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Where to find it: Ramen-yas 

It only took one trip to L.A. to remind me of an entire class of small eateries missing in Charlotte: Ramen-yas (shops). I'm talking about a sliver of a restaurant that serves steaming bowls of a lush shio-tonkotsu soup filled with hearty noodles — maybe even ultra-thin hosomen noodles. In a city flush with sushi spots — an expensive way to fill up — isn't it time for the best food deal the Japanese have to open in town?

Authentic ramen soup, while not as cheap as five packages for a dollar ramen, usually costs less than eight dollars and served in a portion difficult to finish — but slurping is encouraged. Authentic ramen cannot be compared to those generic packages, a staple among college students. Real ramen uses distinctive noodles and premium ingredients. Stocks can vary: Some shops use fish and chicken; however, the best use pork.

Ramen shops typically have only about 20 seats, most at a bar with only a few tables, and the menus are decidedly brief. American ramen shops often offer hand-stuffed dumplings and beer. Good ramen-yas have a brief wait — but the turnover is within the hour.

Charlotte has many pho shops and Vietnamese soups have their own charms. But pho is not ramen. For now, the only ramen in town is found at some of the traditional Japanese restaurants like Mai Japanese Restaurant (7731 Colony Road), which serves a miso-base ramen, and Musashi Japanese Restaurant (10110 Johnston Road), which make several broths including a pork broth ramen.

Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com or 704-522-8334, extension 136.

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