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Restaurants

Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya

Posted by Jason Finestone / Reviewed on January 24, 2013 / review policy

Ryoji TorontoRyoji Ramen & Izakaya recently opened its doors in Little Italy, and we wandered in seeking some warmth. Would inviting service and comfortable surroundings warm our hearts? Would our tongues tingle from the heat of their ramen? I hoped I'd have the answer without much delay.

The Okinawa-based business was founded in 1988 by chef and owner Ryoji Kinjo. With nearly a dozen outposts around its home, this is the first location to make it outside of Japan. The colorful ryuku glass fixtures and hand-carved brick walls make for playful accents to the space - decked out by design savvy Yusaku Kaneshiro of Tokyo-based Zokei Syudan design company.

ryoji ramen izakaya torontoSeated at the long communal bar, watching the chefs scurry about the open concept kitchen, the booths behind us began to fill. Our server greeted us with a massive smile and we ordered some warm sake. Though not noted on the menu, heated sake is available, but your server may just not know it yet.

Somewhat spotty service continued throughout the meal, but everyone was extremely pleasant and well-intentioned. Kinks are always to be expected in the first days of service - this being number 5 - and I'll give those at Ryoji the benefit of the doubt that things will tighten up at the front of the house before too long.

ryoji ramen izakaya torontoBut how's the kitchen coping with the new cacophony of customers? The menu has the advantage of catering to many of my personal preferences. Raw fish, street food inspired plates, a deep fried section, and ramen. We started with the atsuage ($8) - deep fried tofu with green onions and chili sauce. A tasty looking little dish, the toppings were astoundingly salty. Not sure if it was the sauce that did it or the way something was pickled, but it seriously overwhelmed.

ryoji ramen izakaya torontoThe daily carpaccio ($12) was next on the edible agenda. The day's fresh fish was a soft cut of albacore tuna topped with red onion, sunflower seeds, jalapenos, sprouts and star fruit, in original Ryoji sauce. A kaleidoscope of colours made up this pretty plating, but I felt like the layers of toppings overshadowed the beautiful fish, making it more reminiscent of a salad. I'd have ordered more of just the fish and Ryoji sauce.

ryoji ramen izakaya torontoTakoyaki is one of my favourite Japanese snacks, so when the Ryoji takoyaki ($7) substituted the typical wheat-flour based batter with mashed potato I had to give it a go. The fried balls were filled with small bits of octopus (missing from some), drizzled with tonkatsu sauce and mayo, and then topped with green onion, bonito flakes, and red wine ginger. Though far denser than the popular street food tends to be, the toppings all worked well. If they could lighten up the inside and make it creamier, it would be a knockout dish.

ryoji ramen izakaya torontoRelishing in the warmth of our second round of sake we needed the added insulation of a bowl of ramen to close out the meal. Ryoji has both a tonkotsu (rich pork bone, "Otoko-Aji") and shio (lighter chicken and pork bone, "Onna-Aji") broth on offer, each starting at $11. We settled on the tonkotsu, which comes topped with Chashu pork belly, bean sprouts, scallions, kikurage mushroom - and then optimized it. Their Otoko-Aji "RYOJI" ($13) adds a seasoned boiled egg, and three extra slices of Chashu.

ryoji ramen torontoThe broth was wholesome and rich, though I prefer it well-strained and silken, as opposed to the spots of collagen that lingered in the liquid. I appreciated that they asked if you'd like the noodles cooked soft, regular, or firm - ours were done to perfection. The toppings followed suit - simple yet well-paired - and the seasoned egg was spectacular.

ryoji ramen torontoA good soup always makes me break a little sweat and I was feeling the warmth now. While not all the elements of the restaurant are on fire quite yet, a little time is all Ryoji needs to stoke the flames and set this spot ablaze.

ryoji ramen izakaya torontoRyoji does not take reservations but there is ample room with 103 seats and a bar.

Discussion

16 Comments

duder / January 25, 2013 at 10:16 am
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Hit up this place for drinks the other night. Didn't get a chance to try a lot of the food as it was really late, but I will say that the atmosphere is by far the nicest I've seen in a Toronto izakaya. Really cool atmosphere. Like the reviewer said, service was spotty but well-intentioned. I can see this place exploding in popularity once they get the kinks out.
Bob / January 25, 2013 at 11:17 am
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"he fried balls were filled with small bits of octopus (missing from some), drizzled with tonkatsu sauce and mayo, and then topped with green onion" Are you sure that's not nori? Also, takoyaki missing the tako is pretty unacceptable. I'll stick to ramen if I go here, and get the real deal at Manpuku.
Rob / January 25, 2013 at 03:52 pm
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Word on the streets is that Ippudo is coming to Toronto!
mick s / January 25, 2013 at 05:41 pm
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Went the 2nd night it was open and had ramen. I had a similar experience. Very enthusistic staff, very attentive, but the food missed the mark a little. Much smaller portions than say a Kenzo or Kinton, and the broth much thicker...kind of rich, almost buttery and dense pork flavour. It was good for a few sips, then quickly became overpowering. I'm going to try other things on the menu because I'm happy to see them in the neighbourhood (this end of downtown needs more variety), and it was only their 2nd night open.
Bobby replying to a comment from Rob / January 25, 2013 at 06:26 pm
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Really? Where'd that info come from, I can't find anything online
Clarence / January 26, 2013 at 11:00 am
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the best ramen in Toronto without question. had it in japan many times and can say that this place I'd tied with ippudo for the best I've had in north america
kaijyuu_m / January 26, 2013 at 08:57 pm
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Apparently Okinawa has its own distinct culinary scene vs. the rest of Japan, so I would expect something a bit different from the usual Japanese eatery here, including the ramen. It's too bad the reviewers didn't try the rafute, champuru, or awamori.
Linda / February 11, 2013 at 07:07 pm
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Love the decore. It's like sitting in a piece of artwork - beautiful wood and tiles. Food is excellent and staff are great.
Paula / April 22, 2013 at 01:47 pm
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My friends and I enjoyed it, but they didn't do separate bills and there were 8 of us so it was a nightmare to calculate what we each owed. I wish more restaurants would do separate bills, it's a major problem.

The decor was nice and the use of mirrors to make it look bigger really does work. I enjoyed the the heated toilets.

Alex / June 7, 2013 at 08:41 pm
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I've eaten here several times, and while I'm not an expert I will say that the ramen is truly delicious, and certainly not expensive by Toronto standards.

The service is hit and miss, and my experience has been that it seems to break down pretty neatly along ethnic lines. Sorry if that sounds racist, but my Japanese waiters and waitresses have been expert at their job, while the others (a Russian and another who sounds like she might be French) have left quite a lot to be desired.

Service aside, the décor is certainly interesting, if perhaps not for everyone (I like it), and the bathroom is well appointed (complimentary mouthwash, toothpicks, etc) and easily the cleanest I've seen in years--a very good sign. My only real complaint is the music, which is generally a bit frenetic and always too loud for dining.

Definitely worth a trip for lunch if you enjoy ramen. I've been back four times in the past two months.
melissa / July 5, 2013 at 03:54 pm
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I ate here recently, and found it disappointing. The space is huge and beautiful but the food was just okay. I love Okinawan food, but this place doesn't have any of my favourites. (No umibudo? No shikwasa anything?) And I know that the LCBO laws are strict, but what's an Okinawan izakaya without Orion?

The goya champuru was decent and the rafute was pretty good.
Geordie / November 28, 2013 at 09:52 pm
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How are the women here? cute? the waitresses are showing off or boring? I am looking for a good drinking place with nice sexy women
Gross Geordie / December 14, 2013 at 05:37 pm
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^ Oh Geordie, that's just a sad comment. You're going to a restaurant, not a brothel.
Bob / March 4, 2014 at 07:33 pm
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I peed out my arse eating here.
Sarnia replying to a comment from Bob / March 11, 2014 at 04:05 pm
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They didn't do so well recently with DineSafe.
Kate / March 16, 2014 at 06:15 pm
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They cleaned up their DineSafe

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