Ramen vs Pho.
The name of this new restaurant on West Shaw Avenue in the same shopping center as Kohl’s says it all. It serves both kinds of noodle soup – Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho.
But the first thing you notice when you walk into this newly opened restaurant: The art. Every inch of the dining room walls are covered in murals of anime characters, the cartoonish style of Japanese film and TV shows.
They were all painted by the dad in the father-daughter team who own the restaurant. It took Sak Singharath four or five months to paint it all.
He’s no professional muralist or anything. He taught himself how to paint with the help of YouTube tutorials.
When he and his daughter, Keysone Hatzidakis, decided to open a restaurant selling ramen and pho, anime seemed like a natural fit, she said. Anime is full of epic battles, and ramen versus pho is a debate that could get pretty epic too.
“Food you can eat anywhere, but I want a little entertainment in it,” Singharath said.
Trivia tidbit: Naruto is named after the white fishcake with a pink swirl you often find in ramen. Ramen vs Pho unwittingly opened on Naruto’s birthday, Oct. 10, to huge lines.
A longtime restaurateur, you can also see Singharath’s art at his wife’s restaurant, Ichiban Ramen & Poki at Shaw Avenue and First Street.
The waitresses also get in on the anime fun here, dressing in costumes like anime-style waitresses – and not just for Halloween.
Customers are encouraged to post photos and selfies with the art (seriously, there’s a sign in the restaurant saying so).
But back to the yummy part. Ramen and pho.
When the father-daughter duo was deciding what to do with the restaurant (he used to run it as Ramen Ichiban 2) they tossed around ideas, including ramen and pho.
“One day we were just like, ‘Why don’t we do both of them?’” she said.
So several types of both are on the menu, all $12 or less.
Ramen is a soft Japanese buckwheat noodle made with egg whites, usually in the traditional tonkotsu pork broth.
You can get ramen with other broths too: shoyu (with a soy sauce base), shio (a lighter sea salt broth that’s good for kids), miso (made from soy beans) and the popular milky ramen, Hatzidakis said. Milky ramen uses a combination of milk and the tontkotsu.
The pork in tonkotsu is not easy to make, Hatzidakis said. It’s at least a six-hour process.
Its pork belly is boiled in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, and then pan fried, soaked again in the sauce, often overnight, and then cut as thin as possible.
“That way it’s almost like a melt in your mouth taste,” Hatzidakis said.
A vegan broth is also in the works.
As for the pho, that uses rice noodles. Here, it’s a simplified version of pho that you can get with meatballs, steak, shrimp, or the meat lover that combines them all.
There’s also a Thai boat version of the meat lovers with a spicy sour sauce and fried garlic.
Giant pots of both pho and ramen broth simmer on the stovetop. The ramen noodles cook in little metal baskets for two or three minutes. The pho noodles only need to cook for two or three seconds, Hatzidakis said.
So who’s winning that epic battle between ramen and pho?
Though pho is probably more well known in Fresno given our large southeast Asian population, customers are buying more ramen here.
A recent day saw 46 pho orders to 117 ramen orders.
The ironic thing? Though Hatzidakis and her father are cooking Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine, they didn’t grow up cooking either.
Their family comes from Laos.
That’s why you’ll find Lao street food on the menu too.
You can get 10 fried meatballs on a stick, or papaya salad, for example.
You can also get lunch to go from a “hot and ready” section, like two chicken thighs, sticky rice and a spicy sauce for $6.99.