"I wanted good ramen, too, so I had to make it happen," Ayame Fukuda told me last night at Mampuku Ramen (1965 Cerrillos Road) in the former Pizza 9 space. It's Santa Fe's newest restaurant and the first decent ramen joint we've had since Casa Soba tragically closed a million years ago. My group was visibly excited, I guess, which Fukuda must've noticed, but everyone else at the restaurant was also giddy. Finally. Ramen is here.
Mampuku had launched with a soft opening the night before, much earlier than the rumors of a September opening swirling about town and Facebook, but if the mission has been to make good ramen, Fukuda and her family—the same people behind recently-closed Japanese eatery Shokho Café—have already nailed it. The Fukudas also own Albuquerque noodle restaurant Naruto, though, so clearly they know what they're doing.
As for the Santa Fe iteration, clean and simple seems to be the name of the game. Mampuku mainly serves hakata ramen, a style popular here in the West that embraces simplicity and a minimal approach to toppings, though additional toppings area available from a select menu of items which range between $1.50 to $2.50.
My companions and I wanted to sample literally everything from the menu, but in the end we ordered the vegetable ramen with miso broth, cabbage, tofu, red bell pepper and green onion ($10.95)—adding green chile tempura (an additional $2.50)—another veggie ramen with shoyu broth (a combo of miso and soy sauce) and black tonkotsu ramen with pork, green onion, bamboo shoots, a seasoned egg and a naruto fish cake. I can't speak to the seafood ramen ($12.95) or the curry ramen ($11.95), but friends who've visited say they're both incredible.
We started with the classic edamame (steamed soy beans lightly salted; $4.50), which were fresh and satisfyingly tender. This shouldn't have to be such an alarming development, but many are the times I've encountered under- or over-cooked edamame.
The main event came quickly and impressed us greatly—I literally dreamed about later that night. Presented in a gorgeous melange of noodles and veggies atop a simmering broth, each large bowl stared up at us in all of its noodly glory. Smartly, Mampuku served the added green chile tempura on the side so as to avoid potential sogginess, and its sweetly spicy flavor complemented the tofu and garlic of the miso veggie ramen so brilliantly, we only wish there had been more. The $2.50 price, however, is more than fair for the portion. The shoyu broth impressed particularly, with one companion declaring it the superior variety. The tonkotsu pork ramen eater slurped up their meal so quickly, nobody else could even get a bite.
Elsewhere on the menu, a range of izakaya options are available. Traditionally, these items have been meant to accompany an evening or drinking, kind of like a bar menu, and Mampuku boasts takoyaki (small octopus dumplings; $5), kaiso seaweed salad ($4) chicken karaage (fried chicken; $6.50) and—brace yourselves—shrimp-stuffed green chile tempura ($6.50). The ramen was more than enough for our party, but looking around the room proved the izakaya menu ought to be popular as Mampuku evolves.
And that's sort of the main point here, that the new eatery is bound to evolve. Long have the cries for good ramen gone up among the townsfolk, and now, at long last, we have the place. It's early still, but if the Fukudas can continue to hold onto the magic and keep honing the menu over time, Santa Fe might finally have the ramen restaurant we've been dreaming about. Fingers crossed, everyone, but the future looks bright.