For Okinawa-born chef Hisashi “Teddy” Uehara, ramen was once just a hobby. After all, he was trained in the twin culinary ivory towers of sushi and the highly technical ancient kaiseki tradition. "In my life, I've been eating ramen, ramen, ramen," he says.
Eventually, the appeal was simply too great not to make the noodle soup his life's work. And in Houston, the "ramen, ramen, ramen" description is particularly apt. In the past month, he opened two locations of his Hawaii-originated Agu, A Ramen Bistro chain in Mutt City, one on Eldridge Parkway, followed two weeks ago by another in the Briarmeadow area of Westheimer Road. A third debuts on December 22 on Washington Avenue.
Why is he in such a hurry? Uehara says he favors second-generation spaces—businesses that are already equipped with kitchens—and lucked into three in quick succession. He's currently on the hunt for another in Montrose. And why Houston, when he's already owned restaurants in more Japanese-friendly Hawaii, Los Angeles and Las Vegas? "I have lots of friends here," he states matter-of-factly. "I just love Houston." And yes, he says it's a better food city than L.A.
Besides scouting new locations, there are major improvements already afoot for the existing Agus. Uehara is working on printing picture menus with explanations of more esoteric Japanese ingredients that have proved challenging for Texan customers. He's also slowly expanding the menu of greatest hits to include more izakaya-style dishes and rice bowls, as well as a few more ramens to add to the already exhaustive (and creative) list. Yet perhaps the biggest news of all is that he'll be switching from the Los Angeles noodle maker he's been contracting with to opening a commissary of his own to manufacture ramen for scratch for the Houston restaurants. "It's like a Bentley," he says of the $100,000 Yamato machine that's currently being built for him. But for the moment, his in-depth study of more than 600 ramen restaurants around the world seems to be paying off just fine.