Daruma Ramen Does Ramen Right
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why haven’t I been here before?” with the same youthful wonder of a child visiting Disneyland? You hear about a place. From friends, perhaps a few random online reviews. Then after you walk by the place a dozen or so times you start to think, “You know, I should go there some time…”, but you don’t. There’s a weird sort of guilt that accompanies that feeling – it is as if, since you didn’t get in on it right from the start, and you’ve known all along, then you’ll receive a strange sort of cosmic side-eye if you go now. That is how I was feeling about Daruma Ramen…until tonight. Cosmic side-eye be damned!
Thanks to my spectacular little sister McKenzie I made the very short trek to Daruma Ramen, located just west of I-35 on 6th Street in Austin, Texas. And the minute I actually opened the mirrored front door (again, very mysterious…is it a speakeasy or a ramen bar…or a portal to another dimension…?), suddenly a wave of warm and inviting energy washed over me and I was transported to Japan, but in a very Austin way.
Those from Austin will understand. Those who aren’t, let’s just say it is a sense of “Oh cool! You made it. Need a beer? All good! Alright, alright, alright…” That about sums it up…
I make no proclamations to be any sort of expert on Japanese culture, architecture, food, drink… Really anything I haven’t seen in a documentary or Food Channel show, to be honest. But I will say if there is a documentary or show about Japanese ramen, I’ve probably watched it. And longed to be there, experiencing the real deal. Tonight, and perhaps my limited Japanese experience is wrong, but I really felt like I was transported to a little ramen shop somewhere in Japan.
The place is cozy, seating perhaps 20 people at most between the bar, two long shared tables and back seating area. It is classically Japan-inspired in decoration – simple, elegant, and tinged with the comical quirkiness so akin to Japanese culture. There’s even anime silently playing on one small screen.
Did I mention they have sake in a juice box? Well, that’s what was recommended to us by Executive Chef Dangerfield (yes, that’s his real name) and let me tell you, this is not the “juice box” of your childhood. Though, after that experience, I highly recommend all alcohol come in juice boxes. With a periscope straw. Seriously, I think we all need it right now.
When it comes to the actual ramen bowls (there are side dishes and a good wine/sake beer list) there are only four choices on the menu, all equally exquisite from what I hear. And, of course, you can add to each bowl of ingredients. For instance, I ordered the Shoyu Ramen (soy + seafood dashi + chicken stock — chicken chashu / soft-boiled egg / bok choy / bamboo / fish cake / scallions / sesame / white pepper / anchovy oil) and added some tofu. And let me tell you, best food I’ve had in quite some time. Now, again, I am no expert on ramen, but my limited documentary education has told me to look for two things, first off – the noodles and the broth. If either of these are off, then you’re looking at sub-par ramen. Time to go.
The broth alone in the ramen I ordered was sublime. I want to just have a vat of this to drink from for breakfast each morning. It was so subtle with levels of soy, seafood, and chicken blended together in a way that was sweet, salty, elegant, edgy, and everything fashion seems to want to be sometimes but rarely achieves. So, in essence, perfect. The noodles you can instantly tell were prepared by hand and with delicate care with just the right combination of firmness and suppleness (yes, that sounds sexual) a noodle should have.
As for the additional ingredients… Chicken braised and sliced to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, boc choy and scallions that blend like butter, tofu fried just enough to be an exquisite element of crisp – my ramen was perfect. The ramen I had was a orchestral arrangement I was not anticipating. It connected with me in a way that was deeply joyful and familiar, yet wholly new. I actually had to stop myself from inhaling it, though I hear in Japan that is actually a sign of respect so, if I ever get there, I will not show such restraint.
If this was an “undiscovered” location I might hesitate to post this review because I would want it all to myself. But this has been out for a bit, but I think underrated. If you haven’t been to Daruma, you’re missing out. And if you’ve been putting it off, trust me, there won’t be any cosmic side-eye for digging in to some of the most extraordinary ramen in the ATX!
612 E. 6th Street
Mon-Thu: 11:30am-2:30pm (Lunch)
Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-11pm
Sat: 11:30am-3pm, 5:30pm-11pm