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At the time of this review, Tiger Den’s reputation precedes itself. The popular Japanese restaurant housed in a Sharpstown strip mall has received positive appraisals from multiple print and online publications. “Unofficial” reviewers on websites such as Yelp, UrbanSpoon, etc. in large part agree, further fueling the buzz for a restaurant many have said serves the “best ramen in Houston.”

Are the rumors true? Yes, mostly. Tiger Den was the final stop on my tour of H-town ramen joints, and while I admit there is a certain natural inclination to favor the last as best, I will nevertheless make the claim that this establishment delivers the most consistently magnificent ramen whose steady track record of sophisticated flavor can be attributed to ingredients of the freshest and highest quality. So, if that makes it “the best,” well, then so be it but let it not result in the dismissal of other options. (I still heart you, Jinya!).

Traditionalists will love the richer-than-average tonkotsu ramen, while those in search of heat will gravitate to the spicy miso ramen whose burnt orange broth aptly reflects the scorch it will inflect on your tongue. I have a soft spot for the decadent black bean ramen, not because I am particularly enamored of that legume, but rather because it’s very, very heavy on my favorite species of the genus allium: GARLIC! (My second favorite is the onion, and third favorite, chives, in case you’re wondering.) All ramen can of course be customized via the addition of toppings such as pork belly, steamed bamboo shoots, soft-boiled eggs, torched corn, extra noodles, mushrooms, and seaweed sheets.

Tiger Den’s virtues as a restaurant also extend to its robata grill offerings, which comprise an enviable selection of proteins both pedestrian and extraordinary (crispy chicken wings, chicken gizzard, beef tongue, lamb, ribeye, eel, pork jaw, etc.) and botanicals (eggplant, shiitake mushrooms). Insider tip: If you order that sumptuous mound of marinated fungi that is the ‘mushroom medley’, sprinkle on some of that red powder that’s in a jar on your table. You won’t regret it.

Wait times can be loooong on weekends and the sign-up sheet tacked outside quickly fills with names. Once in-house the food comes quickly; unsurprising, considering the chefs on view in the open kitchen are scrambling like bats out of hell. Is there some sort of rule in Japanese culinary culture that dictates you lose face if you fail to produce noodle soup under a certain time limit? Nipponophiles, please advise.

Given all that is good at Tiger Den besides ramen, my advice for full enjoying their bounty is to 1) go with a large party all of whose members are willing to share and 2) pledge to return multiple times this summer to fully appreciate its offerings. Or, if you’re me, both.

Tiger Den
9889 Bellaire Blvd Ste D-230
Houston, TX 77036

Joanna O'Leary

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