Kendall Lowery ’22
Both Ramen Lounge and Menkoi Ya Ramen possess 4-star Yelp reviews, are comparably priced, lie within 200 feet of the Yale and Bonita Avenue intersection, and tout the Japanese noodle soup as the central focus of each restaurant’s menu. So, I decided to trek down to the village to get to the bottom of what differentiates these two eateries.
Menkoi Ya Ramen
Menkoi Ya Ramen is built around cultivating a youthful, family-friendly energy, with a J-pop playlist and cozy decor that facilitates casual conversation. They take pride in their process, boasting fresh hand-prepared and hand-crumpled takasuimen style noodles, fresh chashu, and pork broth that takes over 14 hours of prep to reach the bowl.
I tried their Tonkotsu Kotteri ramen, which they highlighted as one of their top dishes: this bowl contained pork broth, shoyu base, pork back fat, black garlic oil, 5 toro chashu, green onions, dried seaweed, and bamboo shoots.
The tender loving care within Menkoi Ya’s process shines through in every aspect of their ramen. The noodles are cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of chew and bounce when served. The chashu is tender and brimming with umami flavor that permeates through the rest of the dish. Most importantly, the broth offered a flavorful complexity that kept me slurping until I reached the bottom of the bowl.
Ramen Lounge is targeted towards a more youthful audience, with an explicit initiative to “Be alive and have fun in everything you do,” according to their website. They’re also riding the wave of the increase of the financial power of millennials; the place was filled with people in their late 20s to early 30s who had enough money to buy Ramen Lounge’s $15 drinks. They explicitly cater to this audience; upon entry into the restaurant, you have access to a table made out of a functional arcade machine with classic 80s games, a selection of cocktails concocted behind a graffitied bar, and a playlist and decor featuring icons of late 80s-early 90s rap.
Their ramen selection is slightly more limited than Menkoi Ya’s 11 options, with 4 choices (Tonkotsu, Shio, Coconut, and Noodle and Broth Only).
Once again, I tried their Tonkotsu ramen, which they also cited as one of their best and most popular dishes. This bowl contained pork broth, braised pork belly, soft boiled egg, baby bok choy pickled bamboo shoots, green onions, nori, and black garlic oil. Its noodles had slightly less character than the thicker arches of their Menkoi Ya counterparts, the meat was initially slightly less flavorful and less tender than Menkoi Ya’s but tapered into a satisfying charred flavor, and the creamy broth tied together the rich and satisfying bowl of soup.
Menkoi Ya Ramen is the place to take your parents or friends if you desire an environment of quieter conversation and the general Claremont family-oriented restaurant atmosphere. Ramen Lounge is a place for casual meet-ups with friends: you might have to speak a bit louder, but the restaurant’s dynamic atmosphere makes up for this additional expended energy. Ultimately, Menkoi Ya Ramen turned out my favorite bowl of tonkatsu, but both places created great environments for conversation over a comforting meal.
Photo courtesy of Yelp