A slurp-worthy dish at Delray’s 369 Ramen

Tonkatsu ramen

The trendy Japanese bowl of noodles, pork belly and more known as ramen is the main offering at this tiny, hole-in-the-wall eatery in Pineapple Grove

Delray  Beach’s Pineapple Grove has never seen anything quite like 369 Ramen, an intimate, authentic noodle parlor run by chef-owner Hiro Yamamoto (whose family also owns Ebisu in Palm Beach Gardens).

Just six stools at the counter

The outside

Chef Hiro Yamamoto at the stove

It is as close to the typical hole-in-the-wall ramen-ya (noodle eateries) that one finds throughout Japan.  Some might consider 369 Ramen, which opened in February 2019, to be an izakaya, or Japanese pub, though the only alcoholic beverages available are two Japanese craft beers and a small selection of sakes. Nonetheless, Ramen 369 is a tiny place with just six stainless steel barstools at a lunch counter. The menu is even smaller with seven offerings.

For those unfamiliar, ramen is Japanese fast-food. It’s also comfort food.  Some might think of the brick of dried noodles and sodium-filled packet of flavorings you might have indulged in as a college student. Forget that. Over the last decade or so ramen has transformed into a trendy dish on the U.S. food scene.

Ramen, which originated in China, is said to be reminiscent of a dish called Nanking soba. The first ramen-ya opened early in the 20th Century, but it wasn’t until the post-War period and the boom in Japan’s economy that small ramen shops began spreading through Japan. Today, the number of ramen shops in Japan totals more than 10,000.

Once through Ramen 369’s narrow doorway, you will encounter two iPads mounted on a wall.  It’s here that you will place and pay for your order. Then take a seat and watch Chef Yamamoto in action as he prepares your food on the stove against the opposite wall.

I was so taken by my lunch at Ramen 369 that I had to rewatch the 1985 Japanese film “Tampopo,” a charming comedy in which two Japanese milk-truck drivers help the widowed owner of a decrepit restaurant learn to cook great noodles. It shows the Japanese peoples’ reverence for what might appear to be a simple dish. 

Simple it’s not. The broth, the soul of the dish, is based on bones—pork and or chicken—that have been simmered for 10 hours.

I tried 369 Ramen’s tonkatsu ramen with a soy egg tossed in ($13, plus $2 for the egg), but also ordered an appetizer of takoyaki—fried octopus fritters ($5), something I’d never heard of previously. The takoyaki were hot-out-of-the-oil, savory, crispy balls resembling donut holes with a creamy interior filled with a chewy bit of octopus and served with a sweet sauce and mayonnaise.  A pleasant surprise.

A bowl of ramen soon followed. The rust-hued broth was porky, cloudy, rich and filled with a steaming pile of wavy al dente noodles, Also in the bowl: a long slice of melt-in-your-mouth, fatty chasu (roast pork belly); a halved, soft and creamy soy-cooked egg; scallions; bamboo shoots; bean sprouts; ribbons or what might be red pepper, and a tiny slice of Narutomaki fish cake. A shake of pepper added a bit more dimension. You have the option of adding more noodles, more pork, additional eggs, kimchee, enoki mushrooms, kikurage mushrooms, bamboo sprouts, bok choy, corn, tofu and parmesan cheese for an additional dollar or two, each.

It’s one of the few meals in town where it’s okay to slurp loudly — as much to show pleasure as to cool the noodles on the way down. And I did my best and I left quite full (next time I’ll skip the appetizer, if I am solo)..

My visit there was at lunch time, when I was joined at the counter by just two other diners. Sadly, Ramen 369 no longer is open for lunch. New hours, since Nov. 1, are 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Monday-Saturday. No doubt, it will fill the gap for late night dining in downtown Delray and likely will cater to the bar-hopping crowd.  They’ll find nothing better to sop up a night’s alcohol.

369 Ramen

181 NE 2nd Ave.n Delray Beach, FL

(561) 562-8399

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