Most major American cities have a so called Chinatown or area that is somewhat of Asian influence. Although Orlando have not reached the likes of New York, San Francisco, or Washington DC, we are slowly embracing our large Asian population. There is even a proverbial Chinese arch to designate the area on Colonial Dr between Pine Hills Rd and Kirkman Rd as Chinatown. Nestled among various Vietnamese, Taiwanese, and Chinese establishments is Sapporo Ramen.
The nondescript storefront could be any business in the plaza. Without being careful you could walk into the Chinese restaurant or Taiwanese Bakery. Nevertheless, upon entrance walk straight to the back of the restaurant and look for the sign that says “Order and Pay Here”. I mention this because as you walk in you are left to ponder your next move. There are no greeters, no menus, no direction. Look pass this, as this seems like a norm, and head to the back.
A fairly simplified menu offers limited selections. This is a great welcomed move away from the gigantic selections of other restaurants where the difference in selections is one ingredient. I can only imagine that less choices allows for proper preparation of ingredients. There is a choice of broths, noodles, and toppings. A few appetizers entice the palate but the main attraction are bowls of steaming food for the soul.
Onigiri – a triangular mold of rice stuffed with smoked salmon and wrapped in seaweed. The smoked salmon was amply smokey with great salty notes. A delightful mouth snap of joy.
Takoyaki – fried octopus fritters. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The octopus pieces were delectably springy, great contrast to crisp shell and soft filler. Another mouth snap of marvel.
Tonkatsu Ramen – served with green onions, bamboo shoots, Pork Cha-Su (siices), Narutomaki (steamed fish cake), in a pork bone soup with kikurage mushrooms, ginger and sesame seeds, with an egg topping. The broth was a creamy sweet vessel to showcase tender noodles and silken pork slices. Portion size is not overwhelming, it is enough that a person can finish in one sitting.
Shoyu Ramen – served with green onions, bamboo shoots, baby bok choy, Pork Cha-Su (siices), Narutomaki (steamed fish cake), in a soy sauce based broth. Not overtly salted, this broth was a delicate balance that added another layer of flavor to the pork. Definitely get an additional order of pork as this silken delicacy will leave you wanting.
Jasmine and Green Tea – few pickens among the other cold beverages.
After ordering and paying, there is a condiment station that stocks everything you need including water. Yes, you pour your own water.
Seating is a combination of four top booths on one side, tables in the middle, long banquette against the other side and a large round table in front. The walls paint a subtle Japanese story. Although a little stark, the setting is comfortable. Service is amicable, friendly, and courteous. After all food is the main attraction here.
Sapporo Ramen is not a pretentious Japanese restaurant. It reminds me of little doorways that I would dip into during my time living in Japan. They serve a limited amount of items, but serve it well. The food is meant to settle the soul and nourish the body. Telling from the large groups and families at the surrounding tables, I would say this is a welcomed addition to our growing Chinatown.