, scallions, and an ajitama (soft-boiled egg) that may or may not be cold when it should be meltingly warm with a custardy yolk.
Elsewhere on the menu, the tan tan men should not be missed. It’s ramen in a soy sauce broth with an adolescent level of spice served with ground pork, minced shiitake mushrooms, bamboo, sesame paste and a salad’s worth of spinach. Warm and comforting with a nutty sweetness, it looks and tastes like a slice of Tokyo street life.
The shoyu ramen has a soy-sauce-laced broth that comes off as salty and musky and offers everything you might want from it.
Elsewhere on the menu, best avoid the katsu don where a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet is served over rice and adorned with bland sauce and a fresh egg. The egg and sauce saturate the pork, leaving the breading soggy. The rice is unseasoned, and the whole dish comes off as a tasteless lukewarm mess. (Katsu don should be an appealing and piping-hot mess.)
Overall, Ryu Jin offers pleasant food at a decent price. None of it is revolutionary, but it is a relaxing way to fill up.