Frisco boasts a nightlife and cultural vibrance that has become the envy of many neighboring communities in North Texas, but the intersection of Preston Road and Gary Burns Drive could very well fool unfamiliar travelers into thinking otherwise. At a glance, this intersection’s only culinary offerings include fast-food chains such as Chick-Fil-A, Burger King, Krispy Kreme and Smoothie King, but one hidden gem of a local restaurant stands humbly among a strip mall, tucked away from plain view in the west lot.
Japanese restaurant Ramen Wahta neighbors an Anytime Fitness location and a MetroPCS store. Not exactly an image or description that conjures razzle-dazzle, but as the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.
I paid a visit to the restaurant on a Thursday evening. The building looked a bit understaffed for a dinner rush, but I assumed it was due to most customers ordering takeout because of COVID-19. I was nonetheless greeted promptly by a waitress named Jee, who, upon seating me, gave me chips and a cup of sweet chili Thai sauce.
Right off the bat, there isn’t much by way of pizazz or artsy flair to the establishment, but there is a unique charm to that. Ramen Wahta’s atmosphere is a clear defiance of the usual tendencies, and the unassuming way in which it presents itself is nothing short of refreshing. These observations were further proven as Jee channeled a friendly, conversational demeanor in taking my order.
I decided to spice up my cultural palette in ordering a light beer from Japanese brewery Asahi. I also ordered a small plate of ika geso (deep-fried squid). Minutes later, I finally decided on my entree, just as Jee came back with the beer and squid. Upon her return, I ordered a bowl of shoyu ramen – a soy-based mixture consisting of chicken paitan broth, bamboo shoots, a hardboiled egg, chopped green onions, a shredded red bell pepper, shiitake mushrooms, mung bean sprouts, black garlic oil and a chopped grilled chicken breast.
Now, I debated ordering edamame instead of ika geso earlier, but the reason I opted for the latter instead is because I have found that fried squid makes for a surprisingly effective litmus test for a restaurant’s quality control. Here in the United States, fried squid is commonly ordered under the name “calamari” and it has become such a ubiquitous appetizer that even some Tex-Mex restaurants offer it. It is considerably cheap and easy to cook, but by that same token, it is also an easy dish to botch, and this is unfortunately a trap that many restaurants fall victim to. Ramen Wahta is not one of those restaurants, and I am happy to report the ika geso was a welcome departure from the rubbery, slimy rings of squid. In fact, in other restaurants, they were not even rings; they were deep-fried tentacles that were crisp on the outside but simultaneously tender on the inside.
Somehow, the pint of Asahi complimented this tasting. The beer has a sweet, hoppy taste to it, not unlike more westernized pilsners like Stella Artois. Beer snobs who exclusively order microbrews would likely scoff at it, but it is not particularly common in the United States, so it still lives up to Ramen Wahta’s cultural verity.
Before I was able to finish the ika geso, Jee unexpectedly came back with a plate of steamed gyoza. “Here – it’s on the house,” she said.
“Gyoza” is a Japanese word for jiaozi, which is a Chinese dumpling that can take on a wide variety of fillings. Both dishes are cooked in a rather similar fashion, but gyoza tends to have a thinner coat of dough with a stronger garlic flavor to boot. That description certainly applies to the gyoza I was served, and the garlic flavor was especially present in the ground pork filling. The gyoza plate came with a lemon slice and a cup of soy sauce, both of which surprisingly accented the flavor.
Before I could even finish the gyoza, Jee already returned with the hearty bowl of shoyu ramen I ordered earlier. Given that I was served each plate rather expeditiously, my table was already full, but that is a good problem to have. Even more impressive is that it was the only problem.
The shoyu ramen was served at a perfect temperature – the broth was not cool, but it also did not burn my taste buds at the slightest touch. The noodles were cooked at a perfect consistency, while the bamboo shoots were firm, yet malleable. The fish cake served alongside these ingredients was one called narutomaki, which is a white, paste-derived fish roll with a pink, spiraled center.
It was a strong offering, but even with an overall flavorful amalgamation of ingredients, I found myself wanting the chicken to have had more flavor. For as sodium-intensive as the broth was, it did not seem like the chicken was as absorbent of the flavor as I had hoped. The peppers and mushrooms complimented it in a way, and a small drippling of soy sauce was enough to counteract this flavorlessness, but perhaps a thin coating of ginger or paprika could have enhanced it.
Regardless, it was an astonishingly abundant and palatable mixture of ingredients for just $10. Also, the fact it was delivered to my table before I could even finish either appetizer dish is nothing short of impressive.
By this point, I was already full and I had just finished my pint of Asahi, but since I was already breaking precedence in drinking amid such an occasion, I decided to order a small serving of cold sake. The beverage was delivered to my table in a small, porcelain bottle called a tokkuri, which was accompanied by a shot glass. Now, many people make the mistake of shooting sake, but this is a rice-fermented wine we are talking here, so I did the proper thing and sipped it while savoring its sweetness.
Ramen Wahta is located at 8745 Gary Burns Drive. While it is mostly surrounded by corporate chains and fast food restaurants, it could not be any less homogenous. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday through Saturday.
And remember, do not shoot the sake!
Garrett Gravely is a Dallas-based arts and entertainment writer, journalist, and music critic.