My wife and I recently went on a road trip to Portland, Oregon, and of course, I had to do some ramen research. After spending time surfing the web, I sadly announced that there were *zero* ramen shops in Portland (aspiring ramen entrepreneurs pay attention: there is no competition in Portland!). But wait…what’s this? “Guess what, dear…we’re making a stop at Eugene!” “Eugene? Where’s that?” “It’s about 2 hours south of Portland…and there’s a ramen house there!”
As luck would have it, we arrived shortly before they closed for the afternoon. Phew. That’ll teach me to not call ahead. Unlike most of the other ramen houses we’ve been to, this one had a huge gas station-type sign on the corner (which makes sense considering it’s located on the site of a former gas station), and a fancy logo. From the outside, Toshi’s Ramen looks more like a trendy pub than a cozy ramen shop. Inside, the sparse, modern decor gives off a coffeehouse feel. And the menu…the glorious poster menu features pictures of every combination of ramen goodness available here, beckoning hungry eaters.
While everything on the menu looked good, I ordered the regular shoyu ramen. None of that fancy nouveau ramen for this ramen purist, no sir! Oh, and the gyoza was a must, from what I’ve heard.
We could see chef and owner Toshi Ishibashi leap into action. According to an article in the Eugene Register-Guard, Toshi is the one and only. The paper quotes him as saying, “I’m a control freak. I can’t actually trust people, I can’t depend on somebody to cook my ramen.”
The ramen came with the essential toppings…shinachiku, bean sprouts, green onions, two thickly cut slices of lean pork…plus green beans and corn (disclosure: I like corn. I just don’t like it on my ramen). I eagerly slurped a spoonful of soup and found it…unexpected. I took another sip…the soup tasted like a combination of a rich udon broth with a slight mixture of ponzu sauce. It was quite good, but not what I was expecting in a shoyu broth. Frankly, I’m divided: judged on its own merits, the soup is very good and hits the spot on a cold day. As a shoyu ramen soup, however, it falls flat. There’s a distinct mirin flavor that reinforces the udon-ness of the soup, and there’s not enough of the complex chicken and shoyu flavor I typically associate with shoyu ramen. The noodles were slightly thick (again, with a semblance to udon) and doughy, with a good texture, but lacked flavor. The pork had just a few streaks of fat, and was otherwise just decent.
Though Toshi’s ramen fell short of my expectations, the gyoza was definite the star of the house. The gyoza skin was delicately thin, almost transparent, and had a light texture. The filling had just the right amount of green onion and garlic to balance the pork and was absolutely delicious. I have to say these were among the best gyoza I’ve ever had.
Toshi’s Ramen is the kind of place I want to like, and if it wasn’t about a thousand miles too far from where I live, I’d certainly go there often, if just for the gyoza and to try out the other ramen varieties on the menu. The fact that he’s been in business for over 8 years as the only chef is a testament to his dedication. Ishibashi-san, I applaud you.
Toshi’s shoyu ramen gets a 7. The gyoza gets a 9!
1520 Pearl St
Eugene, OR 97401