One of the most interesting things to witness in the ongoing Washington Avenue gentrification cycle is the rebirth of areas we once thought would go the way of the Richmond Strip. The underrated Underdogs Pub has replaced The Lot, swapping out frat bros for craft beers. Pearl Bar has retained its name, but the crowd of coltish co-eds in bodycon dresses and platform heels has been replaced with a different female crowd altogether: with the closure of The Usual a few months ago, Pearl Bar has become Washington Avenue's newest lesbian bar.
And while some vestiges of the Girls Gone Wild era of Washington Avenue still remain—the stucco-clad Reign nightclub that looks as though it could be entirely consumed by mold at any minute, or the perpetually empty Cafe Luxor hookah bar that represents a particularly steep slope on the avenue's downhill slide—the transformation of the street from vomit-encrusted party corridor to serious restaurant strip is in full swing.
No matter the cuisine or the price point, restaurants offering solid menus and good service have found willing crowds in a perfectly situated part of town just south of the Heights, north of Montrose, west of downtown and Midtown, and east of Rice Military—all areas that are quickly gentrifying themselves, and packed full of potential diners with the sort of expendable income that has made Houston such a dynamo of a dining city.
Adding a new flavor to the mix is Ninja Ramen, which is holding its grand opening soon in the same space that once housed The Dubliner (a fairly standard Irish pub that withstood the corridor's changes for years) and its successor, Lava Rock (one of the tailspin bars that signaled Washington Avenue's nadir). Owner Christopher Huang told Eater's Darla Guillen that he considered opening his ramen parlor in Austin, but saw more potential in Houston—and in the Washinginton Avenue location.
When it opens next month, Ninja Ramen intends to be the sort of restaurant that doesn't just dabble in ramen. The noodles will be hand-made, the broth selection solid and ever-changing. And in addition to its soups, its bar will hold an extensive selection of Japanese beers, whiskeys, and cocktails with tongue-in-cheek ninja-inspired names like the Raphael, the Turtle Power, and the Amy Jo Johnson.
Nearly a year ago, Robb Walsh predicted that a ramen tsunami was heading toward Houston. And while things have been rather quiet since then, it looks as though his prediction is holding up.
In addition to Ninja Ramen, Japanese barbecue and ramen hotspot Gyu-Kaku is now open in Midtown, just down the street from where the Azuma Group (they of Kata Robata and Soma Sushi) plan to open a ramen and izakaya concept of their own. And just last week, chef Kevin Naderi of Roost revealed his plans for new Garden Oaks restaurant Lillo and Ella; his "pan-Asian" repertoire doesn't explictly include ramen so far, but I wouldn't be surprised if it showed up on the menu.
Right now, however, Ninja Ramen is only in its soft opening phase, which means no ramen quite yet. Instead, you can get a glimpse of the new space via its cocktail menu, which will share equal emphasis with the noodle soups. If the thought that's been placed into the drinks is any indication of the dishes to follow, Ninja Ramen may just end up attracting the same crowds as spots like Austin's Ramen Tatsu-ya. For now, at least, grab a drink and enjoy the space before the tsunami hits.