211 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh
Tonbo Ramen, open for lunch and dinner, is a dedicated ramen shop in downtown Raleigh offering seven composed ramen bowls, where the broths—several purported to take up twenty hours to make—vie for equal billing with the noodles. There’s also an upstairs izakaya lounge next door where you can sip craft cocktails and nibble on Japanese small plates, like pork belly buns and karaage, or Japanese-style fried chicken. Ramen is usually available upstairs, too. (The ramen bar opens at 11:30 a.m. every day, closing at 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 11 p.m. on Saturday. The izakaya hours are Monday through Thursday 4:00 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Vibe: A pared back aesthetic—a counter and small two-or-four-top tables surrounded by faux brick walls, a stamped tin ceiling and dark wood tones—puts the focus squarely on the ramen yet manages to evoke a homey vibe.
Menu: All seven ramen options feature house-made broths (tonkotsu, shio, shoyu and miso) and an ample tangle of springy noodles, plus a prescribed set of toppings. If your desired bowl doesn’t already come with, say, roasted pork belly or homemade dumplings, or you’d prefer to sub in a poached egg instead of a soft-boiled one, you can upgrade your bowl accordingly from the ‘Add-Ons’ menu.
Price range: Ramen ranges from $12 to $14 and include broth, noodles and several toppings; add-ons start at $1.50 for an egg or grilled avocado and go up to $4 for meat-based proteins.
What to order: All the ramen feature from-scratch broths and noodles with a pleasant chew, sourced from cult purveyor Sun Noodles. Standouts include tonkotsu, featuring a milky pork-based broth that manages to boast a deep porky flavor without being overpowering, accompanied by a slice of roasted Kurobuta pork belly (which our server referred to as “the Rolls Royce of bacon”), and the lighter, chicken-broth-based shio, which packs a savory punch without being too salty. The shio doesn’t come with the pork-and-shrimp dumplings (the tonkotsu does) so be sure to upgrade your bowl—they’re slippery and can fall apart unless you possess a ninja-like prowess with chopsticks, but you won’t care once you spear the filling, which is nicely seasoned and redolent of star anise.
Ramen portions are ample, and the broth-to-noodle-ratio is just right. But if you find it skewing one way or the other as you slurp, order kae-dame (extra noodles) or broth to restore the balance. If pork isn’t your thing, there’s a vegetarian option, with sautéed shitake mushrooms, grilled asparagus, and roasted sweet potato, and a seafood-inspired creation made with shrimp, scallops, and calamari sautéed in garlic butter. And if broth isn’t your thing there’s mazemen, dressed here in chili oil.
Perfect for: catching up with a small group of friends; thrown in as a downtown lunch option to immediately become everyone's favorite coworker; a quick solo lunch slurped at the counter.