Put That In Your Ramen And Smoke It
The Tatsu-ya group is slowly turning Austin into a theme park for Tatsu-ya restaurants, and Austinites are thrilled to wait in those lines. Following the sad closure of Contigo last year, BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya opened on the sly in the Anchor Lane space earlier this week, getting its feet under it before the guaranteed wave of customers.
Contigo — a very well-known and well-loved restaurant in the MLK neighborhood, known for emphasizing Texas cuisine — let go of its prized patio space in December of 2021 after 10 years of service. The Tatsu-ya group, coming up on its own 10-year milestone this fall, swooped in before it had decided on a name, announcing only that the concept would combine ramen and barbecue.
Word about Tatsu-ya travels fast, but this one actually stayed under wraps. As news in August came about more Ramen Tatsu-ya locations — just from ramen-obsessed Redditors noticing signs going up — curiosity was piqued, but still no announcement was made.
BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya sticks to the script, not venturing as far from the initial brand as DipDipDip Tatsu-ya or Tiki Tatsu-ya. Still, the menu does get creative as the name promises, and honors Contigo’s memory with a focus on Texas food.
“In Japanese, the word “en” translates to “circle” and means fate or karma, and this new project brings that to mind,” said owner and chef Tatsu Aikawa in a press release. “It feels like coming full-circle from seven years ago when Andrew and I were cooking together in the Contigo kitchen for an episode of ‘BBQ With Franklin’ and throwing it back to 2013 when smoked brisket ramen was born during a shift family meal. This is a serendipitous opportunity and we’re excited to bring new creative energy and serve the community.”
The meat is smoked on-site at 2027 Anchor Lane, for a relatively pared-down menu. Six creative appetizers use Japanese ingredients in a Texan format: the side sampler comes with “amazu slaw, chili cukes, J potato salad, ‘hot’ mustard on mustard greens, pickled shishito, and fermented radish.”
Flip those Texas-Japanese ratios and you’ll get fairly normal-looking ramen bowls with unexpected ingredients like tortilla chips, smoked pecan, and lemon. Of course one of the four bowls features brisket, while others include chicken, roast beef, and the obligatory pork belly.
The meats will likely be the focus for many diners, but most Texans already know what barbecue tastes like. The feat goes much deeper than adding some smoke. One bowl is based on a “chilled chili grapefruit dipping sauce,” and sounds nearly unrecognizable as ramen except that it contains some version of all the right parts — noodles, dipping sauce, meat, a vegetable, and an egg.
“Ramen and Central Texas barbecue are each their own craft that take time to make,” said Aikawa. “There are over 80 hours put into the making of the ingredients in each bowl.”
Perhaps this careful remixing is why BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya points out that it “politely decline[s] BBQ only.” Cocktails are equally creative, containing mostly Texas favorites like mezcal and tequila, but also surprising additions like smoked beef tallow. (If Tiki Tatsu-ya has taught Austin anything, it’s to trust Tatsu-ya bartending.) The dessert menu is short and simple, offering one banana and black sesame ice cream sandwich.
BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya is open from 5-10 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 5-11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with plans to eventually offer lunch as well. The Tatsu-ya group shares that it is hiring for expansions, including new restaurants and a possible lunch service for BBQ Ramen Tatsu-ya. More information is available at bbqramen-tatsuya.com.