- Derek Carlisle
Although I barely got to know the Blue Poblano restaurant while it occupied the location that is now home to Yoko Ramen, (473 E. 300 South, 801-876-5267, yokoramenslc.com), I'm glad that another team of culinary renegades has kept this classic space alive. Perched conveniently at the corner of 500 East and 300 South, Yoko Ramen is at the nexus of the dinnertime foot traffic generated by Urban Lounge and the Broadway Centre Cinemas, its artsy neighbors to the north and west. Both hip and friendly enough to snag such a cultured audience, Yoko Ramen has stood strong since opening this time last year. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that they're not afraid to serve ramen with a side of potato wedges.
I'm a bit of a sucker for restaurants that exist inside old homes. Eating a plate of food in a repurposed domicile always conjures up a pleasant haze of ambiguous nostalgia. That, along with the subtly cool inclusion of American movie posters translated into Japanese hanging all over the place, makes Yoko feel like a safe space for hipster geeks of all stripes.
I was hooked on Yoko before I even visited, after a picture of their Japanese Cubano ($9) popped up on my Instagram feed. The sandwich did not disappoint—they've created a harmonious blend of traditionally prepared chashu pork belly, and thrown trotters and housemade pickles into the mix. The marinated pork belly brings textbook umami flavor while the sharp pickles and piquant mustard shake the senses in a very pleasant way.
Of course, it's foolish to visit a joint with ramen in the title and not try the ramen, so I revisited the spot with a few friends so we could fully experience the breadth of Yoko's sparsely populated menu. They offer three variations of ramen, all of which are lovely in their own unique ways. The pork ($12) provides a deep draught of savory tonkotsu broth swimming with noodles, scallions and a beautifully prepared chashu spiral. Tonkotsu ramen is my go-to, and the stuff they're brewing up here is right on the money. The pork belly's outer edges are slightly charred, creating a bitter foil for the sweet marinated meat, and the rich broth is as slurpable as they come.
On the lighter side of the menu, diners can find chicken ramen ($11) and vegetable ramen ($10), which can also be prepared vegan on request. Yoko prepares its chicken in karaage, or deep-fried, which is a risky move considering its liquid destination. You'd think the ramen broth would seep through the fried chicken to pulverize the crisp outer layer—but you'd be wrong. Through what can only be described as witchcraft, this fried chicken stays crispy and delicious to the very last drop.
While the ramen bowls contain enough soup for a meal, diners would be remiss to avoid the shareable sides. The gyoza ($7 for pork; $6 for veggie) arrive interconnected by a crispy web of pan-fried dough, and are great primers for the flavors to come. I've already mentioned the potato wedges ($5), which could be more accurately described as potato quarters. This traditionally Western addition to a well-rounded Eastern menu is like a love letter to Utah and our affinity for all things potato-based.
For those jaunting around downtown while they wait for a show or a movie, Yoko's mix of great food and urban-friendly aesthetic is a sure crowd pleaser.
6 p.m.-midnight; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.