Ramen restaurants win over the Borderland with fresh, spicy style

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EL PASO – Ramen restaurants are trending in the Sun City, and some are changing the way people see the brothy noodle dish.

When you say ramen, many people think of the dry squiggly pasta that comes in cellophane-wrapped blocks or Styrofoam cups most popular among budget-strapped college student.

Now restaurants, such as Nishi Ramen in Downtown El Paso, Kaedama near the University of Texas at El Paso and, the newest addition, El Cuartito Ramen on the West Side, are serving up their spin on this traditional Japanese fare.

El Cuartito is a small 20-seat restaurant located at TI:ME at Montecillo, in the up-and-coming entertainment district on Mesa Street. Owned by Pan Y Agua Restaurant Group, Octavio Gomez, Nick Salgado and Chef Rudy Valdez, who are behind the successful Crave concepts, Hillside Coffee and Donuts, Malolam, and Independent Burger, decided to give their Mexican flair to their ramen.

“The idea was to give El Paso a take on ramen that they would be familiar and comfortable with,” Valdez says, “this is why we have a ramen bowl with pineapple and pork adobado, it reminds you of the border culture that our food is influenced by.”

The border influence can be found in the menu with items like El Pastor, Chile Verde and Chile Colorado Ramen.

The base broth is loaded with fresh ingredients from bones to onions and is simmered for more than 10 hours.

“Through time, through controlled temperature the flavors develop and create a dense almost chewy broth, it’s super interesting,” Valdez said.

El Cuartito is located in the Montecillo entertainment district next to popular club, Malolam.

 Aside from these specialty foods, El Cuartito offers 20 different mezcals, a liquor made from agave that leaves a smoky aftertaste in your palate. Their mezcal menu offers different drinks that complement the food, such as the “Refreshing Mezcal”, made with Gracias a Dios Mezcal infused with natural fruits.

Down the road at Kaedama, on Boston Street near the Cincinnati Entertainment District, owners Andres Romero, and Gabriel Valencia have beenchallenging people to try a more traditional take on ramen. Kaedama began as a popular food truck operating on the corner of Rio Grande Street where crowds would rush before they ran out of food. Since opening a brick and mortar location in January, the long lines are still present.

“It’s wonderful broth, ramen noodles, nothing like what you get in the packet, with all the salt and nothing in it, we have awesome ingredients and quality food,” Co-owner Gabe Valencia said.

“We love Kaedama, I love the Spicy Miso, the broth is so good and has so much flavor,” said Liz Garcia, as she was waiting along with eight others for the restaurant to open at noon. Once opened, wait times at the shop can be as long as 40 minutes.

Downtown is home to Nishi Ramen since July 2017, their dishes vary from dim sum, to sushi and ramen. Chef Enrique Lozano’s direction is Mexican, ranging from mole inspired ramen to traditional ramen, with tonkotsu broth.

These new restaurants allow El Pasoans to broaden their horizons and step out of the Mexican restaurants that have long dominated in the Sun City.

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