The air has started to grow thick with notes of dashi and pork chashu at the corner of Woodward Avenue and East Canfield Street, where Los Angeles-import, Urban Ramen sits. The restaurant’s June arrival, and its immediate popularity, is a clear harbinger. Ramen is about to go big in Detroit.
Urban Ramen joins metro Detroit’s handful of noodle shops. Chief among those is Johnny Noodle King, in operation since 2014, and Edo Ramen, which came to Royal Oak late last year. “Ramen is huge on the coasts,” owner Kohei Robert says, “but Detroit is ready for it. I can feel it.” Robert, 33, opened the L.A. branch in 2014 along with executive chef and co-owner Yohei Uchida.
Originally, Robert had no intention of opening a restaurant and spent several years working as a designer. He says Urban Ramen was largely the brainchild of an investor he’d met through his work in fashion. Robert, however, committed himself to the endeavor, spent a year in Japan where he also grew up, and learned the art of ramen before opening the first location.
I made two visits to Urban Ramen. One with my father, and a second with my younger brother and his friends. The location is small and each visit, the line was out the door by 5:15 p.m. — the space opens for dinner at 5 p.m. We were requested to place our orders upon entry to expedite our dining experience.
Since I’m vegetarian, I ordered the Shoyu Vegan Ramen both times, and it was consistently delicious. The umami flavor of the vegan broth was nuanced enough to add depth to the dish, while maintaining its delicacy. The noodles, all made in house and aged for 72 hours, remained chewy and springy in the steamy broth to the last drop; and the bowl was topped with an eclectic mix of grilled maitake mushroom, fried burdock, sweet bamboo, and pungent white onion. My father and I also ordered the edamame, which was doused in a tangy-salty blend of garlic, soy sauce, and sesame seeds.
For the carnivorous, Urban Ramen offers a Chicken Paitan Ramen, Tonkotsu Ramen, a Tuna Poke Bowl, and Japanese fried chicken, to name a few options. Our guests tried the Chicken Paitan and Tonkotsu Ramen. The former is topped with bean sprouts, white onion, and seaweed; the latter with green onion, wood-ear mushrooms, and a dash of sesame seeds. The crisp toppings help cut through the richness of the dishes’ milky broths. The pork in both, according to our guests, was perfectly cooked and absorbed the complex flavors of the broth, while the chicken was crispy on the outside, tender at the center, and deemed by several of our guests as “the best fried chicken they’ve ever had.”
The pork chashu bowl — filled with seasoned rice, flavorful chicken and pork chashu, green onion, sesame seeds, and red ginger — was another favorite, offering a varying mix of flavors with every bite.
If you do decide on the “add-spicy” option, be prepared. Everyone in our party that opted for it requested several glasses of water. Some were still sweating well after their last bite.
4206 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-285-9869; urbanramen.com; L&D Mon-Sat.