Craft Ramen Redefines the Soup for UCSB Students

(Jerrick Le)

Eric Long

To the average student, the word “ramen” conjures images of cheap and processed packets of salt; ramen is not a meal, but a means of survival. Craft Ramen seeks to rehabilitate the image of ramen by providing fresh and authentic Japanese soup.

Walking down State Street, one could be easily forgiven for thinking Craft Ramen might be a Tex-Mex dive. The outside dining area, with brown tiles beneath simple square tables and black metal chairs under a wooden canopy, evokes a homegrown, backyard-gathering feeling rather than a traditional ramen bar.

The Spanish facade belies its Japanese roots. A quick glance inside reveals some of the genre conventions familiar to Japanese eateries: vibrant red lighting reminiscent of paper lanterns highlights lacquerware adorned with a flowing art style.

Though the construction and decor are a fusion of Spanish and Eastern, the food is undoubtedly Japanese. The signature dish features a choice of either soy, miso, or pork broth, accompanied by vegetables like green onion, spinach, and bean sprouts.

For vegans, the miso ramen omits meat in favor of tofu and a selection of heartier vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. Additionally, there are a variety of extras that can make each soup more tailored to the customer, from extra meat and vegetables to special condiments like chili paste and black garlic oil.

Perhaps the most distinguishing items are the side dishes. The venue has many of the expected sides such as dumplings, rice, edamame (soybeans), and fried shrimp.

Craft Ramen also boasts more exotic fare not often found in other eateries. Dishes such as takoyaki (lightly fried octopus balls), shishito (Eastern peppers), and karaage (crispy fried chicken) give the menu a uniquely Japanese flavor. Even natto is included, a dish that consists of fermented soybeans that is both sticky and slippery at the same time. Craft Ramen will surprise you with its interesting and authentic food choices.

The cooking is as impressive as the menu at Craft. The ramen comes out in matte white stoneware bowls that keep it warm throughout the meal. While unassuming on the outside, the first bite reveals tender chashu pork made even more savory from steeping in the broth. The next few bites lead to the thick ramen noodles, soft yet substantial, wicking up the flavor from the rest of the dish and blending everything together.

Green onions, bean sprouts, and nori all add a satisfying crunch that gives the soup added texture that contrasts nicely with the tenderness of the meat and the softness of the noodles.

The takoyaki was also well-crafted, drizzled with mayo and eel sauce and topped with nori flakes and ginger. The batter is soft and gives way easily to the creamy filling of octopus, mixing with the eel sauce to form a sweet taste.

If desired, there are also a couple of dipping sauces, a red sauce with a mild spice, and a surprisingly tangy soy sauce that mixes wonderfully with the sides.

Pricing is within the realm of the average student, with the sizable soups costing $10.50, rice bowls going from $6.50 to $9.00, and sides ranging between $3.50 to $7.00. A decent dinner doesn’t have to cost more than $15, making it something most people can afford to at least try.

Craft Ramen’s establishment can be seen as an effort to expand on the food scene of State Street. The throughway has everything from piano bars and rustic pubs to gourmet steakhouses and serene cafes, a diverse range of options made all the more so by the inclusion of a ramen restaurant. Considering the Hibachi Steak House right across the street, perhaps Craft Ramen is part of a movement towards a more ethnic food scene on State St.

Craft Ramen can be found at 436 State Street.