ramen tatsu-ya

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Dirt cheap ramen changed my life. If not for those 10-cent cellophane bags of freeze-dried noodles and bits of what-in-the-hell, I would have dropped out of college. Seriously.

While Reagan was president, and after my freshman year in college, his administration sought to means-test students for student aid. This means testing rested on how much money a student’s parents made unless said student was considered independent. Because my dad made a shit-ton of money, the government expected my parents to pay my way.

A key–and not unreasonable–assumption of this policy is that a student’s parents want their kid to go to university. However, my dad did not want me to go to college, so there was no way in hell he was going to contribute to furthering my education (in fact, he disowned me at my high school graduation after I told him I was going to university).

My ability to stay in college rested on whether or not I was considered independent, which hinged on whether or not the three months I stayed with my grandparents between high school graduation and university working on their new house counted as being independent. I thought yes (my parents always told me growing up that when I graduated from high school I was going to get a set of luggage and a kick in the ass out the door; and, indeed, that’s what happened). Unfortunately, the university’s financial aid advisor thought otherwise.

After explaining my situation to the financial aid guy one Friday, he wasn’t having it. “Look how much your dad makes!” he said. “Having a parent that makes a ton of money doesn’t help when he doesn’t believe in college,” I pleaded. I told him, quite honestly, that I would have to drop out of college if I wasn’t deemed independent. He said he would take another look at my file, but made it clear that it was a long shot that he would change his mind.

Since the semester had started and the university was holding my aid, I was already in dire financial straits. Later that evening I went to the grocery store with my last $5 to buy 50 packages of 10-cent ramen to make it through the month. As I was checking out, the financial aid guy randomly cued up behind me. His eyes widened when he saw my provisions. After I paid for my check-out and grabbed my lighter-than-air bag, he stopped me. “Come see me first thing Monday morning.” And I that’s how I stayed in school.

Fast forward 30 ramen-less years, and in simmers Ramen Tatsu-Ya (tot-sue-yuh). Formed by two former DJs (one of which is the son of a dude I used to work with), this is mind-blowing food. The flavors are deep, complex, and delightful. Lines form early to get in with many from out-of-state (Time Out listed Tatsu-Ya as the best ramen in the US while Bon Appetit listed it as among the best in the country).

The secret, it seems, is the pork bone broth (tonkotsu), a concoction that requires 60 hours to concoct. What results is pure ambrosia; a godly foundation for the resulting ramen. For your first visit, start with the Tonkotsu Original (pork bone broth, chashu, ajitama, woodear mushroom, and scallion; $9.5) and then, on your next trip, get the same with a Chili Bomb ($1). For the vegheads, there’s a Veggie Ramen (soy and mushroom broth, tofu, brussels sprouts, corn, menma, woodear mushroom, greens; $10). The menu offers a number of other dishes and sides, but ramen is where it’s at.

Depending on the weather and time, there can be a bit of a wait (and you wait outside), but it is well worth it and fun to chat with the out-of-towners. The inside vibe is hip and lively and, as you might expect from former DJs, the music is epic. Once ordered, the food, slurping, and mmmmmmmm’s come quick. Your first bite will be memorable, so take a deep breath and ommm before scooping in.

Ramen changed my life when I was young, and in thanks I’ve sadly ignored it for decades. With Ramen Tatsu-Ya, I can now yin that yang and make up lost time.

web&where: interwebs; multiple; menu
what’s the deal? Mind-blowing ramen; fast casual (but expect a long line)
overall: ***** (food*****; drink***; atmosphere***; service**; instagrammability****)
cost: $
does it scramble? Nope.

our scale:
–          meh [think twice]
*         OK [it’ll get the job done]
**       good [solid neighborhood joint]
***     damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
****   yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]

each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)

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IMG_4861Munchie Katsu Slider

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IMG_4858Mi-So-Not (the unspicy sister of Mi-So-Hot)

IMG_4857Tonkotsu Original

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