Your ramen prayers have been answered
Shigehiko “Jacky” Okiebisu has missed good ramen ever since he moved to the U.S. in the 1980s as a chef for the chain Benihana. In Japan, he said, “It’s like pizza here, everywhere you go you see ramen shops.” But the classic shoyu broth he’d slurped at street-side cafes in his hometown of Osaka had yet to arrive to Baltimore’s waters. So a few years ago, the chef returned to his home country, to study the fine craft of ramen-making at a school in Shikoku Island.
Today, Okiebisu’s research and dedication to the dish are evident in every bowl of steaming hot, complexly-flavored ramen that crosses the counter at Ramen Utsuke, his latest restaurant which opened this year along the Inner Harbor. It’s located on the first floor of 414 Light St., the high-rise building on the site of the former McCormick & Co. factory. ($5 parking is available in the building’s lot.)
Utsuke is a nickname for Okiebisu’s favorite samurai, Kippo, whose name also graces Okiebisu’s Fells Point ramen shop, which opened in 2016. Moreso than Kippo Ramen, Ramen Utsuke is a family affair: His daughter Anna owns the shop and his wife often helps out in the kitchen. And Okiebisu welcomes in family diners who want to stay awhile, as well as the business lunchers in need of quick sustenance.
First impressions: A smartly decorated interior features a mix of booths and tables, with a red samurai statue in the center. (The statue, imported from Japan, features a helmet that resembles the restaurant’s logo.) Against the sleek furnishings, excellent service creates an inviting atmosphere. One server came by no fewer than three times to refill our water glasses; another offered helpful recommendations on appetizers and desserts and earnestly checked back to see if we’d liked them. Parents, take note: I spied no fewer than two toddlers in high chairs during a recent weekend visit, and staff cooed at them and made faces.
Oriole Park ramen, silky-style chicken broth ramen with wavy noodles and finished with a drizzle of black garlic oil and spicy oil at Ramen Utsuke.