Houston Ramen Shop Opens Second Location in Downtown Food Hall
Samurai Noodle, the longstanding restaurant just off I-10 at 1801 Durham, has opened a new food stall at Lyric Market at 411 Smith in downtown Houston. Though the stall at Ramen Lyric Market is significantly smaller than Samurai Noodle’s brick-and-mortar location, it makes use of every inch of space to uphold chef-owner and founder Ryo Izawa’s vision of traditional Japanese ramen made with springy, hand-pulled noodles, scratch-made broths and melt-in-your-mouth chashu (Japanese marinated, braised pork belly).
Izawa opened the original Samurai Noodle in 2006 in Seattle’s International District, with the inspiration coming from ingredient-focused Japanese ramen shops. It’s since expanded to multiple locations across Washington. After training with Izawa, Thomas Tang opened the first Houston location at 1801 Durham in 2014. We named it as one of Houston Food Finder’s Best Restaurants for Ramen.
Ramen Lyric Market currently serves a few different types of Japanese ramen. The first is shoyu ramen — a soup from Tokyo made with chicken and seafood stock and shoyu tare (soy sauce concentrate). It’s loaded with complex umami flavors. In this case, whole chicken carcasses are simmered in a katsuobushi (smoked skipjack tuna) stock to make the broth. The wavy egg noodles are cooked with imported kansui, a special food-grade alkaline solution, to give them a desirable bounce and make them as authentic as possible. The shoyu ramen is served with succulent, fork-tender pork belly or shoulder, green onion and nori. Miso shoyu and spicy garlic shoyu are also available.
The other main style sold at the Lyric Market location is tonkotsu ramen, which is prepared with a rich, slow-cooked, Hakata-style pork bone broth (cooked for three days over an eighty thousand BTU gas burner) served with thin, chewy, wheat noodles, pork belly, green onions and black mushrooms. Other tonkotsu options include shoyu tonkotsu with chicken shoyu and pork broths blended together with wavy egg noodles, pork belly, green onions and black mushrooms, and miso tonkotsu with wavy noodles and miso (fermented soybean paste) topped with negi (Japanese long green onion), corn, bean sprouts and a slice of pork belly.
Two of the staff-favorite ramens are the shiro tonkotsu, a rich, milky, Hokkaido-style ramen with wavy noodles, bean sprouts, naruto (fish cake) and corn, and the tampopo ramen, which is made with chicken broth, egg noodles, pork belly, green onions, menma (seasoned bamboo shoots), naruto, half of a soft-boiled ramen egg and roasted seaweed.
All of the ramens are customizable, providing near-endless combinations. Gluten-free, keto-friendly noodles are available, and vegetarians can substitute tofu in place of pork belly. Several of the ramens can be made vegan.
Careful attention is paid to making every ingredient that goes into the ramen. One of the most important is the chashu pork belly. The dish evolved from Cantonese barbecued pork called char siu, but the Japanese version has a totally different preparation method and flavor profile. Samurai Noodle’s process takes five days. First, a slab of fatty pork belly is marinated in a soy-based sweet-and-savory sauce, then rolled into a cylinder and tied with butcher’s twine. It’s pressure-cooked, then immediately placed in the freezer to quickly bring down the temperature. Twenty-four hours later, the frozen pork belly is untied and flame-seared before being wrapped and stored away for a further 72 hours to allow the smoky flavors to set. They are then moved from the freezer and slowly defrosted in the refrigerator for a full day before being removed and sliced. The slices are then ready to be cooked and enjoyed on top of ramen or over a bowl of steamed rice (chashu don).
Aside from ramen, the menu at Samurai Noodle’s Lyric Market location also lists a selection of rice bowls, including sesame chicken, teriyaki pork and the SUMO Rice Bowl with shredded pork, green onions, corn, ramen egg, house-brewed teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayo. A few appetizers are available, such as geso (fried squid tentacles), korokke (Japanese croquettes), shrimp shumai and takoyaki (fried or grilled octopus balls topped with bonito).
The soft-opening of Ramen Lyric Market coincides with the rebrand of Rhapsody Bar, the cocktail bar located inside the food hall, which has changed its name to Lyric Bar. The bar offers craft cocktails, wine, beer and sake. Seating is available throughout the food hall. The ramen stall joins established vendors such as Press Waffle Co., Kati Roll Wala and 1929 Po-boy Kitchen. Diners can enjoy two hours of free parking in the garage by getting their receipt validated.
Ramen Lyric Market is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Mario-Sebastian Berry is a wine and spirits vendor who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. Currently, he represents Blanco, Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s associate editor and social media manager.