Not so much as a few years ago, ramen wasn’t a thing in Durham, but that’s not the case anymore. We now have several options for these satisfying soups and the Bull City is already raising the bar for ramen in the South. Below, Bites of Bull City shares where to get the best ramen in Durham, so pull up a seat and slurp away!
Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop
121 N. Greyson St., Durham
If you haven’t done so already, you need to make special lunch plans to go to Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop on Wednesdays. “One thing that really makes ‘ramen day’ special for us is that for a couple hours on Wednesday mornings Rose’s almost becomes another business; less of a store and more of a restaurant/gathering place where people congregate and talk while they wait in our tiny space for their soup,” says co-owner and head butcher, Justin Meddis.
**UPDATE: In August, 2017 Rose’s transitioned to more of a restaurant and now offers ramen on their everyday menu. The type of ramen still changes almost weekly.**
Most of Rose’s special ramen are only done for a three-week period per year and based on the seasonality of ingredients available at the farmers market. Green Garlic Miso, with tonkotsu broth seasoned with miso and green garlic, for instance, is a favorite for spring, as is the Ramp Ramen (a soy based broth seasoned with ramps – only done for one week per year). Sweet Onion Ramen is a salt-based broth seasoned with slow-roasted sweet onions at their peak, usually in June. And in fall, it’s time for Tantanmen spicy ramen. In winter, the curry ramen is a big hit – it’s a little sweeter and thicker which goes over well in the colder months. A new addition last year was Lamb Ramen, made with leftover Easter lamb bones and soy braised lamb belly that was charred over Japanese charcoal (keep an eye out for a repeat this year!). Rose’s $13 bowls of ramen are served from 11am-2pm, Wednesdays only.
415 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham
Dashi took Durham’s ramen game to a new level when it opened downtown almost two years ago. The Tonkotsu bowl is the most popular: milky, wholesome broth boiled for over 24 hours with local pork bones and featuring roasted pork belly, sautéed escarole, soy marinated soft egg, bean sprouts, pickled red onions, black garlic oil, and scallion. Every season, Dashi incorporates new ingredients in the bowls. Some new additions include roasted sweet potato in the Miso bowl, pickled mustard greens in the Shoyu, and acorn squash and grilled leeks in the vegetarian bowl. It even features a cold noodle bowl in the summer. Bowls range from $12-$14 (plus add-ons of your choosing).
Chef Billy uses the context of traditional broths to create the base of his bowls (tonkotsu, shio, shoyu and miso all come from varying regions of Japan and can be found throughout the country), but plays with local ingredients to create less-than-traditional dishes. “I love to take traditional Japanese techniques and apply them to the fresh local ingredients that grow in North Carolina,” he shares. “Fortunately, there is a huge crossover of produce that grows in the American South and Japan. I also use my Southern heritage to put Southern touches on our dishes at Dashi.”
311 Holland St., Durham
M Kokko is the brand new sister restaurant to its neighbor, M Sushi. Chef Lee brings some of his personal favorite Korean dishes to this small, quick-service, limited menu, and one of the stand-out items is the ramen for $13. Lee loves what they do at Dashi, so he wanted to be sure to create a ramen that would compliment the ramen scene in Durham without overlapping their menu.
“Usually ramen broth is made from pork broth, but with the theme at M Kokko being chicken, our broth is Paitan chicken broth,” he explains. Paitan means “white broth” and a lot of people mistake M Kokko’s ramen with Tonkotsu broth because of the color and creaminess, but it’s actually very different and made primarily from chicken, fruits, and vegetables. Lee also adds a unique spicy oil that has Szechuan peppercorns, creating different layers of spice along with shallot powder and onion chutney to make it a little unique. He’s been working on this broth since about four years ago – a process that included three trips to Japan and taste testing almost all the top ramen shops in New York.
359 Blackwell St., Durham
Every Sunday, starting at 5:00 pm, Basan features a special weekly ramen concocted by the masterful Chef Toshi and it’s served on a first-come, first-served basis. You can follow Basan on social media to get a heads up about the weekly flavor. Basan also has two consistent ramen options on the menu during the rest of the week: The Kara Miso Ramen and the Tokyo Ramen, which both have egg noodle, braised pork belly, and a soy poached half cooked egg, either in a spicy miso pork soup or soy chicken soup. It’s $9 for a small bowl and $14 for a large…which is an incredibly generous portion. The endless large bowl of ramen will happily fill your belly on a chilly day.
“I like to have fun with creating different ramen dishes each week, sometimes its traditional but more often I’ll put a Western spin on it. There are no rules for what you can put in ramen noodle soup and there are no ingredients that are off limits!” says Toshi, who cooks his broth with chicken stock, vegetable oils, soy sauce, salt and pepper for three hours to have mild thickness.