For the first thirty years of my life, " ramen " meant one thing: a cargo-pocket sized pack of crunchy noodles softened in boiling water and seasoned with one of a few MSG laden “flavor” packets – chicken, beef, pork or for the adventurous: shrimp. For a poor ski-bum, it was hard to beat the value of those $0.49 meals. If I was living large, I might add broccoli or carrots to for some nutritional value. Consequently, once I was properly civilized by my lovely wife, those little MSG bombs fell off my menu radar and ramen was only something we joked about. High quality ramen joints are super hot right now, but Tosh Sekikawa was ahead of the game. In 2014, Tosh opened his noodle spot in a low key strip mall on South State Street in Salt Lake City and let me be clear, this ramen is no laughing matter.
Tosh’s Ramen is not his first restaurant. Sekikawa opened Mikado when sushi joints were few and far between in SLC and has been involved in other delicious establishments. However, Tosh's Ramen might be considered his opus. As with most legit ethnic food in Salt Lake, don't let the strip mall storefront steer you away, it's what inside that counts.
The menu is limited and focused on some well executed starters and a few versions of ramen. Likewise, the décor matches the menu, simple, focused and well executed. The staff is engaging and attentive and most noteworthy, a smiling Tosh himself often ventures out of the open kitchen to check-in with diners and folks waiting for a table or take-out.
Due to the proper slurpy eating technique, I prefer solo efforts with my ramen. But for date night, the starters at Tosh's are great to share. The edamame is perfectly steamed and coated with a light but tasty touch of soy and crunchy salt crystals.
The Tokyo Wings are something special and a must-try for chicken wing aficionados. Prepared lollipop style with the meat pushed up towards the top before a dip in in the fryer, the Tokyo Wings are clean to eat with a delicious sesame/Teriyaki glaze. Both styles of Gyoza dumplings, meat and vegan, are nicely spiced with scallions, veggies (and pork in the meaty version) and seared after steaming.
After the starters, its showtime for the four styles of ramen on the menu. Tonkotsu is the most traditional; a flavorful overnight- simmered bone broth poured over hearty egg and wheat noodles
with sliced pork belly, a hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts and scallions. Understandably, a far cry from the hot-pot Top Ramen of my 20's.
The Shoyu Ramen starts with the Tonkotsu base and adds some more soy for a richer broth. The Karai was my choice when I needed a little spice in my life. Some chili oil and miso added to the broth makes for a nice little kick that left a little tingle on my winter-chapped lips and helps clear a stuffy head. Finally, there is the Curry Ramen which is a little more of a noodle bowl than a brothy soup. It’s a semi-spicy yellow curry that was another go-to if I was feeling a little under the weather or needed some heat on a chilly winter day(my former nearby office was a cinder block warehouse).
Slim menus with simple dishes are challenging to pull off consistently, because there's no place to hide. If any ingredient is over/under cooked or the flavor is off, it's obvious. Fortunately, in the 18 months I worked nearby and regularly ate at Tosh’s, I think I only had one shitake mushroom that was a little overdone. As I mentioned earlier, Tosh will happily add to your ramen bowl with extra pork belly, hard-cooked eggs, shitake mushrooms and more - a far cry from my dorm-room carrot and broccoli add-ons.
I unfortunately no longer can walk around the corner to pickup Tosh’s for lunch. But after a good day on the slopes, or on the way downtown for a show, Tosh’s is still a go-to for a satisfying, warming bowl of noodles created by a master of his craft.