Where there were exactly zero options for eating ramen locally a few short years ago, now our options seem to multiply by the week.
Ippindo Ramen House has opened very, very quietly on the East Bank. We've been tracking it since we received some tips that "Ippudo" ramen was set to open soon, and tongues went wagging in regards to whether it was affiliated with the famous New York outpost by the same name. A spokesperson for the restaurant confirmed that there was no affiliation with Ippudo NYC. Later came word that the place wouldn't be called Ippudo at all, but instead Ippindo.
That quagmire thusly sorted, we can report that Ippindo is seemingly off to a good start. The medium-sized room seems designed for quick-turnaround eating, with hard-backed chairs and a minimum of design fuss. Service is extremely swift (maybe too much so — they're just getting their sea legs, so a clan of servers are ready to pounce on you like a cat on some nip) — and it's entirely possible to be in and out within 30 minutes from order to check signage. Students take heed: You can totally slurp down some noodles and still make it to Medieval Lit class in plenty of time for your prof's preamble.
They're currently operating without a liquor license and they say they're unsure when it will arrive, so that's something to keep in mind if you had your heart set on a Sapporo.
Upon entering, you'll be greeted with the traditional Japanese greeting of "Irasshaimase!" It's startling if you're not expecting it, totally convivial once you realize you're being welcomed, and a natural thing that, let's face it, not every restaurant does well.
The menu is one of those slick, bound numbers with photos and a laundry list of classic dishes, beginning with edamame and ending with mochi. They're not just ramen specialists in the way we've come to think of Ramen Kazama. So if it's a full-on Japanese meal you're after, you can get it here.
We liked the shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, in a predictable broth, with all of the right garnishes bobbing around— soft egg, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, fish cake, seaweed. Does it mean that our city is all grown up now that we've gotten a little ho-hum about ramen?
Maybe. And maybe that's a really great thing, because ramen is one of the world's great down-it-and-forget-it meals, something reliably delicious to have on the go and to have cheaply.
That's what Ippindo seems to offer — predicable, relaxed, cheap ramen (prices hover around 10 bucks a bowl), available in about a half-dozen varieties: miso, tori ton (pork broth), shio (salt), veggie, and a couple others. You can also look to Ippindo for a smattering of udon and soba noodle dishes, donburi (rice bowls), steamed buns, dumplings, and other small plates and salads.
The U of M campus has come a long way. Big 10 subs and pizza no longer reigns supreme. But that doesn't mean we have to freak out about it any more than we would with those good but dependable grab-and-go items.
Miso ramen and unagi donburi. It's the student snacking of our time.
Ippindo Ramen House
817 Washington Ave. SE, Minneapolis