ST. PAUL FOODIE HOTSPOT: TORI RAMEN
Ramen as hip as it is delicious
Image by TJ Turner
By Charles Brandt
The corner of Selby and Victoria has been pretty sleepy for a long time. Lee’s and Dee’s, an express BBQ joint, was known locally, but hadn’t drawn a crowd to the area for a while. Most foodies instead found themselves in higher traffic areas, leaving this corner just another four-way stop. With Lee’s and Dee’s closing last year, it wasn’t long before that all changed. The free space meant there was an opening for something new and fresh in the area. Jason Dorweiler and Asiya Peraud jumped on the opportunity. They wound up not only taking over the space, but bringing it to a whole new level when they opened Tori Ramen late last year. The result was a line out the door, even on the few cold nights we had this winter.
Walking into Tori Ramen feels like you’ve wandered into a local gem in Brooklyn or San Francisco. It’s tight, but welcoming and unassuming, and the lack of free space gives the place a community feel. You order at the bar, and they bring the food out to you at your table. This feels like it could work better simply being able to order at the table, but you’ll be too busy watching other patron’s food come out to care.
Happiness in a Bowl
Too many restaurants out there try to be everything to everyone, with pages of options that cater to all kinds of cravings. Tori Ramen unapologetically avoids this, instead focusing on a small well prepared ramen menu. Another bold choice is to cut out the pork, and really get some creative tastes with chicken, duck and other fowl. They have commented on this intentional choice, saying “We believe in the flavor of fowl and the challenge of putting out a product that people don’t think of as the norm.” My tastebuds say mission accomplished.
You could throw a dart at the menu when making your selection and go home happy. That’s one of the things that really stands out about this place. If you’re a vegetarian, look for The Best Seller on the menu. For their non-vegetarian broths, Tori Ramen primarily uses organic chicken stock, but depending on the season, they’ll use pheasant and duck as well.
Jason grew up with a Korean mother, and it’s influence can be felt in the Kor Dee Yuh (Korean Ramen), which even adds a bit of kimchi into the mix. For my money though, it doesn’t get any better than The Salted Duck (Shio Ahiru). Regardless of what you choose, there’s a lot of flavor going on in each bowl. You’ll find yourself wanting to try everything, which makes going there on a date or with friends even better, assuming they like to share.
Despite the quality of food and the excellent presentation, the price is fairly modest. Most bowls range from $7 to $13, with The Salted Duck being the only one that pushes up to $15. Hint: It’s worth it.
Don’t Forget the Kombucha
It shouldn’t be overlooked that in addition to beer and wine, Tori Ramen also has a very flavorful rotating selection of kombucha and drinking vinegars on their menu.
While they offer a take-out option for their menu, Tori Ramen highly suggests eating at the restaurant to really get the best tasting ramen. On that point, we agree. The space is really part of the experience. Besides, putting food this good into a to-go container seems to be a bit of a sacrilege.