I’m becoming a ramen addict. It might seem odd to devour a steaming lunch of wheat noodles and rich broth during the Vegas summer, but it’s not a problem. It’s actually quite easy, now that there are tiny shops all over the Valley specializing in the stuff. And while the menus at these mini-restaurants are mostly similar, the food is almost always different, even if it’s in slight ways.
I should know. I have a standard order for my first visit to any new shop—pork broth ramen, or tonkotsu, if they have it, and a side of karaage, simple fried chicken. This is not great for my cholesterol, but it’s excellent for comparing local ramen shops.
At Ramen Tatsu, a year-old eatery in the deliciously crowded Mountain View Plaza just off our main Chinatown drag, my standard order had some impressive twists. The karaage ($4.77) was huge chunks of flavorful dark-meat chicken with a simply seasoned crispy coating, exactly what I want from this dish. After squeezing on a little lemon, I’m ready to name it the city’s best. And I couldn’t resist ordering the special spicy tonkotsu ($8.27), its broth made orange with the addition of a happily evil habañero sauce. Lots of noodle bars offer spicy ramen, though Japanese is traditionally a cool cuisine. Tatsu’s was no joke. The savory flavors from long-simmered pork bones attack first, followed by a speedy blast of sweet, bright heat.
If that wasn’t the wildest bowl I’ve encountered, maybe it was Tatsu’s curry ramen ($8.77), chicken and pork broth blended with the salty gravy that is Japanese curry. I’m used to this taste alongside white rice and a fried chicken or pork cutlet—and Tatsu does that, too—so slurping it up with chewy, thick noodles was memorably delicious, especially with toppings of chashu (braised pork belly), green onion and sweet corn.
Owner Wayne Kageyama opened Tatsu last summer before overhauling in October, taking over the kitchen himself and redesigning the menu. There’s more change coming, including new sides and some cold noodle dishes for summer. He’ll almost certainly keep his soup varieties, which also include shoyu (pork and chicken broths with soy sauce), shio (with salt and yuzu instead of soy) and miso (with nutty soy bean paste). Next up for me is spicy miso ($9.27), with ground pork and bean sprouts, and I’m hoping those sprouts help cool me out. Rounding out the menu are fried rice, chashu bowls, oily gyoza dumplings and takoyaki ($4.77), crispy pancake balls with ginger, scallions and minced octopus.
Since it’s in the same strip mall as China Mama, HK Star, Chada Thai & Wine, District One Kitchen & Bar and a host of other Asian eateries, it’s easy to overlook Ramen Tatsu. But it’s definitely in my regular rotation. I’ll still worship at the altar of Monta, and make special trips for ramen at Fukumimi and Sora. But if it’s time for my standard tonkotsu-karaage combo, I don’t think there’s a better spot than Tatsu.
Ramen Tatsu 3400 S. Jones Blvd., 702-629-7777. Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.