Although there are several restaurants in Arlington that offer the Japanese noodle soup dish ramen, there are only three spots that are dedicated to only offering ramen as the main course.
There are two on the south side of Arlington, Boru Ramen and Paper Horse, both of which opened this year. But a ramen spot on the north side of Arlington, Gaijin Ramen Shop, opened a year earlier and has been creating a buzz since it began serving bowls.
Gaijin Ramen Shop, located in the Cherrydale neighborhood in Arlington, is somewhat of an anomaly, in a good way, when it comes to ambience. It looks like an urban eatery, a place that you’d expect to find squarely in Ballston, Clarendon, Pentagon City or Crystal City in Arlington. But its location in Cherrydale, which is one of the neighborhoods in the county that still has a semblance of the old, more rural looking Arlington, helps it stand out. For example, it is located diagonally across Lee Highway from Cherrydale Hardware, which opened in 1938.
Gaijin likes to keep it simple, when it comes to its menu. They have an appetizers/side dish section, a ramen soup section, a kids menu and a dessert menu. But there are several options in the appetizers/side dish and ramen soup sections, so diners have a lot of choices when it comes to how they will fill their bellies. The two highlights of the appetizers/side dish menu are the Oishii Oishii Steamed Buns ($8) and the Tater Takoyaki ($8).
There are six options of steamed buns, including a first for this vegan diner: the Tofu Vegan steamed bun. Now, I had never had steamed bun before I went cruelty-free, so I had only ever heard all of the hype surrounding steamed bun before I had Gaijin’s vegan steamed bun. I have to admit, I was let down the first time I had the steamed bun at Gaijin, but probably only because the dish had been so hyped to me prior to that. But on my latest visit to Gaijin, I really enjoyed the bun. Perhaps it was because I had lowered my expectations, but the dish is good, so perhaps not.
The Tater Takoyaki consists of fried potato balls with shredded pork, spicy mayo, sweet soy sauce and green onions. It’s the appetizer that I’ve seen ordered most by fellow diners sometimes diners order it and use it as their main entree. It’s that substantial.
This brings us to another, probably the most important, reason why Gaijin stands out among all of the ramen shops in the Washington, D.C. region: The restaurant has three vegan ramen options. Most of the ramen shops that have vegan ramen only have one option, which is great, but also limiting.
There is the Veggie Ramen, Curry Veggie Ramen and Spicy Veggie Ramen, which are all $13. My favorite of the three is the Curry Veggie Ramen, which comes with a curry broth, seasonal veggies and braised tofu. It’s a happy medium between the Veggie Ramen, which isn’t spicy at all, and the Spicy Veggie Ramen, which is great, but it can get a little too spicy. The Curry Veggie Ramen is savory with a little kick and is an original dish, at least when it comes to this region.
There are nine other ramen soup options on Gaijin’s menu, which range between $10 – $12. The basic toppings include green onions, sesame seeds, crispy fried garlic, Nori and, with the pork and chicken ramen, fish cake. The toppings are the only other complaint that I’ve heard, and had myself, about Gaijin’s offerings. They charge for additional toppings and they have all sorts of add-ins, like avocado ($2), kakuni ($2) and corn ($1). The ramen bowls at Gaijin are substantial enough without the additional toppings, but those add-ins are so tempting.
The service at Gaijin Ramen Shop is top notch. The wait staff is attentive and the kitchen staff turns orders around at a serviceable pace. Although two competitors have arisen within the past year, Gaijin Ramen Shop, with good food and great service, is likely to become an Arlington mainstay.
Gaijin Ramen Shop | 3800 Lee Hwy. | Arlington | 703-566-9236 | gaijinramenshop.com