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Ren's Ramen, Bethesda

Great ramen has finally arrived in the D.C. area: Ren's Ramen has opened inside of Daruma Japanese Market in Bethesda, serving up steaming hot bowls of Sapporo-style goodness. Ren's has taken over Daruma's seating area and, it looks like, part of its kitchen.

The wife, Japanese, had the miso ramen, which she declared very good. I tried the pork shio ramen, including extra pork, which had a very good, rich broth. The pork was a little disappointing, though -- not too tender. They also have vegetable shio ramen and shoyu ramen, as well as gyoza.

Prices are on the high side -- $10.00 for a bowl of miso or shio ramen ain't exactly cheap. Plus, my extra pork set me back another $3.50. Don't plan to order that again. Egg and corn are extra. But the ramen here, while not quite as good as some places in NYC and NJ, beats the hell out of the slop served at other places around D.C., including Temari Cafe in Rockville. My wife and I will surely be regulars.

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  1. Yes, it is the great news. I have heard the rumor of the ramen restaurant. It has been a big buzz in the Japanese community recently. I would like to try the ramen soon! Finally we do not have to go to Mitsuwa in NJ or NYC for the real ramen? How large is the restaurant?

    1. How exciting! Thank you for posting.

      1. It is a tiny place but was not crowded on a Saturday lunch - maybe not discovered yet, so you should run right out and try it like I did!

        I thought the broth of the miso ramen was excellent. The shio was not what I am used to - a smoky pork taste almost like bacon. The pork seems like it's oven roasted, which I also found disappointing. There is a sign on the wall that you can get stewed fatty pork for an extra charge.

        The main problem is that to get exactly what I want - which would be to add corn, more bamboo shoots, and probably that fatty pork- you'd be talking like 15 dollars for a bowl of soup. Cheaper than a trip out of town, but not an everyday possibility.

        So actually my verdict is that this place is just what I hoped - it's good enough that I'd definitely eat there again on my occassional visits to Daruma, but not so perfect that I am going to have a constant inconvenient craving and always be moaning that I don't live closer.

        1. I visited the store last Saturday on a lunch time. It was very crowded. The tastes of ramen was satisfactory, however, I cannot say it is great IMO. May be my expectation was too high... The gyoza was tasty. The price was a little bit expensive, if I need more toppings, the price will be steep as a bowl of ramen ! The restaurant seemed have a lunch menu on weekday, it will be good deal. Anyway, when I have an opportunity to go Bethesda area, I will definitely stop there again. I wish if there was a ramen restaurant in my neighborhood...

          1. Having heard the news, me and my wife decided to check it out. First, decor is okay. The menu is tiny. It consist of ramen in three flavors, and not my favorite pork bone flavor. Adding the two specials makes it 5 choices of ramen available (or three pork, one veggie, and one cold.) Price is 10 dollars or north, a tiny bit steep for Ramen. Yes, if you want bamboo shoots, eggs, corn... and stuff that may typically be expected one way or another in ramen, is extra money.

            The noodle itself is decent. The libral use of the bean sprout gives a bit of texture to the noodle. The soup base is flavorful but a bit too salty. The pork is undercooked...it's tough and flavor hasn't soaked in. There is only one piece of this pork....thank God for their cheapness?

            Half way into waiting for the food, we noticed the loud speaker blasting the same Japanese song, repeated over and over. Even though it's the same music as the grocery store, the grocery store had it way down to not be noticible. By the time I got my Ramen, I was going bonkers. It took a lot of discipline to finish my noodle dish.

            In summary, yes, Ren has decent ramen, and better than Temari. But it's easy to beat Temari as it uses pre-packaged Ramen, and we don't eat ramen at Temari...we enjoy the rest of the extensive menu at Temari. Service is better at Temari. The service attitude is better at Temari. I don't want to go into a restaurant and being clearly nickled and dimed for stuff. You don't see Micky Dee's charging another buck for lettuce, a buck for pickles, two for tomato, and another 50 cents for the ketchup on top of a 5 dollar burger. If rent is expensive, charge me $15 a bowl, and put everything in it. Don't make your customers feel like they are shortchanged, and have to be nickled and dimed to get what they expect....on top of very plain service. Perhaps this is an attempt to "diversify" their monotonous menu, but it's not a good strategy. Yes, get rid of the speakers too.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cfoodie

              We had a nice dinner there last night. I had the shouyu ramen, husband had the miso one. We ordered gyoza but no additional stuff for the ramen and were happy with what we got. The noodles were great and the broth was rich and flavorful. Definitely the best ramen in town.

            2. Just went there tonight; I was very excited to check it out. I had the miso ramen with no extras. I really enjoyed it. I thought the broth was rich and flavorful and the noodles were perfect -- just the thing on a cold day. I would love to eat this in the winter, preferably with snow on the ground! I agree with previous posters that it is overpriced. But still, I'm sure I will go there again -- and again.

              1. FInally, a serious attempt at ramen in the DC area. This is yet another important sign that the region is at last 'growing up.' There are four ramens listed on the menu. I tried the first one, a miso ramen.

                The orange stock is thick, rich, and salty, just as it should be. It is a proper nod to its Sapporo origins. The ground beef and large pile of bean sprouts, however, are a nod to its Bethesda location.

                Now all we need is about a dozen more ramen shops all competing with each other.

                Open until 7pm every day but Monday. Everybody should be trying out this place.

                (Daruma Market has their own lunch counter open only to 3pm with a larger menu of rice bowls and soups.)

                17 Replies
                1. re: Steve

                  I went a second time last weekend and tried the Sapporo shioyu style ramen. It was good, but not nearly as good as the miso variety, which I'll stick with from now on. I also tried the seasoned egg this time, which I didn't think was worth the $2.00 extra. Lots of people get the gyoza there and they look good. I'll try that when I go with a friend to share. The place was packed with Japanese people when I was there - a good sign.

                  After lunch, I popped over to the market next door and got imported genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice), which I'm enjoying as we speak!

                    1. re: elegantelliot

                      I think there is a CVS there -- for sure there is a sign on Arlington Rd. that says Daruma Japanese Market. Ren's Ramen is right next door to Daruma.

                      1. re: woodleyparkhound

                        Technically it's in Daruma as the restaurant uses the same doorway as the market. I was there last month and the food is pretty good but definitely not great. But when you're in the land of the blind, the one eyed is king. I live in the neighborhood and would love to come in for a weekly fix but the high prices for a so-so bowl of noodles doesn’t call for that kind of devotion. The broth is fine, the pork is very bland and the noodles are just okay. It tasted like it comes in a package rather than made in-house. Correct me if I’m wrong here as I’m not an expert in this area.

                        1. re: tdonline

                          The important thing is that the broth is potent stuff as it should be for this style of ramen. Sufficiently oily, salty, and porky. This is hardly a package taste. I like my noodles chewier than was served to me, so the next time I'll ask for them to be cooked "katame," hard. The toppings are only a small part of what you're served, so I'm not going to be too picky since this is the only game in town.

                          Maybe next time I really will go for their offer of the fatty pork topping which they highly recommend. So far, I look forward to trying the other bowls of ramen.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Steve, I was referring to the noodles as possibly from a package rather than made in house. I have no doubt the broth is made in house.

                            1. re: tdonline

                              Oh yeah, they get the noodles from Japan.

                              1. re: Steve

                                FYI, re the noodles issue -- I was there for lunch last week and they had signs all over about a "ramen master" will be visiting from Japan and that there would be special tastings to go along with his demonstrations. At least that's how I remember the sign -- I should have written down this info -- I'm also not sure I remember the date, but I believe it was for this weekend (October 30).

                            2. re: Steve

                              The fatty pork is magical, I swear. It's cooked so long that the fat layers (it reminds me of thick-cut bacon) become velvety soft and almost DO melt in your mouth. They're fabulous.

                          1. re: Ericandblueboy

                            The "seasoned egg" served by the restaurant seemed to be a very soft-cooked hard boiled egg that had been marinated for several hours in soy sauce and maybe mirin? It was very salty tasting. Kind of good and worth a try - but not worth $2.00.

                            1. re: woodleyparkhound

                              I was wondering if it's like a Chinese salted duck egg, which is a raw egg soaked in salty water (for a long time, like a month) and then hard boiled (generally found in moon cakes or served with congee for breakfast).

                              1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                That's usually what seasoned egg is in Japanese cuisine: soft-boiled, then marinated in soy and mirin and maybe ginger, and served with soup.

                                1. re: sweth

                                  So it's cooked first and then marinated. Got it, thanks.

                                  1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                    You should give Rice Paddies Grill (Vietnamese) a try. I love it! It is across from the women's market in bethesda. I HIGHLY recommend their noodle bowl with shredded pork. going their tonite for takeout pho. everything else i have had there is good, too. Just a hole in the wall place, but fairly authentic, very tasty, cheap, clean, convenient, nice people....

                                    1. re: chicken kabob

                                      IMHO Rice Paddies is ok, but not anything special. Rens Ramen is special and different than most any place I've seen in the region.

                        2. What are there for vegetarian options? I'm not one, but others here are ...

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                            chocolatechiptk, it is funny you mentioned vegetarian options, because when I went to Rice Paddies Grill, last night, for tofu/vegeetable pho, I noticed for the first time a sign proclaiming several vegeterian options, and it was stated on the menu, too... If you try it out,let me know...

                            1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                              I'm curious about this, too! I have a friend who loves Ramen and wants to try Ren's (I've been and LOVE LOVE IT) but he doesn't eat pork/pork products. Any idea which, if any, of the Ramen bases aren't made with pig?

                              1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                I had a vegetarian bowl of soup at Ren's last week and although obviously different than the others, didn't seem like a second-class citizen dish at all. I guess the base was seaweed. It was also very rich. I actually found the broths there too rich for me, I'm sure this is a matter of my taste -- the meat version I tried (I'm sorry, I'm not remembering what they were called) was like drinking gravy. Tasted good at first, but was too much after a while.

                                1. re: mselectra

                                  Believe me, there are stronger, thicker ramens out there. That is definitely keeping in style with a miso (soy bean paste) ramen from Sapporo. Maybe their soyu (soy sauce) ramen is less gravy-like.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    I understand -- it's a personal taste preference, that I can't handle too much richness like that, not a complaint about the restaurant -- it tasted great at first and then got to be too much for me. There were more than four choices when I was there last week, and the one I'm describing as gravy-like was, I think, listed as a new special -- maybe it was shioyu style? It had a bunch of different kinds of meat in it. I was surprised that even the vegetarian version I ordered was so rich. Do you know what the fat/oil would be in that, by any chance?

                                    I'll try soyu next time, thanks for the suggestion.

                                    1. re: mselectra

                                      Their shoyu ramen broth is definitely thinner than the broth used in the miso or shio ramen; it is also saltier.

                              2. City Paper has a review:

                                http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/di...

                                What's the verdict? Is it worth the drive from Alexandria? Because I haven't found any decent ramen in NoVA.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                  I haven't read the review yet, so here is my take.

                                  There are three components to ramen: the stock, the noodles, and the toppings. The stock (first one listed on the menu) is very good and worthy of a trip. It is Sapporo style miso ramen, which means it is thick, fatty, and salty. A kind of orange color from its base of bean paste. Since the stock is my priority, I enjoyed this a great deal. For someone who thinks ramen is just those instant cup o' noodles, it will be a proper revelation.

                                  For some ramen lovers, it's all about the noodles. They don't use fresh noodles (I'm not surprised) at ren's, and the next time I order the ramen there, I am going to ask for the noodles to be coooked "katame" or hard. They come out too soft.

                                  The pork topping is dry, so they don't get good marks for that. There is an upgrade available which I have heard is really, really good.

                                  For me, it was definitely worth the trip from Virginia to get a proper taste of ramen, even if the textural component was not right..

                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                    With regard to the article and that picture - I have tried their ramen 3 times, and never got SLICES of succulent roast pork; it was ONE slice of dryish (lean) roast pork.

                                    Ren's may have the best ramen in the area right now, but there is little competition out there. It may be worth the drive, but I'd find something else to do in Bethesda in addition, to make the trip more worthwhile.

                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                      Hmm. Finally tried Ren's Ramen today. I'm glad I checked it out, but I don't think it's worth the long metro ride for a second trip. I actually liked the noodles best; they had a very satisfying texture, and they were plentiful. The pork was not good, I actually didn't eat it after the first bite - dry, fatty, not tasty at all. The broth was good (I had the miso), but I did get a little bored after about half the bowl. The standard serving (no extras) comes with bean sprouts, scallions, bamboo shoots, and a little ground meat. Those components were nice for textural contrast, but they didn't do much to change the flavor of individual bites. So it got to be a bit boring.
                                      I would say if you're in Bethesda, it's worth a stop just because I think it's awesome that we have a ramen house. But it certainly didn't knock my socks off.

                                    2. Ren's Ramen is totally overrated. I ate there last night and the broth was so greasy and bland that I didn't finish. The additional pork that cost $3.50 was just a cube of fat. My meal nauseated me.

                                      By contrast, I went to Ba Le a few days before. Yeah, one's ramen and the other's pho. Point is, Ba Le's broth was incredibly delicious and complex. Ren's was salty glop. And did I mention it was incredibly greasy?

                                      Yet another completely overrated dump that DC foodies fall over themselves racing to praise so they can maintain their hipness. Whatever. I'd rather buy a package of Sapporo Ichiban from Giant and save the $$$. At least I know I'd be eating crap. And Sapporo Ichiban is less greasy.

                                      -----
                                      Ichiban
                                      387 Thompson Creek Mall, Stevensville, MD 21666

                                      6 Replies
                                        1. re: reiflame

                                          I apologize. I didn't mean to seem jaded. But it really did nauseate me. And my meal at Ba Le was so good (and recent) that I wanted to use it as a contrast. I dunno, maybe the chef was having a bad day?

                                          1. re: Flyer27

                                            I couldn't tell you; I've never been! I took umbrage at the crack about DC foodies falling all over themselves to maintain hipness - it's really an insulting thing to say, especially given the generally high quality of restaurants in the area.

                                        2. re: Flyer27

                                          Meyow! I, uh, guess you didn't like your meal. I was there a few weeks ago and Ren's was great. That said, the foodstore next door did go out of business so maybe things are a bit more variable than they've been in the past...

                                          1. re: ClevelandDave

                                            I went to Ren's last month on a cold, rainy day and enjoyed it. It's not inexpensive, but the broth and noodles were tasty.

                                            I wouldn't travel long distances for it, but if you're in the area and in the mood for soup I think it's a good choice.

                                          2. re: Flyer27

                                            It must have changed drastically if it was bland. My order of miso ramen was anything but. Rich and thick, redolent of pork fat and salt.

                                          3. Where do I begin.

                                            Let's start with the fact that actual "ramen" in the DC area is as hard to find as a chaste intern on the hill. With that said, we can pin point the few attempts on one hand.

                                            A few years ago Temari would have taken the title by default. Yea, not that it was that great but it was pretty much the only place you could have anything that resembles a "ramen." Since then while still barely serviceable, it's really fallen by the wayside of some of the other authentic japanese "diner food." - now THAT's something you can't get the the Rockville area.

                                            Now that brings us to Ren's Ramen...

                                            Rich oily broth with heavily hints of caramelized onions floods chewy noodles in this rendition of "sapporo style" ramen from Ren's Ramen in Bethesda.

                                            Frankly, it was a great bowl of noodle. Great flavor (if on the salty side) and excellent noodles with just the right bite.

                                            However, this is not your grandmother's ramen. My biggest problem is the not only the faux interpretation of the "ramen," but the ridiculous cost of a bowl of noodles.

                                            Really? You want to charge me 2-3 dollars for a pinch of sprouts or a slice of thick sliced bacon? In THIS ECONOMY???

                                            I'm sorry I know that for some inane reason Japanese cuisine is priced SO much higher because of sushi, but frankly in both instance of Temari and Ren's, there is NO REASON to charge such ridiculous prices for such dishes. *Ramen purist back off because I realize truth ramen takes an artist after life long dedication to prefect - I hear ya.*

                                            Anyways.

                                            -----
                                            Temari Cafe
                                            1043 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: MFoxM

                                              I think that "insane reason" would involve having to pay rent. That and the fact that nobody besides Ren seems to even be trying to make the stuff.

                                              Supply meet demand.

                                              1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                And, as has been pointed out in reviews, ramen shops in big cities keep prices down when they have full seating, and customers slurp a bowl in minutes and make way for another patron. Ren's is too small and not highly enough trafficked, so they can't "make it up in volume".

                                                1. re: DanielK

                                                  DC needs a multi-seat sidewalk noodle bar. Like the one in Bladerunner.

                                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                    No, I want the one from Fifth Element. Why just have a noodle bar when you can have a FLYING noodle bar.

                                              2. re: MFoxM

                                                I'm not saying it's cheap, but it is only about 20% more than the closest competition which would be Vietnamese Pho. Rens is what, $10 a bowl? What is a nice bowl of Pho, $7-9?

                                                1. re: ClevelandDave

                                                  The pho at Pho 75 is $5.65 for the regular and $6.85 for the large. I haven't been to Ren's but it sounds like once you start adding toppings, a bowl could hit $15.

                                              3. I really like the place. My 9 year old son and 11 year old daughter really like it too. My kids definitely get how much better it is than the instant ramans we get in bulk from Giant. Yes it costs a little more than Pho but like another poster said, rent is high there and like another poster said they do not get the customer traffic there. Parking is tight and not too many pedestrians are wandering by. The decor is mildly amusing - there is no decor, perhaps that's the way it is in Japan. I don't know. Also, it's cash only so that saves them some money on credit card processing fees. Still it is tough to make it in the restaurant business and I won't beat them up for no decor, no beer and wine license and no credit cards. Note that the Japanese grocery store that's part of the same premises is out of business.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: justinmcinerny

                                                  Here is a video of a typical ramen-ya in Tokyo. Note the decor:

                                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H1TtT...

                                                  The vending machine you see in the video just outside the parlor is to buy your tickets for the ramen. You choose toppings, maybe difference in portion size, etc., or any other dishes they make. Inside, you hand them your ticket and eat.

                                                2. I wanted to mention that the prices of Ramen in Tokyo are not really less expensive compared to Ren's. I just returned from Tokyo and have first hand experience (had a couple nice bowls at the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama, but my favorite was Nagi in Shinjuku). You don't usually get dinged on the toppings as much, but many shops charge about 900 yen for a bowl. At today's exchange rate, that's around $10.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: montizano

                                                    You should definitely post your experiences on the Japan Board.