A Taste of Tokyo

Japan’s hottest noodle trend hits the Cultural District thanks to ramen expert and Head Chef Ito Takao, who brings the traditional flavors of his native Tokyo to the Fort Worth dining scene.

Head Chef Ito Takao makes all of his broths from scratch and only uses fresh noodles. He is successfully bringing traditional flavors of his native Tokyo to Fort Worth.
At Hanabi Ramen & Izakaya, diners can choose from traditional, miso or spicy broths. Accompaniments are traditional but may be unfamiliar to the uninitiated—pork belly, soft-boiled egg, nori sheets and green onion—and extra items can be added for a small charge.

| photography by Alex Lepe | Open just more than a year, Hanabi Ramen & Izakaya is the only restaurant in the city that offers diners an authentic ramen house experience. Billed as a noodle shop and izakaya, a casual bar that also serves food, Hanabi provides a full ramen menu and a separate izakaya menu of sides, salads and shareable dishes. Plus, a full bar includes cocktails and a small sake list.

The sleek, dark wood interior and soft lighting give the space a sophisticated feel, but the floral print booths and long bank of tables in the center of the dining room keep the vibe casual. An open kitchen in the back of the restaurant includes barstools for diners who prefer to watch the cooks in action.

Professionals may enjoy the subdued atmosphere of a late weekday lunch, but dinnertime is preferable for diners craving more action. Weeknight diners shouldn’t have to wait long for a table during prime hours, and even in a full dining room, service is fast and friendly. Hanabi doesn’t appear to favor a particular sort of clientele either. Tables include diners of all ages, as well as couples on date night and large gatherings of friends and family.

Ramen is a must for the first-time diner. Those only familiar with cheap noodle bricks and powdery flavor packets will find that a real ramen bowl is an eye-opening experience. The complex quality of the broth and superior noodle texture will be immediately noticeable.

Chef Takao slow simmers all broths from scratch and uses fresh noodles. Diners choose from traditional, miso or spicy broths, and pork, seafood and vegetable bowls are on the menu. Accompaniments are traditional but may be unfamiliar to the uninitiated—pork belly, soft-boiled egg, nori sheets and green onion—and extra items can be added for a small charge.

Our table selected the karami tonkotsu ramen ($10), a spicier version of the pork noodle classic, and a “dipping ramen,” kara miso tsukemen ($13). Dipping ramen offers a larger noodle, and the broth and noodles are served separately so that diners can dip noodles in the broth as they eat. Our table preferred the rich, meaty pork broth to the spicy miso, and the larger dipping noodles are quite filling, but both bowls offered a balanced, satisfying depth of flavor and fresh ingredients with lip-tingling spiciness.

Perhaps most daunting to a beginner is how to eat the dish properly. Each steaming noodle bowl is served with a set of chopsticks and an oversized spoon that looks more like a ladle. We found our preferred method after surreptitiously observing a group of Japanese youths at the next table who dipped the spoon into the broth and then used the chopsticks to load noodles and veggies onto the spoon before eating. No matter how you choose to attack the bowl, rest assured it will probably not be elegant and will likely involve some slurping.

A bowl of ramen is a meal in itself, but the izakaya menu shouldn’t be missed. In addition to familiar items, like gyoza, edamame and tempura, more adventurous dishes are also available. We tried the tako yaki ($7), savory pancake balls filled with octopus and topped with eel sauce, miso mayo and bonito flakes. Although not what most Americans would describe as “pancake-like,” the fried dough was surprisingly light and creamy, and worth trying.

The dinner menu also includes a selection of kushi yaki ($3.50-$4.00), flash-fried stick meats with subtle teriyaki flavor. We tried the chicken and beef and found the meat tender and slightly sweet, without being overwhelming.

Considering the variety of savory dishes available, dessert won’t be top priority, but there is a small selection of ice cream on the menu. Three scoops of green tea ice cream topped with whipped cream ($4.50) are perfect for sharing. Rest assured, with a gem like Hanabi in town, diners will fall in love with the ramen, but stay for izakaya.

Location: 3204 Camp Bowie Blvd.
For Info Call: 817.420.6703
Price Range: $$
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Mon.-Thurs. 5 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
What We Like: Hearty ramen bowls and a wide variety of traditional Japanese dishes designed to share make Hanabi an instant classic.
What We Don’t: Although there is a very nice bar area at the front of the restaurant, it stood mostly empty each time I visited.
Our Recommendation: The ramen bowls are definitely big enough to share, so if you want to sample the izakaya, consider bringing a large group or making a separate trip.