CAMBRIDGE – Few food imports have managed to elevate themselves into a highly contested dining option quite like ramen. What was once the sole domain of lonely late night gas stations and emergency stockpiles has been transformed into a gastronomic Shangri La for many Americans, with bowls commanding upwards of $180 from some diners who lack both common sense and a functioning conscience. It’s hard to imagine that a 39 cent packet of instant noodles is now the stuff of rabid-mouthed soliloquies and the sort of overzealous enthusiasm that indicate your sense of values may be misplaced. But then again, Taco Bell was dubbed America’s "favorite Mexican restaurant" for 2018, so exactly how you define values is entirely subject to interpretation.
Just how many ramen locations decorate the greater Boston area is anyone’s guess. You’re just as likely to find one in a suburban mall food court as you are to pay upwards of $26 a bowl at a Newbury Street noodle “shop”, making any accurate estimate difficult. Naturally, ramen lends itself easily to chain options as it does stand alone ventures. The illusion of choice will always be the hallmark of market penetration. Chipotle for lunch—or Qdoba? The mind staggers at the possibilities.
So it shouldn’t surprise you when the latest ramen import is a New York-based chain which has been less than imaginatively dubbed “the Chipotle of Ramen.”
Cambridge Day reported that earlier this week that Menya Jiro has filed an application with the City of Cambridge to open a fourth restaurant inside Harvard Square’s Crimson Galleria. If approved, it would be the first domestic location outside of New York for the seven year old chain, which currently operates two sites in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn and several throughout the Kagoshima prefecture in Japan.
While Menya Jiro is known for offering customizable bowls built to each diner’s specifications, their signature dishes have caught the attention of both Japanese and New York aficionados who have awarded the restaurant first prize in numerous ramen contests in 2016 and 2017.
As virtually any imaginative college student will tell you, ramen is an innately versatile food. It’s rivalled only by two week old leftovers as being one of the few substances that can stave off imminent starvation after the first of the month; and for that, you should be grateful. So if the idea of a “build your own ramen” shop seems redundant, you’re not the only one. But Menya Jiro doesn’t seem to be quite the same as sneaking in a leftover spare rib into a microwavable noodle cup. The standard broth is based from chicken and tonkotsu, that fermented pork bone based stock you failed to distinguish the first, second and third times you had it. The choice of proteins include pork cha siu, salmon and fishcakes, with additional sides of edamame, kimchi, wood ear mushroom and bamboo shoots available. And while this doesn’t mean there won’t be any room for vegan options at Menya Jiro, the choices do appear somewhat limited.
The chain will appear before the Cambridge Licensing Committee on October 10th. If approved, Menya Jiro could be opening as early as Spring 2021.