When chef John Ng and his wife and business partner Lina Goh moved to Minnesota from San Francisco in 2003, there wasn't much around in the way of ramen.
Ng had honed his skills at the first ramen shop in the Bay Area before coming to the Midwest, where he and Goh started Zen Box as a counter-service lunch spot in the Minneapolis skyway. "He kind of used the skyway as his incubating lab," Goh says. They moved into their cozy sit-down Izakaya on Washington Street about seven years after that.
The Izakaya, too, was ahead of its time, with a menu of ramen and craft curries and bento boxes and sandos—and notably, no sushi. "We want to change people's perception about what a Japanese restaurant can be," Goh says. "When we opened the Zen Box on Washington, people were like, 'Oh, you don't have a sushi menu? That's weird. Aren't you a Japanese restaurant?'"
Now, Goh and Ng, who make up two-fifths of the team behind the forthcoming Eat Street Crossing food hall, have announced their latest rare-in-MN project: Ramen Shoten, a small bar and standing-room slurp shop opening adjacent to ESC.
Ramen Shoten (which means “ramen shop” in Japanese) is a natural next progression for Ng and Goh: a small space where the focus is justramen. They'll have seating for eight at the bar bar, with room for another six to eight people at the standing bar.
"That's how it is in Japan—traditionally, ramen should be eaten in three minutes. You get the bowl, you slurp, and you go, because that's lunch time," Goh says. "When we came in to look at the building, we were like, 'This is the perfect spot.'"
Ramen Shoten's space, in the cafe next to the Old Arizona Studio building that Eat Street Crossing is bringing back to life, looks kind of disconnected from the rest of the food hall. But they are attached, and if you prefer to grab and go to one of the communal tables in the adjacent Eat Street Crossing space, that's totally an option. Still, Ramen Shoten will feel like its own restaurant, as if you've been transported to one of the pint-sized street shops of Japan.
Goh says they're still finalizing the menu, but they know it'll be entirely different from the menu at Zen Box. There will for sure be three ramen staples, along with a fourth veggie-based broth for vegans and vegetarians, and they're using premium ramen noodles from Sun Noodles.
That brings the list of Eat Street Crossing tenants so far to Bebe Zito (whose co-owners, Ben Spangler and Gabriella Grant-Spangler, make up another two fifths of ESC's team), ChaTime Bubble Teas, and a bar and wine wall curated by beverage director Trish Gavin (Lat 14, Lemon Grass Thai, Khâluna). Two more concepts will be announced in the near-ish future, and if things go according to plan, they're looking to open this November.