Raku, the Westside outpost of Duluth's Raku Tonkatsu + Ramen, opened in the old Burger Joe's building on Marietta Street last November. While the concept is Japanese, Raku is a Korean-owned operation, a sister restaurant to the wildly popular pork belly Korean barbecue spot Honey Pig. If Honey Pig's success has taught the owners anything, it's how to make customers happy — service here is top-notch. Given Raku's proximity to Coca-Cola's World Headquarters, two universities, and a cluster of nearby office workers, a solid, affordable ramen shop is just what the neighborhood ordered.
HEART OF DARKNESS: The space underwent a dramatic overhaul to transform the fill-station-inspired burger spot into a sexy noodle hangout with sparkly string lights and an old-school-looking sign where the restaurant's name appears in both English and Japanese. (Raku roughly translates to "enjoyment.") Most days, you will find yourself sitting among Asian college students hungry for ITP ethnic eats. The room has been transformed into a dark lair with wooden tables and black metal chairs. It borrows warmth from the panoramic kitchen window decorated with hanging black flags and a string of round red paper lanterns. If you are dining alone, it's easy to get lost in the free entertainment of the cap-wearing cooks squinting and grimacing as they sling soup and noodles in a cloud of steam.
COMFORT IN A BOWL: You can start off with puffy white steamed buns ($5) filled with pork, green onion, and hoisin sauce, a bowl of edamame ($4), or some takoyaki ($6), those skillet-fried octopus balls decorated with mayo and brown tonkatsu sauce. Big bowls of donburi ($8), steamed white rice topped with spicy pork and vegetables, are super filling, but Raku's tonkotsu ramen ($9-$12) is the main draw. It's not the most complex broth, and the slices of pork are slightly fatty, but it is still easy to get lost in a bowl. If the broth is too weak, bump up the flavor with a shot of spicy sauce for 50 cents. The ramen also comes in shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), and miso flavors. If ramen is too heavy of a soup for your taste, the noodle shop also serves various cold and hot udon ($9-$13) options.
PRO TIP: During the week from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Raku has a killer lunch special for $6. Choose between a substantial bowl of ramen, chicken teriyaki donburi, spicy pork donburi, or bibimbap. Raku is not currently serving alcohol so maybe consider this a stop to fortify your stomach for a long night or as a quick weekday respite when you need to be alone with a bowl of soup.NOTE: This story has been updated to correct price information.