Neighborhood Deals: Noodle shop tops ramen from the package

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If you've ever lived in a college dorm, you probably think you've had your fill of ramen noodles. But a trip to Noodle Cafe Ezo, a bright and welcoming Japanese noodle shop on Capitol Hill, will convince you that there's more to ramen than seasoning packets. While the prices aren't quite five-for-a-dollar, they're low enough to make even an undergraduate say "domo arigato."

Noodle Cafe Ezo
408 Broadway E.





Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Major credit cards / No liquor license / No smoking / No obstacles to access

The menu at Ezo is a Japanese restaurant cliché of photos and descriptions, but there's something charming about the pride with which it describes a humble ingredient like miso. The takeout menu tells the whole story of how Ezo imports its miso from the restaurant's headquarters in Tokyo and uses it to make the eponymous Ezo ramen, a bowl of noodles in miso and mixed-meat broth, topped with all sorts of extras.

Of course, the downside of a picture menu is that not all food is photogenic, and no amount of cosmetic work could make the curry chicken entree ("Nothing tossed or soupy?" asks the menu) look glamorous. A fried chicken cutlet swimming in brown curry sauce might well be tasty, but after staring at its mug shot, I couldn't bring myself to order it.

In addition to the usual bohemian Broadway elements, Ezo draws plenty of families with children, as it should. Noodles are fun to eat, and the kids can tell Mom that in Japan it's considered polite to slurp noodles noisily to show that you like them. There's also a pleasant counter-seating area with a view into the kitchen, where tables are stacked high with noodle bowls waiting to be filled.

Vegetarians are out of luck at Ezo: Every dish except the tofu potstickers contains pork or chicken, including the ramen broths. Beer drinkers will be similarly disappointed, since the restaurant's liquor-license application hasn't come through yet, but I peeked under the Post-it note covering the not-yet-available adult-beverage section of the menu and found that beer is going to be a reasonable $1.50.

Ezo integrates so well with the Broadway strip that it would be easy to mistake it for a homegrown outfit, but it's actually part of a Tokyo-based chain with a number of Hawaiian and Canadian branches. The Capitol Hill location is the chain's first in the continental U.S., and in the sometimes chilly days of a Seattle spring, Ezo's steaming noodle bowls couldn't be more welcome.

Check please

Itemized bill, meal for two:

Potato Croquette, $1.50

Chicken Teriyaki, $1.75

Pork Gyoza (4),$1.35

Regular Vegetable Ramen, $4.00

Large Fried Noodle, $4.85

Two soft drinks, $1.70

Tax, $1.41

TOTAL, $16.56

Pork Gyoza: Potstickers by any other name would taste as sweet, and these, known by their Japanese name, do.

Regular Vegetable Ramen: A light meat broth supports the noodles, cabbage, carrots and lots of green onions.

Large Fried Noodle: A fistful of ramen noodles is stir-fried with slivers of carrot, onion, cabbage and pork and served with a pile of pink pickled ginger to mix in to taste.

Potato Croquette: Two dollops of mashed potatoes are stuffed with ground pork, breaded with panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and deep-fried, but somehow manage to come out tasting light. They look like a pair of miniature earmuffs on the plate.

Chicken Teriyaki: The meal's only misstep, this lackluster cutlet wasn't cut into small enough pieces and was overwhelmed by a too-thick sauce.