These are heady times for ramen fans. Japanese-based chain Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is getting ready to open an outpost in Bellevue. Yesterday I had a chance to chat with a rep from Santouka, who said that the restaurant at 103 Bellevue Way NE could open in mid April.
A ramen geek might greet this news much as dumpling obsessives hailed the arrival of Din Tai Fung: with lots of shrieking and jumping up and down.
Santouka already has a sprinkling of North America locations (the closest ones are in Vancouver), but this will be its first freestanding restaurant; the others are stalls inside various locations of Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa Marketplace.
The Bellevue Santouka will have about 45 seats and a larger menu of side dishes than other locations. It will be open for lunch and dinner, at which times lines are a reasonable expectation.
I’ve never been to a Santouka, but I've already been hearing from local fans who have had it elsewhere. The shio, or salt ramen is its signature, though the miso and shoyu styles have their own following. The overwhelming consensus: Definitely go with the pork jowl, or toroniku, a meat so fatty and tender that it comes on a plate rather than on top of the ramen, lest it start melting into the hop both before you can properly enjoy it.