ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Let’s face it — Albuquerque has discovered traditional Japanese ramen.
This is a good thing for any foodie, as well as those who simply love enormous bowls of soup whether the temperature is 25 or 95.
In recent months, no fewer than three new restaurants featuring ramen in various permutations have swung open their doors to hungry noodle-seekers.
Of those three, the reverential whisperings are loudest for a place called O Ramen and Curry House, near the University of New Mexico in the former Fei’s Cafe spot.
All cuisines have comforting dishes: in Japan, you’ll find ramen and curry — big warm piles of food ready to satiate with a smile.
Owners Kenny and Eva Wang felt that Albuquerque was hungry for traditional ramen, especially with recent national interest in the dish from everyone from celebrity chefs to food bloggers. Judging by a recent hot summer evening when the wood-toned restaurant filled steadily to capacity in the last hour of operation, they are correct.
It starts with 18 hours. Eighteen hours is how long pork bones are simmered, strained and simmered some more. The result is a pork broth so packed with gelatin it solidifies when cooled. In flowery word usage, I often get carried away.
Tasting O Ramen’s broth, it was tempting to let “unctuous” roll off the tongue as I inhaled the Deluxe Tonkatsu Ramen ($10). This broth is darn near unctuous, in all the best ways possible. The silky liquid coats your mouth in a golden savoriness — adding slices of pork or soft-cooked egg to each bite only enhances the experience, while bits of scallion or ginger counterbalance one’s palate when it becomes a bit much.
The bowls of ramen are nearly a quart, but I have yet to see a diner take leftovers home — these are broths that beg for slurp after slurp.
Beyond the tonkatsu variety there is Miso Ramen ($8), combining the pork broth with miso paste for an even earthier flavor, and there’s a Vegetarian Ramen ($8) with veggie broth and tofu.
O Ramen’s other half of the menu showcases that other comfort food, Japanese Curry ($8), in chicken, pork, potato cake or tofu. The protein is breaded and fried to a deep crunchy brown before being sliced and served with rich curry gravy and rice. O Ramen’s curry sauce is almost sweet — is that tamarind I taste? — and has a nice complexity of spices.
Appetizers and sides are completely standard and, honestly, just OK. The Takoyaki Balls ($3 for 4, $5 for 8) are lauded but after biting through the nice crisp shell I found them a bit too mushy inside. Perhaps my batch wasn’t spot-on, but I’d rather focus on my bowl of ramen, thank you very much.