Ramen Republic: New Denton Eatery Isn't an Authentic Noodle House, but It's Not Bad
"Dallas, huh?" a Michigander friend asked me upon hearing I'd moved here. "Bet you don't get much sushi."
Actually, I corrected him, there's extraordinary sushi here. Sushi's the perfect fit for Dallas, a city with a bustling airport, a growing Asian and Asian-American population and an affection for high price tags and low calorie counts. And raw fish is just the start: I've had great Japanese bar fare and noodles here too.
So I was intrigued last summer by news that a Denton restaurateur was opening a ramen house, a genre that could use more local representation.
Ramen Republic isn't a traditional noodle shop. It's the brainchild of a University of North Texas hospitality prof who was casting about for a franchise-ready concept and decided cheap bowls of soup would be an easy sell in a college town. When a friend of mine who was born in Japan stopped by the store before its opening date to offer an informal consultation, Charlie Foster reportedly rejected his help: He didn't need a tutorial in curry and miso, as his goal was to develop a fully Americanized restaurant.
A visit there this weekend confirmed Foster has succeeded: There's nothing recognizably Japanese about the counter-service eatery, where customers are given their choice of broths, noodles and proteins, and then directed to a garnish bar stocked with peas, jalapeños, cilantro, broccoli, cabbage and bean sprouts. With its emphasis on customization and freshness, the restaurant is closer kin to Subway and Chipotle than any place with gyoza or tonkotsu on its menu.
The broth comes in three varieties: vegetable, chicken and garlic beef, a murky liquid that struck me as a tad salty, although the tofu's sesame-ginger marinade might have been the source of the saltiness. There are ramen, udon, soba and rice noodles, none of which are housemade: The ropy ramen and udon noodles I tried were fairly ho-hum.
Still, I wasn't displeased with Ramen Republic. It's definitely not a ramen shop, but I find it hard to quarrel with a restaurant that makes a specialty of fresh vegetables at affordable prices and at least acknowledges diverse eating traditions. If there have to be hundreds of outlets of any one restaurant, I suppose I'd root for the restaurant serving edamame and spinach instead of burgers and fries.