After two years in the making, Ippudo Berkeley is ready to start serving noodles at its first West coast location. It’s been a long wait for local fans of the chain, which is known for its Hakata tonkotsu-style ramen, and selection of appetizers like buns and sticky chicken wings. In addition to two very popular shops in New York, this is the third U.S location of the Japan-based chain, and the 70th store outside of Japan overall.
Mirroring all other Ippudo locations, noodles are made onsite in a special temperature-controlled noodle room. The dough is mixed with water that has been specially filtered to Ippudo’s specificiations, rolled and cut on a giant machine, and allowed to rest overnight— according to the noodlemaster in charge of this important task, he cuts over 500 bowls worth of noodles in one shift. Of note: diners can specify their preferred noodle texture, from soft (yawa) to firm (kata) and very firm (bari kata).
Meanwhile, pork bones are simmered for 18 hours to create the creamy tonkatsu-style ramen. Shiromaru ($14, classic), Akamaru ($15, richer with spicy miso paste), Karaku ($16, spicy), and shoyu ($13, soy sauce-based broth with dashi) are the four main ramen choices. Depending on the style, garlic oil, clarified lard, minced pork back fat, and Ippudo’s secret “magic sauce” are added for flavor. Toppings include pork belly chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts, and scallions; diners can also add a soft-boiled egg, or more pork, though the bowl is already pretty hearty. Noodles take seconds to cook, and are dropped into bowls that have been heating in a steamer; Ippudo does not mess around with temperature, expect everything to be served extremely hot.
Additionally, diners can ask for more noodles ($2) at any time, by saying kae-dama (just make sure there’s enough broth left to hold them). Don’t over order though, there are no takeout containers here. In better news, kids will be accommodated with colorful plastic cups and high chairs.
Eight sakes will be available to pair with ramen by the glass or bottle from Ippudo’s sake sommelier, encompassing four styles: clean and crisp, fragrant and luxurious, mild and gentle, and class and aged. There’ll also be Asahi and Sapporo beers on draft, plus bottles of Kirin Ichiban and Kyoto, California wines, and soft drinks.
The 56-seat restaurant (which doesn’t take reservations, by the way) is filled with wood and glass, and emblazoned with the word “zuzutto,” which an onomatopoeia of the sound made by people slurping up ramen. An open kitchen allows a glimpse of the ramen process, and its enormous stockpots.
Founded in 1985 in Fukuoka, Japan, by Shigemi “The Ramen King” Kawahara, Ippudo is now owned by I&P Runaway, a company from Chikaranomoto Holdings and Panda Restaurant Group (owner of Panda Express). The Berkeley expansion will be accompanied by a San Francisco store in 2017; the company plans to open 300 more restaurants by 2025. Stay tuned for more on that.
Starting July 28, hours will be 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m on Friday and Saturday, and 11 am.-10 p.m. on Sunday.