After 2 years of planning, famous Japanese ramen chain Ippudo is finally opening its first west-coast location on Friday July 28th. Located in Downtown Berkeley, Ippudo Ramen will pair crafted ramen with premium sakes, both which are hallmarks of Japanese cuisine. We were invited to their preview event and are excited to share insider details with everyone.

Location and Ambience

Ippudo Ramen at 2015 Shattuck Ave. is designed to fit precisely 56 customers. Be aware that there is a no-reservation policy, so you will have to wait your turn in-person.

espresso, tea, beer, coffee
Luna Zhang

Opposite from the enormous open kitchen is a wall adorned with the exact hand towels and garments used by the staff in Japan. The slogan, “zuzutto,” is graffitied throughout the restaurant. Zuzutto is an onomatopoeia for “the sound of slurping ramen.” In fact, Ippudo encourages everyone to slurp when they eat, as it enhances all flavors and fragrances of the ramen in your mouth.

wine, liquor, alcohol, beer
Eileen Wang

Overall, the spacious layout and ample lighting provide a clean and comfortable environment to enjoy your ramen. The welcoming staff strives to bring its customers an unparalleled Japanese ramen experience that is both authentic and invigorating.

How Ramen is Made at Ippudo

Ippudo Ramen is known for its Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen. Hakata ramen consists of a rich and milky pork-bone broth, handcrafted ramen noodles, seasoning ingredients and oils, and chashu slices (braised pork belly). Here’s the breakdown of each bowl of Hakata ramen.

Broth Base

ladle, soup
Eileen Wang

Tonkotsu broth at Ippudo is pork shoulders boiled and simmered in water for 18 hours—hence, “18-hour broth.” During this process, nearly all fat, marrow, minerals, and protein break down into the smallest molecules, giving the base an opaque and milky appearance. The result is an ultra nutritious and creamy yet light broth. The broth is pure and unsalted, waiting to be seasoned by the chef.

Ramen Noodles

spaghetti, macaroni, dough, flour, wheat, pasta
Luna Zhang

Ippudo makes all its noodles in the sacred noodle room with strictly monitored humidity and temperature. To ensure consistency in cooking time and taste, the noodle master (who has been trained since elementary school) makes sure each strand is cut to the same exact thickness. All noodles are consumed within two days of making.

Customers can decide how well they want their noodles cooked: yawa (soft), kata (firm/al dente), or bari kata (firmer). I highly recommend Kata noodles, as they carry the flavor of seasoned broth well, but also bring their own unique flavors to the palate. The word is that if you’re a true ramen fanatic, you’ll order your noodles bari kata.

#SpoonTip: If you've got a large appetite, save the broth in your bowl and ask for "kae-dama." It's an extra serving of noodles just for $2. You might be tempted to save it for your next meal, but there's one catch: Ippudo doesn't provide take-out, mainly because they are committed to food quality.

Assembly

Luna Zhang

Kata noodles are cooked in boiling water for exactly 10 seconds. During that short period of time, bowls are taken out of their 172°F water bath and filled with hot broth. Noodles and respective seasonings and toppings are added, then served immediately.

So Which Ramen Should You Order?

You really can’t go wrong with any of the ramen choices. The majority has the same broth base, but is seasoned differently so that each type embodies a distinct character. Extra toppings (soft-boiled eggs, extra chashu, nori seaweed, etc.) can be added at an additional cost.

dairy product, ramen, meat, vegetable, soup
Luna Zhang

The Shiromaru Hakata Classic ($14) is great for traditionalists or first-timers. The broth is light in color and mildly robust in taste. Creamy and savory flavors are balanced in an aptly manner. For my southern Californians, this one tastes just like the Hakata ramen from Shin-Sen-Gumi, only with housemade noodles.

egg, pork, ramen, soup, meat, vegetable
Eileen Wang

As much as I enjoyed the Shiromaru, I was looking for something more extraordinary (to be fair, Ippudo is extremely hyped up). The Akamaru Modern ($15) met my expectations: Ippudo’s secret miso paste paired with extremely fragrant garlic oil brought out the hidden flavors of the broth. Although there were many components to the seasoning, they complemented each other and came together as one cohesive medley.

The last ramens standing at the Berkeley location are the spicy Karaka-men ($16) and soy sauce-based Shoyu Ramen ($13). I cannot speak to them, as I did not get a taste. However, all Ippudo ramen is made and flavored with intention, so venture out a bit!

Appetizers to Pre-Game the Feast

Ippudo Buns (2 for $8 - $9) pork
Luna Zhang

The appetizer with the most buzz is the Ippudo Bun: your choice of protein coated in a "spicy bun sauce," topped with an iceberg lettuce leaf, and a dollop of Japanese mayo. Ippudo's most popular bun, pork, was too fatty for my taste. Nonetheless, the chicken and vegetarian buns were great alternatives.

pork, bacon
Eileen Wang

A solid choice, the vegetarian bun (fried eggplant and eringi mushroom) vaguely reminded me of the Chinese claypot eggplant and tofu dish. I must say, however, the chicken bun was by far my favorite. In short, it’s a hybrid of Peking Duck, karaage, and Japanese salad—all in one bite.

Goma Q ($8)

wasabi, sushi
Eileen Wang

An honorable mention goes to the Goma Q, which consists of sliced Japanese cucumber in house-made sesame oil sauce, chili peppers, and roasted sesame seeds. This is a refreshing appetizer that will cleanse your palate between bites of the buns and ramen.

Premium Sake, Anyone? 

alcohol, beer, wine
Eileen Wang

Among the Ippudo's staff is a sake sommelier (pictured) whom has selected the 8 different sakes. The in-house sake selection touches upon all the sake categories, from mild and gentle to classic and aged.

If you would like to experience the harmony of wheat (noodle) and rice (sake), ask your servers to guide you through ramen and sake pairing.

Parting Notes: is it Worth the Hype?

tea, coffee
Luna Zhang

Ippudo Ramen is a great addition to Berkeley's eclectic and ever-growing food scene. It would be nice to have more vegetarian/vegan-friendly items (after all, it is Berkeley), but it's a great start. There's no doubt that there is going to be a constant line out the door, but I strongly recommend coming here at least once. You will not only be able to enjoy beautifully crafted Japanese cuisine, but also experience a part of Japan. Plus, you can slurp all you want here!