Disclaimer: In exchange for a restaurant review, I sampled one dinner at Ichicoro Ramen.
Ironically, just 36 hours before my meal at Ichicoro Ramen, I had been in Japan. Yet, I didn’t even have ramen…what was I thinking? Ah, yes, eating vinegared rice with raw fish (what’s that combo called again?), and Okinawan donuts took priority.
I had made it to Ichicoro Ramen – which only opened at the end of October in 2015 – at around 6pm, but the place, similar to its Birmingham, Alabama location, doesn’t take reservations. Indeed, the casual, cozy and clean dining room was quite packed, so I was able to have a seat at the bar, right beside the open kitchen. If you’re looking to draw comparisons, Ichicoro Ramen would feel most welcome in the Lower East Side or Williamsburg in New York, or Echo Park/Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Or Paris.
Jo(h)n, one of the managers of Ichicoro, told me that he and a few colleagues originally started off in the f&b (food and beverage) industry in New York City, but came to the Tampa to try something different. Perhaps the fact that co-owner Noel Cruz is from the Tampa area has something to do with it, or that the Seminole Heights neighborhood is one of the South’s up-and-coming food scenes.
Either way, I was curious to find out what Tampa-style ramen meant; were Cuban sandwiches going to be drowning in a tonkotsu – broth? Would Florida orange juice bedaub every bowl? The answer to both is a resounding NOT QUITE…
…but do expect to see a bit more spice and citrus influence in the ramen and snacks. Vegetarian options are also available – and are seasonal – and the mixed drinks and local craft beers are also tempting. In rare form, I actually chose a beer, which came with an amusing surprise:
Looks like we’ve got fellow Final Fantasy VII enthusiasts at the helm! Protomateria by the way, is a mash-up between Ichicoro Ramen and a local brewery. Expect similar collaborations in the future.
Without hyperbole, I’d eat every single thing on Ichicoro Ramen’s menu. In that Tampa heat, though? Someone would need to forklift me back home. Or Uber. Availing of that latter option, I chose the miso ramen with citrus-grilled shrimp, and a side order of their delicious “homemade” hot sauce:
Miso ramen is a Sapporo, Japan specialty, with a fermented soybean-based broth. It’s easily my favorite type of ramen, and often comes with butter, sweet corn, and a sesame grinder. Ichicoro’s take may not have some of those extras, but they’ve got a number of others such as grilled shrimp, chicken, a poached egg, and spicy sauce.
The miso ramen was very good; it was creamy, well-balanced and had a generous amount of ingredients, but I can’t stop thinking about the inadequately-named spicy sauce. According to a couple of waiters, it contained Japanese ra yuu, spicy oil, yuzu essence, and an umami and piquant spice mix. Whatever it was, I’d like to have it shipped to New York!
In short, Ichicoro Ramen was a worthy finish to my brief trip to Tampa. The atmosphere was convivial, the waitstaff helpful, and the food was quality. Check here for directions.
NB, follow this link if you’re curious about the definition of ichicoro.