Uncle Ramen is growing up. After seven years in the Highlands, it expanded with a second location, which opened Tuesday in the West Washington Park neighborhood. “Uncle 2” still serves up some of the familiar fare found in the Highlands, but the new location’s bigger kitchen means the menu here includes 60 percent more dishes.
Self-trained restauranteur Tommy Lee, who is also behind Hop Alley, never anticipated his ramen creations would skyrocket to popularity as they have. Even so, he wants to offer more than ramen on the menu.
“Ramen is seasonal, you know — it’s hot soup,” he said. “People know us for ramen but they also know us for being unexpected.”
Unexpected on the menu is Uncle’s new selection of curries. The curries, both green and red, are all fixed with a house-made curry paste and make up the menu’s heirloom California rice section. Uncle’s curry is gluten free and spice level can be adjusted to preference.
Crowd favorites like the spicy chicken ramen, made with a sesame broth, and pork belly buns remain on the menu. (Fun Fact: 50 cents from each pork bun order goes to a rotating charity selected by staff.) In keeping with its doubled size, the Wash Park kitchen is whipping up three different meat-based broths for its new bowls, like the Tokyo shoyu made with a light chicken and fish broth, pork belly, arugula, scallion, and ajitama egg. Lee worked on this recipe for eight months to perfect, in his words, its simplicity. Mazemen, a broth-less ramen dish, also features on the menu.
Don’t let the attention to ramen throw you off: Uncle is doing more than just the rich Japanese noodle bowls it’s known for. Highlights unique to the West Wash Park location include the Charred Shrimp Cocktail prepared with a seven pepper marinade and served with sweet chile sauce and the Southern Fried Mushroom, a splendid burst of flavor from the pairing of delicate maitake and buttermilk batter with house-made hot sauce on the side.
“When I opened [Uncle 1] seven years ago, I had no idea it would be as busy as it is,” Lee reflected. The goal of the new space, he shared, is to please more people and offer fans a year-round experience.
The team has drummed up an intricate beverage program. “Here we have an actual bar,” Lee explained. “We can shake a drink if it needs to be shaken. We can stir something if it needs to be stirred.” Lee describes the cocktails they serve as balanced and not overly ambitious. The menu also includes an extensive selection of beer, wine and sake.
Uncle is located amidst a growing culinary scene in West Wash Park on South Pennsylvania Street. The corner restaurant seats 80 and its bright windows provide a great view of the quiet yet bustling neighborhood. Uncle is open Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.