A national chain with locations in California, Nevada, and Washington, Jinya Ramen now has two branches in Houston. The mid-town location is particularly hoppin’ especially during lunchtime on weekdays when swarms of downtown businesspeople line up for their noodle fix. Evenings bring more of a moneyed hipster crowd that pair cocktails with their ramen and socialize around the long communal bar that stretches the length of the restaurant.
The “tapas” portion of the menu showcases predictable small bites such as pork gyoza, edamame, and seaweed salad. Those staples are satisfying but more interesting are briney, savory octopus balls and the delicate Brussel sprouts prepared tempura-style and drizzled with truffle oil. One bite of these delectable nuggets will convince you that brussels sprouts are truly “vegetable candy.”
Jinya offers vegetarian, chicken, and pork broths as well as a mixture thereof, infused with thick or thin noodles and various proteins. Standouts are the dark rich, Tonkotsu Black (chashu, kikurage mushrooms, green onion, nori, egg, garlic oil, fried onion, thin noodles in a pork broth) and the Tokyo Yatai Ramen, an amalgam of pork and chicken broths, packed with a seasoned egg, fried onions, bamboo shoots, Tokyo negi, and “chicken chashu.” FYI, the last ingredient is technically a paradox as chashu technically refers to marinated pork belly, though a galline version that uses poultry thighs has emerged in ramen culture in recent years to accommodate those who desire a juicy, supple round of non-pig animal flesh in their soup. Amusing as well as delicious is the Tan Men, a “no soup ramen” that combines thick noodles, bell peppers, bok choy, chili oil, and ground pork. Truth be told, its spicy porcine flavors will have you missing broth just a little, but a liquid component to ameliorate the heat can be had in the form of a cold sake.
Similar to other ramen joints, Jinya encourages patrons to customize their bowl via additional toppings. There are a whopping 22 options at Jinya including cabbage, fried onions, spicy bean sprouts, corn, chicken wontons, Tokyo negi, mushrooms, dried seafood, and fresh garlic (which is free, so load up!). If no amount of toppings can render ramen palatable for you, go back to Mars because you are an alien there’s also some perfectly acceptable pork and chicken curry rice bowls accompanied by salad.
On any given week, Jinya offers innovative specials; most recently, I enjoyed the “Cha Cha Cha Ramen,” a liquid love letter to garlic, which also features bean sprouts, chashu, egg, chopped onion, green onion, fish powder, pork back fat, and thick noodles in pork broth. Not, perhaps, the best supper if you plan on smooching later but worth one night of celibacy.
Ramen restaurants aren’t usually known for their desserts; in this way, Jinya Ramen distinguishes itself with its mochi ice cream in flavors green tea and chocolate and my personal favorite, the annin tofu, a very traditional Japanese treat made from apricot kernel, agar, and sugar with a jelly-like consistency that led to the inclusion of “tofu” in the title despite the fact that it includes no soybeans.
One final note: street parking at the midtown location is sparse, so skip trying to find a spot and head straight into the garage just behind Jinya.
JINYA Ramen Bar
3201 Louisiana St.
Houston, TX 77002
JINYA Ramen Bar
18299 Egret Bay Blvd.
Houston, Texas 77508