New Ramen Restaurant Buzz

Houston's next great ramen restaurant? A Seattle import shows it deserves all the early buzz

Houston's next great ramen restaurant? A Seattle import builds buzz

Samurai Noodle ramen
Samurai Noodle's ramen comes with minimal toppings but has the creaminess that comes from long cooking. Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle sign
Look for the sign in the strip center at Durham and I-10. Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle machine
Samurai makes its noodles in house using this machine.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle kitchen
A chef prepares the ramen. Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle pork
Choose from pork belly or pork shoulder. Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle toppings
Dinerse may add pickled ginger, chili flakes and other seasonsing. Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle interior
Looking towards the kitchen. Photo by Eric Sandler
Samurai Noodle ramen
Samurai Noodle sign
Samurai Noodle machine
Samurai Noodle kitchen
Samurai Noodle pork
Samurai Noodle toppings
Samurai Noodle interior

The long wait for the Houston outpost of Seattle-based ramen shop Samurai Noodle is coming to an end. In the planning stages since last July, the restaurant is currently in invite-only preview mode.

But assuming everything goes smoothly, it will begin its soft opening this Friday or Saturday. 

Diners will find that the former cellphone store at the corner of I-10 and Durham has been transformed. Final decor is still being installed, but a three dimensional version of the restaurant's namesake samurai will watch over the room. Low wooden stools surround polished wooden tables. Diners can look into the kitchen where they will see the restaurant's noodle machine. 

Local owner Thomas Tang tells CultureMap that the service style will be simple: Servers will take orders and deliver the food, along with beer and hot tea. Soft drinks and iced tea are self-service. Diners pay at a counter after they've eaten. Service should happen quickly — Tang notes that a properly trained ramen chef can prepare six bowls at a time.

 Those broths will establish whether Samurai is Houston's next great noodle destination.   

The restaurant will serve eight different bowls of ramen when it opens based on its pork-based tonkotsu and chicken-based shoyu broths. A vegetarian, soy-based broth will be added after opening. Typically, the tonkotsu will be served with thin wheat noodles and the shoyu and soy with wider egg noodles — both of which are made at the restaurant.

Order the tonkotsu "extra rich" for a no-cost serving of additional pork fat that's reserved from the preparation of the chasu pork belly. Diners may also choose pork shoulder instead of chasu, but the pork belly is more traditional.  

At Samurai, the focus is squarely on the broth. Toppings are relatively few for the standard bowls, but add-ons such as a soft-boiled egg are available for an additional fee. Appetizers and shareable items, mostly in the form of dumplings, are also offered.  

But many places in Houston sell dumplings — only a few serve high quality ramen. Those broths will establish whether Samurai is Houston's next great noodle destination. Eager to get a taste, I showed up unannounced during the afternoon before Tuesday night's service. Thankfully, Tang and his staff were able to accommodate me.

Samurai's broth takes three days to make, and the result is a creaminess in its flavor that's hard to find elsewhere in Houston. Tang prepares the signature "samurai sauce" seasoning himself, and a small portion is added to the bowl prior to serving for additional saltiness. The bowl arrived almost too hot to eat, which meant it held an acceptable temperature while I consumed the whole bowl. Those namesake noodles are equally solid with a firm texture that soaks up the broth and encourages slurping. 

I'll be back for a more thorough taste of the other bowls and appetizers, but the first visit is extremely promising. Even the most hardcore Tiger Den fanatics will want to check out Samurai Noodle.