Ramen Station in Grant Park is the newest restaurant from Michael Lo and George Yu of the Korean Wives Hospitality Group.
The second-generation Chinese-American business partners count Taiyo Ramen in Decatur, Suzy Siu's Baos at Krog Street Market, Noona in downtown Duluth, and Son of a Bear in Oakhurst among their current concepts.
Located in the Larkin on Memorial development on Memorial Drive, Ramen Station echoes the offerings at Taiyo with a mix of snacks and apps such as shishito pepper or pork belly skewers, Spam or mushroom musubi, and steamed buns.
The six varieties of ramen include creamy pork tonkotsu, spicy beef ramen, and “dipping” lamb tsukemen, with noodles and condiments served in a separate bowl to be dipped in the hot broth. Plus there’s vegetable shoyu, chicken shio, and a kids bowl.
New to the menu, rice bowls, such as miso salmon with radish, lemon, and green onion, and unagi (eel) with seaweed salad and enoki mushrooms, are served with a cup of broth on the side.
The design of the long, narrow space recalls cramped Tokyo ramen shops. But the decor is more classic American diner, with white subway tiles on the walls, black and white checkerboard tiles on the floors, and ’50s-style Formica tables and Naugahyde chairs and bar stools.
There’s even a Coca-Cola logo soft drink dispenser next to the condiment station. But beer and wine will be coming soon.
Lo and Yu brought in veteran Korean Wives chef Kevin Yin to run the kitchen at Ramen Station. And during a chat at the restaurant last week, the partners said business has been brisk from lunch through dinner service, drawing a mix of neighbors and roving ramen lovers.
“This is more of a neighborhood ramen shop,” Yu said. “The price point is a little more for the neighborhood, but we use the same ingredients as at Taiyo. We’re getting a lot of neighborhood people, for sure. And we’re getting a lot of downtown workers during lunch.”
“We think of it as kind of the second genesis of Taiyo,” Lo said. “Four years ago, when we started doing ramen in Decatur, it was rare. We were actually the first people to do ramen on a daily basis. It wasn’t a pop-up or a special event.
“Ramen is much more well-known and popular in Atlanta now, so every neighborhood should have a ramen shop, like every neighborhood has a bar, or a pizza joint, or a burger joint. So it’s basically a Japanese comfort food spot. It shouldn’t be a special occasion thing. It should be a Tuesday thing.”
Asked about the design and service, Lo described it as a sort of fast-casual hybrid.
“We set this up to be counter service,” he said. “It’s more casual, and you order at the counter, but we bus your table for you, and we can get you sauces and drinks and all that. But in terms of the design, I actually wanted to model it after a Japanese version of a diner or luncheonette.
“Because it’s Grant Park, we were playing off the whole train terminus thing, with Ramen Station. And to me, diners are so Americana. But then if you go to Japan, all the train stations and subways have little diner versions of ramen shops.”
As far as the menu, Yu noted that certain items skew in different ways at Ramen Station.
“Of course, the tonkotsu sells like 3-to-1,” he said. “Everybody wants to try that. Spicy beef is really popular, too. But the vegetable shoyu has been a lot more popular here than at Taiyo.”
“We just added four rice bowls to the menu,” Lo said. “It one of those things, like if you go to a ramen shop in Japan, sometimes you just want the rice and you don’t want the hot broth. It’s kind of weather dependent. A lot of people eat rice bowls during the warmer months, and the more heavy broths during the winter.”
519 Memorial Drive SE, Suite A6, Atlanta. 404-228-4247, facebook.com/ramenstation.
More images from a First Look at Ramen Station in Grant Park
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com