In the midst of Houston’s rapidly burgeoning ramen scene, upper heights area ramen shop Samurai Noodle nevertheless distinguishes itself by offering distinctive, fragrant broths as well as diverse protein additions. The H-town outpost of this chain that originated in Seattle has attracted a loyal following, so don’t be surprised if on weekends and evenings there are lines and the small dining room is jam-packed.
If you like to pregame with appetizers before taking the plunge into that voluminous bowl of steaming ramen, Samurai Noodle offers delicious albeit slightly over-fried goyza and cute soft shrimp and pork shumai. More interesting and regionally-specific options include the chicken wings and breasts cooked karaage style, that is to say, marinated in soy sauce and garlic, then lightly battered and deep-fried to produce a thin crackly exterior. I also am a bit obsessed with the takoyaki, a Japanese street snack consisting of pan-fried wheat flour balls stuffed with octopus and topped with bonito flakes and a piquant cream sauce. Both in combination could be a meal by themselves; however, save some appetite for the liquid love to follow.
By far the most popular item (and for good reason) is the tonkotsu ramen, pork broth with thin wheat noodles, a generous slice of pork belly, green onions, black mushrooms. The regular version is certainly already a hefty entree, but for those who like it extra hearty, ask for the “extra rich” broth. Want to take it up another (porcine) notch? Request the bacon tonkotsu ramen, which adds three crispy, juicy slices of cure pork fat. Another laudable choice is the tampopo, in which egg noodles, pork shoulder, bamboo, naruto (cured fish), roasted seaweed, and half a soft-boiled egg bath in a luxurious fowl broth. Blood red spicy miso ramen, whose fiery color aptly reflects its ability to pleasantly scorch your palate, is also delicious but probably not something to order if you’re in a hurry as the heat level demands slow sipping.
If you’re in the mood for pure noodle decadence, go for the miso ramen, which combines chicken broth with bean sprouts, pork belly, and egg noodles. It would in theory be a good “light” option if not for the large pat of sunny yellow butter garnish. Tip: to ensure even distribution of fat and cream into the broth, stir in the butter rather than letting it melt independently.
Part of the fun of Samurai Noodle lies in customizing your ramen via extra noodles ($1.50) with additional toppings (about $1 each), such as bamboo, corn, eggs, nori, and pork slices. And if you order “dipping ramen” (egg noodles sans broth but avec shredded pork, bamboo, and nori), there’s also a choice of three sauces: kanro (sweet fish broth); tetsu max (spicy); and tetsu hellfire (regular tetsu with “hellfire” paste). All these different elements allow you to customize your ramen to meet your desired levels of spice, sweet, savory, umami as well as render your slurping experience as plant- or meat-forward as you like. There’s something lovely about the ability to create your own unique noodle soup, which becomes strangely more delicious in its uniqueness.
It boggles my mind why anyone would order anything besides ramen here, but even Burger King has chicken options, and the corollary at Samurai Noodles is the shredded pork rice bowl, which is just as it sounds and comes with your choice of teriyaki sauce or house-made chili sauce.
Samurai Noodles offers beer and wine should you want a buzz with your bowl; teetotalers or those looking to wake up rather than wind down should try one of the multiple varieties of green tea for a lovely slow-release boost of caffeine.
Finally, as of press date, Samurai Noodles does not offer delivery, which is probably a good thing as then I might never need to leave my apartment on the weekend.
1801 Durham Dr Suite #2
Houston TX 77007