The clock is fast approaching midnight, and the aroma of steaming miso broth and luscious, slightly sweet pork fat dripping off tender bits of chashu beckons you.
It's a scented siren call, and you, the hungry sailor, can do little to resist. You enter one of the tiny izakaya dotting the alleyway and order a bowl of ramen and crispy kara age – Japanese-style fried chicken – to accompany. Their necessary co-conspirator – a tall glass of frothy, winter sun-toned Asahi lager– follows close behind. The debauchery of the night seems a distant dream, and at last, you find yourself satiated, ready to go home and crawl into bed.
At the recently opened Tenka Ramen in Uptown Minneapolis, you can have the late-night Japanese noodle experience you never knew you wanted. With doors open ’til 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 3 a.m. on weekends, Tenka is a welcome addition to the Twin Cities’ relatively sparse late-night dining landscape. It follows hot on the heels of now well-established neighborhood favorites like Tori Ramen, Ichiddo Ramen, and Ramen Kazama, riding a swelling broth wave that is set to immerse Twin Cities foodies in the culinary traditions of East Asia.
Tenka Ramen's menu is fairly standard. The spread of appetizers includes well-known Japanese fare like deep-fried or agedashi tofu, gyoza or pan-fried dumplings, and plump takoyaki or battered octopus garnished with wisps of bonito and seaweed.
Popular bowls such as tonkotsu and shoyu ramen can be dressed up with extra toppings and spice to taste. Beyond noodles, Tenka offers a couple of donburi or rice bowls with pork belly or chicken, as well as a fried rice dish speckled with shrimp and chashu, emulating Japanese chahan.
Almost 6,000 miles away from Tokyo, Tenka Ramen does miss a few things, despite being a simulacrum of the classic izakaya, complete with signs in Japanese and recurring cherry blossom motifs at every corner. Instead of endless seas of beer, as one would expect, your only beverage options are Ramune soda, green tea, and bubble tea. The ramen's pork broth, though satisfactory, needs more full-bodied umami flavor to really hit the spot, while the tangy mayo dip served with fried chicken, with its bright citrus flavour, outshines the bird.
Still, when you find yourself roaming the mean streets of Uptown at unearthly hours of the night, remember that Tenka is right around the corner. With quick and friendly service, reasonable bowls of ramen, and a variety of well-executed appetizers, Tenka Ramen is a solid option– especially when time is not on your side.
1404 W. Lake St., Minneapolis