Ramen in Phoenix, Arizona? What's that all about?
Why eat ramen, when you can be eating some nouveax tacos in an old church reformed into a Mexican restaurant?
Or a more traditional chile rellenos at the local spot?
Or the best breakfast burrito in the state? Seriously, Arizona's take on Mexican food added two inches to my waist.
But one can not survive on Mexican food alone. Well, maybe that's not true, but I had made it a mission to check out Umami when I had the chance.
Umami's story is interesting. They actually won a contest for six months of free rent, right next to ASU, and chef Jared Lupin quickly garnered status when they were named one of the best ramen shops in the country. Soon after, a kitchen fire shut them down for repairs. On a side note, one of my best friends in Japan moved back to his Arizona home a few years ago. Missing a taste of Japan, he started slurping at Umami. Random talks led to my name coming up, and Jared has been a follower of Ramen Adventures for some time. Awesome.
Umami features a do-it-yourself approach to the ramen. Choose your tare flavor, then load up on toppings. I was told that a miso paitan was the master's special.
I need to express my concern with the elephant in the room; the above professional photo, stolen from the shop's website, is not very appetizing. I showed this same photo to some ramen friends here in Tokyo, and they thought I was crazy for wanting to come here.
My own photo is lacking in the looks department as well.
My opinion would have to be based heavily on the taste.
In this sense, probably the only real important factor when it comes to a simple bowl of ramen, Umami excels. Just enough kick from the miso on impact. Just enough smooth, creamy aftertaste from the soup. And the umami was there to finish it off. Very satisfying.
My friend loaded his up with all kinds of toppings, but I just went with an egg. Feel free to go minimal or over the top, it's that kind of place.
Apart from the ramen, Umami sports a bar serving up all kinds of sake, shochu, and cocktails. I tried a few one-cups from Kikusui, the global supplier of nihonshu to most of America.
I find that most American ramen shops cater to the local crowd. Umami is right next to Arizona State University, so you can expect a lively, voracious crowd. They have a sumo bowl (4x ramen, max spice, loaded with meats) that only six out of 58 people have been able to finish. They have their regulars; college kids who want their ramen they way they like is. They have plenty of room, even a private area for events.
I wish I could say I'd be back soon, but Arizona is quite a trek from Japan. See you again someday!
Umami official site here.
21 East 6th Street Tempe, Arizona 85251
Nearest station: Are there trains in Arizona?
Open Monday - Saturday 11am - 9pm