Any UCSB student walking out into I.V. looking for a bite to eat is bound to walk past the newly opened One Piece Ramen, which occupies the same spot HiWi Tropical Fusion did only months ago.
Easily recognizable, the shop’s most immediately prominent feature is its visible outdoor seating area, which takes up a great deal of its entrance. Customers walk up to the small building positioned at the back of the patio to order their meals, which are then served promptly out of the side window of the building.
Every meal comes with a show, complimentary of the shop’s large projector setup, on which guests are allowed to play whatever they choose. As a result, I’ve seen it playing everything from rap videos to anime openings.
The seating area is a functional yet aesthetically pleasing space. Various trees make it feel much more open and the modern seating remains makes the area great for large groups, a common sight at I.V. eateries.
While One Piece Ramen’s open air layout could present a concern in rainy weather, the shop is equipped with umbrellas to help alleviate such an occurrence. These umbrellas also serve as a refuge from the sun on hot days, while the shop’s lack of exterior walls helps to escape the stuffiness of other more compact establishments.
The menu is quite promising, offering many different forms of ramen, rice plates, and typical ramen restaurant side dishes such as gyoza, takoyaki, and popcorn chicken. While it is lacking a spicy ramen option, the restaurant’s owner, Alex Qian, said that this will be added to the menu soon.
Having tried both the ramen and the rice plates, I can say that neither was as interesting as expected due to a lack of striking flavor. The ramen broth itself was underflavored, and the pork belly was chewy. Their rice plates, containing one type of meat, white rice, and a mixture of vegetables were unremarkable — though reminiscent of the ones served at nearby Hana Kitchen.
However, the restaurant provides a substantial number of customization options for their ramen, offering commonly found toppings such as soft boiled eggs and bamboo shoots. I would caution that these may be priced steeply. For example, they charge $1.50 for a light sprinkling of green onions.
The saving grace of the meal for me was the takoyaki. Fried well and topped generously, I enjoyed these flavorful bites. While my enjoyment of them may have to do more with my personal love for the Japanese street food, it was something which One Piece executed well enough that it has enticed me into future visits.
The restaurant offers an extra large rice bowl and ramen challenge, priced at 26 and 30 dollars respectively. Customers are given a half hour to finish the massive meal. If they are able to achieve this, they are awarded placement of their picture on the wall along with having their meal price waived. Qian told The Bottom Line that only one person has completed the challenge, but he would like to see many others try.
Qian also revealed plans for future challenges, saying, “Later we plan to release more ramen of five different spice levels … If they can finish Level Five in ten minutes, then they can get it for free.” While this may seem like just another promotional gimmick, it does promise an entertaining event for gatherings of friends to take place and watch.
While One Piece Ramen may fall short in the task of packing a punch of flavor, the restaurant does fill in a long vacant niche for a ramen shop in I.V., bringing in a varied offering of fun features to give it true potential as a local hangout spot.