Piranha Killer Ramen, 309 Curtis Mathes Way, Ste149, Arlington. 682-410-0504. 11am-10pm Sun-Thu, 11am-12am Fri-Sat.
There was a time (and it wasn’t so long ago) when a write-up of a new ramen shop in this part of the world would, by necessity, include a crash-course on the cuisine. There was some work to be done, as we awoke to the nuance and versatility of a foodstuff most readily identified with the freeze-dried instant noodles eaten by grad students and inmates.
We’re safely past that, to the point where even part-time foodies know their tonkotsu (broth made from boiled pork bones) from their shoyu (chicken broth flavored with soy sauce). We’re arguably even on the other side of the ramen fad-phase — at least some of the initial novelty has worn off, and the ramen market has stabilized with enough purveyors to meet local demand.
This is all by way of saying that when I heard the Piranha Killer Sushi chain was re-launching its South Arlington location as Piranha Killer Ramen, my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened. The move seemed both opportunistic and a bit late, an attempt to capitalize on a food trend that had peaked all the way back in 2017.
Thankfully, my cynicism proved to be misplaced. Whatever the reasoning behind the rebranding, the menu (which retains many offerings from the previous Piranha incarnation) delivers outsized quality while covering an awful lot of new ground.
Purists, if you know any, might balk at the notion of a Japanese restaurant serving both sushi and ramen, not to mention char-grilled yakitori items, tempura, and karaage — each of which is a distinct cuisine in Japan. (It would be a bit like walking into a “Texan” restaurant and seeing enchiladas, barbecue, and chicken-fried steak on the same menu.) If you need that level of authenticity, Japan is only 16 hours away. For Texas, though, variety makes a lot of sense. A steaming bowl of ramen noodles may have a lot more appeal on a brisk November day than it would in mid-July.
A recent evening visit (after a rush-hour slog through the suburban blight of the greater Parks Mall area) found Piranha Killer Ramen abuzz with families and young folks unwinding from the week on the shady eastern patio. The restaurant opened up through the bar, creating an indoor/outdoor space that let the falling light waft all the way back to the ramen counter by the open kitchen, where a single guy dining alone could sidle up with his dignity intact.
Shishitos, the small, crinkly peppers with a medium kick, were wok-fried with a sake glaze and served with their stems for easy handling. Generously dusted with paper-thin shavings of dried bonito tuna, this souped-up appetizer could make you wonder what you ever saw in edamame.
Gyoza dumplings, half-moon wonton wrappers stuffed with minced pork and flavored with ginger and scallions, were pan-fried on one side until crackling golden brown. With or without the sultry glaze of soy sauce and sake, these perfect pot-stickers could have held their own as a meal.
The kitchen’s seared hotate scallops — plump, barely cooked through, and glazed with a hint of wasabi — were perhaps the most surprising find at this suburban North Texas chain restaurant. A study in freshness and subtlety, a dish like this is the perfect way to say, “I love you” to yourself — something we all ought to do more often.
After such a trio of small plates, the veggie roll was a bit of a letdown. From the elegant simplicity of the appetizers, the mishmash of flavors and textures crammed into the roll became a muddle. Avocado, cucumber, and asparagus vied for dominance. Arugula and cilantro puree duked it out. A wet, doughy, soy paper wrapper held sway over all. Maybe order another serving of scallops instead.
So what about the ramen? If you still have room after all that, you could do worse than a bowl of the kitchen’s tonkotsu. The traditional broth is made from pork bones boiled, sometimes for days, until a thick, milky broth develops. Piranha’s was as good as any I’ve had, liberally spiked with black pepper and just spicy enough to make the tops of my ears sweat. The standout addition was the chashu, a braised slab of pork belly that is a common ingredient in ramen bowls. However, the kitchen takes a torch to their chashu, imparting a golden crust to the delectable meat before adding it to the soup. Finished off with a marinated egg, woodear mushrooms, and sweet corn, the noodles might be the last thing you notice.
Piranha Killer Ramen
Gyoza dumplings $6
Seared scallops $15
Shishito peppers $6
Veggie roll $10
Tonkotsu ramen $10