There's an abundance of great Japanese restaurants in Southern Oregon, and now Ashland is home to the region's first ramen shop.
Hiro Ramen, open since March at 11 N. First St., sells 10 variants of the Japanese short-order staple, along with plenty of extras and a few other variables to make each bowl a one-of-a-kind experience.
I found ordering surprisingly simple at Hiro thanks to a clearly laid-out menu and streamlined pricing. There are three soup bases: pork, chicken and vegetarian vegetable, and from there you pick from three broths: Shoyu, Shio and Miso. The pork base has a fourth option, the bone broth Tonkotsu Ramen.
I went for a pork miso ramen bowl on my visit, and even on a 90-degree day, I simply couldn't get enough of its rich broth. For someone whose prior ramen experiences mostly consisted of cup noodles in college, the delicious broth was a pleasant surprise. I found the flavor savory without being too salty, and with just a bit of a spicy kick.
Those who prefer their ramen spicy need only say so.
Inside my large bowl was a hearty pile of fresh, firm noodles cooked to the Japanese equivalent of al dente, but the variety of toppings are what made it interesting.
My pork miso ramen was topped with a single slice of roasted pork known as "chasu," bean sprouts, green onions, carrots, fresh corn kernels and half a seasoned hard-boiled egg.
The toppings were arranged in different places throughout the bowl, making for some little surprises as I worked my way through the dish. Bean sprouts worked great with the noodles, and I found the carrots and corn while I was working my way through the broth.
Each ramen base has its own standard toppings, though it's easy to order them to taste. I heard a customer request theirs with no bean sprouts, for example.
No matter what ramen dish you choose, the base price is the same: $9.50 plus Ashland's meals tax.
The most expensive extra is chasu for $3. You can add kimchi or spring herbs for $2, an extra egg for $1.50, or extra vegetables such as corn, bean sprouts, tofu or bamboo for $1.
The chicken-base ramen bowls come with similar toppings to the pork, while vegetable ramens include tofu, bean sprouts, mushrooms, green onions, spring herb, carrots, corn and a seasoned egg.
Service was very quick during my lunchtime visit, ready in just a couple minutes after I placed my order. It makes for a great working lunch pick that's far more interesting than a sandwich.
Those not in the mood for ramen can choose from a handful of Korean- and Japanese-style rice bowls with prices ranging between $9.50 and $11.
Surfaces inside were clean, and even when I'm picking nits my gripes are few. I'd prefer it if the restaurant weren't closed Mondays, and I wish finding a parking space nearby wasn't so difficult in Ashland. The latter complaint is hardly in the business' control.
Hiro Ramen makes dining fun with its rare mix of novelty and speed priced fairly.