Ramen is a traditional Japanese dish starring wheat noodles, flavorsome broth and a variety of toppings. Ramen Chops Noodle Bar in Monument builds on that premise with their fast-casual approach to the classic bowl and a nod to today’s dietary preferences (gluten-free and, in the case of this piece, plant-based) and the overwhelming desire for many to get it and go.
Quietly opening in April, Ramen Chops now has a bustling business of diners coming in for lunch and dinner to-go while others linger at tables in the open, airy, nearly serene space. Though not a vegan restaurant, many common ramen ingredients, such as fish sauce and dashi flakes, are not used in every broth, sauce, or dressing, making the food accessible to many.
Walk in to see a large menu on the wall describing the approach: Order a “tried and true” bowl or make your own. The three broad bowl categories are hot and brothy (traditional, soupy ramen), chilled and saucy (cold noodle bowls), and fresh and leafy (salads). For any bowl, order it large ($9.63) or small ($6.93).
I couldn’t resist The Vegan ramen bowl on my first visit. The broth, the most important ingredient in the soupy bowl, is miso (soybean paste), providing an umami base to the fresh bowl. The traditional ramen noodles swim with fresh vegetables (tomatoes, corn, cabbage, spinach, and scallions), pickled radish, fiery peppers and a verdant miso-pesto sauce that clings to the noodles. Slurping is the name of the game with ramen and I did just that until the bowl was nearly licked clean. Gluten-free diners can opt for rice noodles or spiralized zucchini.
On my next visit, a particularly hot day, I turned once more to the “tried and true” standards for a chilled noodle bowl. The Miso Pesto can be made vegan by holding the chicken and cheese (tip: protein it up by adding tofu or edamame). I switched up the noodles, opting for Udon. The thick, plump dumpling-like strands are dense and comforting. Coated with the delicate miso pesto, they are rich with roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. A sprinkling of black sesame seeds and fresh edamame adds a bit of crunch and a burst of color.
I built my own salad bowl. Starting with a generous bed of mixed greens, I had the friendly staff pile on the goodies: tofu, pickled radish and lotus root, and scallions. Dressed up with the sweet basil vinaigrette, the cool and crunchy fermented vegetables made for a pleasingly hearty meal on a hot day.
The hand-crafted bowls can be paired with locally crafted and canned beer ($4.25) and wine ($7.5). I can’t explain it, but canned wine brings me so much joy; the can of “Canterrista” Rose was just right for the spicy Vegan Bowl.
In what appears to be a typical strip mall-style fast-ish restaurant, you’ll find an open space with a gentle décor that’s a nod to Ramen Chops’ Asian influence. This is a place where you can easily walk in and out in a matter of minutes with a healthy bowl of hot or cold food. But there’s also plenty of room, and incentive, to sit back and enjoy yourself.