A World of Flavor at JINYA Ramen Bar

By on March 23, 2017

Right down 2nd Street on the outskirts of the Blue Dome district you’ll find an unassuming brick facade that serves as a door to a whole new world. This is JINYA, and it’s so much more than a ramen bar.

The word “JINYA” itself, literally translates to mean gate house — the kind you’d find on a Japanese Shogun’s castle. The franchise is owned by entrepreneur Dave Sopark, a local TU grad with a penchant for flavor and love for this city. He grew up on Ramen in Bangkok, Thailand and later discovered the JINYA concept working in Houston. Coming from big-city life, Dave was excited to experience the rising tide of culture here in Tulsa: “I saw that downtown is becoming something, and I said, ‘hey, let’s be a part of this … Doing this is my way of saying Tulsa is my home now.”

Tonight we’re here for a sit-down dinner, a well-earned Friday night date. The atmosphere is approachable but intimate, the perfect place to unwind after a long week of work and parenting. The décor is rich and inspired with exposed brickwork, dark steel, and trendy Edison bulbs — a truly impressive escape from the nondescript parking lots just outside.

There’s a full bar, and the combination of quality cocktails and late night snack-able small plates should make this a desirable destination for anyone out on the town. Tonight we enjoyed a Supaiku Green Tea with citrus liquor, St. Germain, and Triple Sec — light, botanical, and refreshing!

Ramen is a cultural experience across much of Asia. The noodles (and the word) originated in China, but took on a life of their own in Japan. There you can find countless ramen bars in the cities, small stalls nestled between buildings where patrons come and go for a quick bite at a handful of seats. JINYA takes the bustle of traditional ramen, and adds something more. Tapas-style small plates, rice bowls, deserts, and a full-service bar provide enough variety for everything from a quick lunch to a late night snack. It’s much more … American? “Yes, American,” Dave confirms with a laugh.

Don’t be fooled by the American-sized menu, though. The ramen experience, in particular, is rich with authentic flavor and attention to detail. We’ve ordered two bowls: one Spicy Chicken (their most popular) and one Tonkotsu Black with pork. The beautiful bowls themselves are hand-made (imported from Japan), and the ramen presentation is just as impressive. As Dave points out the various elements and garnishes, he reminds us that ramen is about so much more than taste. Traditional Japanese cooking emphasizes the experience as a whole: colors, smells, and textures hold almost almost as much importance as flavor. Spoon in one hand, chopsticks in the other, we perform the signature stir to blend the flavors and commence our feast.

The chicken bowl is fresh and satisfying with a variety of green garnishes. Ordered with a mild heat, it has just enough spice to keep things interesting and deliciously warming. The thin noodles are cooked to perfection (in individually portioned noodle baskets), and the smooth and light broth is made onsite everyday.

The Tonkutsu Black is a whole new experience with beautiful presentation and incredible taste. This dish is built upon a bone broth base made by boiling pork bones for over ten hours at a time. The result is fascinating with rich flavor and a hearty, creamy texture that clings to the tongue. This is “umami” the coveted quality of food that’s best translated as “savory,” but the true meaning goes much deeper, calling upon the silky meatiness that makes this dish so satisfying. The signature texture, Dave says, comes largely from the gelatin-like compounds that are extracted by the bone broth process. It’s rich in nutrients and actually often sought by people who suffer from arthritis.

The Tonkutsu’s plating is magnificent with dark green nori sheets, a soft-boiled egg, and a variety of other garnishes. The egg, Dave reminds us, is the litmus test of excellent ramen, and let me assure you, it does not disappoint! It is a journey in flavor and texture all on its own. The white is slightly softer than a traditional hardboiled egg, and the yolk is rich and creamy, pouring forth with an infusion of rich savor. The whole dish is amazing, yielding new flavors and experiences with each bite — or slurp.

Both of these excellent ramen bowls come directly from the JINYA menu, but don’t forget that each dish can be custom-ordered to taste. There’s a healthy list of a-la-cart add-ins to satisfy any ramen enthusiast. Overall, the bowls are well portioned, and the thick bone broth makes for a particularly hearty, satisfying meal.

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Ramen is, of course, JINYA’s signature offering, but I would encourage anyone to pay this new restaurant a visit if only for their small plates alone. These tapas-style dishes go beyond mere appetizers and really stand out as another high point of the evening. The Brussels Sprouts Tempura are deliciously pop-able and retain their crunch well into the meal. Giant Spicy Creamy Shrimp Tempura are cooked to perfection with a very accessible chili pepper kick. The Pork Gyoza Potstickers are another familiar dish, traditionally prepared in a special cooker/fryer brought in directly from Japan.

The JINYA Bun is a new take on familiar flavors. It features a sweet soft steamed bun stuffed with slow-braised pork chashu, greens, and kewpie Japanese mayonnaise. It’s both fresh and savory, with light garnishes and melt-in-your-mouth sweetly seasoned pork.

We were also treated to the current Chef’s special, the Arabiki Pork Sausage. The sausage and mustard seem somewhat out of place in an Asian restaurant, but true to the Japanese fixation with texture and experience, the meat is perfectly cooked, a burst of juicy flavor.

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Finally the Takoyaki Octopus Balls quickly stood out as a personal favorite! Balls of battered octopus are served on a bed of egg tartar and garnished with kewpie mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, green onion, and smoked bonito flakes. A chewy texture is often a common complaint with octopus, but in this dish, small octopus morsels are mellowed out — they’re embedded in the batter and actually take a moment to present. The egg and dried fish bonito flakes are an excellent complement to the complex flavors of this simply delicious small plate.

Before you call it a night, make sure to sample the desserts as well. Though there are few options, both the Mochi Ice Cream and Panna Cotta are light and refreshing with the refined flavor and presentation we have come to expect from JINYA’s varied menu. The Mochi Ice Cream balls are again a particularly accessible fusion between East and West, with complementary layers of rich ice cream and traditional Mochi texture.

Ramen Bar

416 East 2nd Street, Tulsa, OK


About Lucas Forsythe

Lucas and his wife Hannah love food! They combine backgrounds in photography and journalism to share stories of great restaurants all over Tulsa. When they're not dining, they run their own creative "micro agency," providing branding, marketing, and photography to small businesses across the U.S.