Ramen is so 2019. The new noodle in town is udon, via a restaurant concept coming to Dallas from Japan.
Called Marugame Udon, it's an udon restaurant chain that specializes in fresh, made-to-order udon noodles and tempura. It will open two locations in Dallas in early summer:
- One will be at 5500 Greenville Ave. in the Old Town Shopping Center, in the space previously occupied by Baker Bros. American Deli, which closed in November.
- The second will open in Carrollton at 3450 E Hebron Pkwy., next to Cowboy Chicken, in a space that was previously a Liberty Burger and prior to that, a Genghis Grill.
Marugame comes to Dallas courtesy of veteran restaurateur Mark H. Brezinski, co-founder of Pei Wei, Velvet Taco, and Banh Shop, who's working with fellow Pei Wei alum Pete Botonis plus investment group Hargett Hunter to expand the concept in the U.S.
Pronounced "mah-roo-gah-may," the concept was founded in Japan in 2000, and currently has more than 1,000 locations. Their first location outside of Japan opened in Hawaii in 2011. There are currently two in Hawaii, and seven in California.
A Los Angeles writer called Marugame "one of the most authentic Japanese experiences in L.A.," due to its self service, cafeteria-style arrangement, reasonable prices, and informal dining room, where customers are encouraged to bus their own tables — reflective of the fast-casual eating experience you'd find in a Japanese city.
Marugame does "Sanuki-style" udon, distinguished by its texture: pleasingly thick and chewy, but not heavy.
Once considered the poor cousin to ramen and soba noodles, udon became a big trend in Japan in the 2000s, with dozens of quick udon restaurants opening in Tokyo and other cities in Japan.
Marugame follows a post-Chipotle self-serve cafeteria style of service. Each bowl of udon is prepared to order. They boil the noodles, then add broth, toppings, and garnish. From there, you head to the self-serve condiments station stocked with ingredients such as crushed garlic, green onion, and cilantro.
Toppings and soups include curry, Thai spicy chicken, beef, and tonkotsu. One of their most popular dishes is the Nikutama udon, with noodles in a sweet beef broth topped with a soft poached egg.
Bowls start at $5. There's also a huge selection of tempura, including chicken, shrimp, and veggies, served a la carte style, $1 or $2 a pop.
Brezinski, who has been creating food halls across the country such as the Urban Market he created in Uptown, was working with celebrity chef Michael Mina on The Street Food Hall in Waikiki when he first encountered Marugame.
"I was traveling to Hawaii every month, and I'd always eat at Marugame," Brezinski says. "It's an exciting concept, very fresh, and it's a big hit in California, just off the charts."
While noodle bowls and tempura-fried items are their two signatures, they're not just a noodle shop: With the Dallas launch, they'll have an expanded menu that includes robata-style char-grilled skewers; and chicken katsu sandwiches, their clever rendition of the fried chicken sandwich with a crispy coating of panko bread crumbs, served with apple-red onion slaw and citrus aioli and sweet potato fries.
The restaurant will feature not only draft beer but also sake on tap. The atmosphere will be "modern comfortable," not antiseptic.
Brezinski says they anticipate opening three more locations around Dallas and are searching for the right locations.
"We'll test it out in Dallas and find out what works, but we feel like this is going to be a smash," he says.