The first stateside location of Japanese noodle chain Ramen Nagi is open today in Palo Alto at 541 Bryant Street. Known for highly customizable bowls and vibrantly colored broths (including black squid ink and spicy red), Ramen Nagi operates more than 35 locations from Shanghai to Manila — with more US locations on the way, like a San Jose branch in the Westfield Valley Fair due to open later this summer.
Chef Satoshi Ikuta started Ramen Nagi as a roaming pop-up in 2004 when he was just 27. By 2013, he’d won a Ramen of the Year award in Tokyo. In Palo Alto, as elsewhere, Ramen Nagi’s menu is more of an interactive order form than a list of items: Start by choosing your broth — original, black king (squid ink), red king (spicy broth), and green king (basil), or a special “limited king” broth. Next, customers choose the “chef’s recommendation” (and forgo the next few steps) or further customize their bowls, picking “strength of flavor” (light, normal, heavy), desired “richness in oil,” level of garlic, cut of pork — none, chashu (sliced loin), or kakuni (belly) — and choice of vegetables. Last, and maybe most important of all, customers select their bowl’s spiciness level, their noodle thickness (thin or thick), and their noodle firmness.
Ramen Nagi’s non-ramen menu items include gyoza (all fried together in a crispy nest), edamame, chicken karaage, and more snacks. The 1,500 square-foot Palo Alto space (previously home to Zucca European restaurant) was designed by Kenichi Yano, CEO and Creative Producer of Tokyo-based Ten-nen-sha. Inside, there’s bar seating and tables for two-and four with Japanese noren curtain dividers.
Ramen Nagi is far from the only Japanese hit restaurant to target the Bay Area for growth: Others, like Tokyo’s first Michelin starred ramen restaurant, Tsuta, are headed to the area, while plenty like Mensho Toky have already found mass appeal in local markets.
Tonight’s Ramen Nagi grand opening will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. — and a promotion with free bowls for the first 200 customers is likely to attract a preview of the inevitable ramen lines to come.
Beyond those first bowls, 20 percent of opening day proceeds will go to Stanford Children’s Health-Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. After today, Ramen Nagi’s hours will be 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily