By Megan Volpert
When was the last time you ponied up 79 cents at the grocery store for a brick of dehydrated ramen noodles with a tiny seasoning packet? If that is your idea of what ramen is, rejoice, for Jinya Ramen Bar has finally arrived in Sandy Springs and the ramen there is nothing like the sad, salty snack you remember from college.
Jinya is a small fast casual chain conceived by Tomonori Takahashi, who moved his ramen joint from Tokyo to California in 2010. Takahashi’s success over the past six years has sprouted more than 20 shops, from Santa Monica to Austin to Chicago to Washington D.C. Our city was overdue – heck, even Tulsa is getting a Jinya this year.
The ramen you slurped in college had only two things going for it: it was cheap and fast. The power of Jinya is that it preserves those two essential values, with the additional two grown-up values of being delicious and healthy. This little 40-seat ramen bar is designed to get you out the door again in under an hour. Enjoy the upbeat dance pop and reggae music while you wait fewer than 10 minutes for your food to arrive. Nobody has time to simmer a 10-hour broth made from scratch at home; Jinya has many varieties ready when you arrive. Just pick your additions and plunge in.
You can’t go wrong with any of the choices, but if you don’t know where to start, pick a number. I had the #1 spicy chicken ramen. It comes with chicken broth, two fat slices of tender chicken chashu, spinach, spicy bean sprouts, Tokyo negi (a type of onion), green onion, and thin noodles. All noodles and broths are made in-house. If you like fresh pasta, wait until you try fresh ramen. It comes in a gigantic bowl, and try as you might to put a dent in it, no matter how hungry you are you’ll still be taking half of it home. Well worth the 12 bucks, and you can add over twenty different accoutrements for a dollar or two more – anything from extra noodles to a poached egg to bok choy to dried seaweed. My wife ordered the #2 garlic lover’s ramen, a pork broth with pork chashu, seasoned egg, bean sprouts, chopped onion, green onion, fish powder, chili powder and thick egg noodles.
The best additional topping is unquestionably the fresh garlic. They bring out a jar of garlic cloves and a garlic press. You get to pick out however much you want and squeeze it over the bowl yourself, and this customization is free. You’ll want to put garlic on everything. There are a dozen ramens on the menu that run between $10.50 to $13.50. If you’re not feeling soupy, they have rice bowls in two different sizes and a whole bunch of tapas, including the basics like edamame and seaweed salad. The quinoa salad with sesame dressing was light and fresh, a good balance of ingredients not overwhelmed by kale, and a bargain of a meal for six bucks.
Two of the tapas are out of this world delicious. You’ll definitely want to get the brussels sprouts tempura with truffle oil. The truffle scent is strong enough to guide the generally louder scent of the halved sprouts, and the fluffy tempura batter delivers a nice sea-salted crunch. This solid evidence that sprouts can be terrific without bacon can be had for six bucks, or during 3-5 p.m. happy hour for just four bucks. The other great small plate is the spicy creamy shrimp tempura, which turns everybody’s favorite flash-fried sushi roll inside out, leaving just the big shrimp with its light batter coated in that spicy mayo sauce you crave.
Drink a craft beer or a cold sake, but don’t linger. Jinya is here to feed you right and let you get on with your day. It is efficiently friendly there; they greet everyone with a exclamation of welcome in Japanese and servers are on constant alert so that you don’t wait for anything for very long. Hopefully we will not have long to wait before Jinya opens additional locations.
Jinya Ramen Bar is located in the Hammond Springs Shopping Center, 5975 Roswell Road, B-217, in Sandy Springs. For more information, visit jinya-ramenbar.com.
Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.