Remember when Game of Thrones was all the rage and every hack magazine writer did some silly riff on the show like Game of Barbecue or Game of Football Coaches? I’m proud I resisted, because it’s so cliched and overdone. Besides, the last two seasons kind of ruined the popular appeal of that trope. I mean, Bran? Really? And how ham-fisted was Daenerys’ knee-jerk character switch? Mother of Bad Character Development, amirite?!
Still, the way I think about restaurants that ride a particular food trend – like, say, ramen – sort of mirrors a free-for-all battle among noble houses all vying for supremacy. And seeing as the weather is finally becoming, dare I say, Winterfellian, a hot bowl of noodle soup sounds about perfect, right? Let’s do this.
Cue the theme song: A sprawling map reveals cogs and gears erecting white bricks in fast-motion that unfold into a spacious patio on the Near Southside. The words “Wabi House” are emblazoned on the edifice. Bamboo walls and an open kitchen rise from the Cultural District’s ground, as the words “Hanabi Ramen & Izakaya” scroll past the viewer. Twirling columns of flames summon bright hanging lanterns suspended from a sky-blue ceiling in the Camp Bowie District. “Tokyo Cafe” stands on the once-empty ground. As the crow flies east, “Oni Ramen” emerges from the twirling machine, plunked in the shadows of a parking garage that costs $20 per hour without validation, as frat boys are throwing up in the back of an Uber.
This article contains spoilers.
If I were recasting Game of Thrones characters as ramen chefs, I think Jesus Garcia of Oni Ramen (2801 W 7th St, 817-882-6554) would be Jon Snow. Both are underestimated, boast some mass appeal, and seemed to die for a time before being resurrected. I was Oni’s greatest advocate when it first opened, but staffing/service issues and a failed change of ordering systems alienated many, including me. The food was never the problem. On my last two visits, I’m happy to report the service flubs seem to have been ironed out.
Don’t let the price tag of the Tsunami Ramen ($17) scare you off. The toothsome coils of noodles set a delicious base for the accompanying sambal cilantro broth and plump grilled shrimp. Housemade kimchi, avocado, lime, strands of fiery chile, and green onions enliven the dish, as though Melisandre herself concocted this witches’ brew. (OK, no more of that.)
Hanabi (3204 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-420-6703) is my Stannis Baratheon (before he let his daughter die), with its straightforward, no-frills reliability. The Westside noodle stop was first to market, and it’s still one of the best. Hanabi may not have the flash of the others, but it’s a workingman’s feast of authentic ingredients served hot in a massive bowl. Don’t leave Hanabi’s dining room without sampling the Baisen Miso Ramen ($11), a heaping amalgam of roasted garlic-tinged miso broth, bamboo shoots, Chinese chives, Napa cabbage, bok choy, carrots, bean sprouts, and green onions.
Wabi House (1229 8th Av, 817-720-3099) has to be Jaime Lannister: high-born, well-known, and really good-looking –– we’ll just overlook the whole incest storyline. The Spicy Miso ($12) isn’t the most exotic offering on the menu, but it’s beyond delicious, with minced pork, bamboo shoots, scallions, spicy rayu, chile threads, and a beautifully poached egg whose yolk oozes umami at the touch of a chopstick.
Finally, my Daenerys is Tokyo Cafe (5121 Pershing Av, 817-737-8568), if for no other reason than the place survived a fire. The Westside ($9) is a master-class of blended miso, shoyu, and chicken broth, with green onions, roasted seaweed, a soft-boiled soy-soaked egg black garlic oil, narutomaki fish cake, and your choice of pork loin or pork belly.
Who wins the throne? I couldn’t tell you, but I can promise that these places won’t disappoint you with a poorly constructed conclusion.