Kippo Ramen in Fells Point is joining the ranks of other noodle shops that have popped up around the area. But the eatery has more than its signature food rooted in the culture of Japan.
Its owner, Shigehiko "Jacky" Okiebisu, grew up there.
After watching a documentary about achieving the American dream when he was in middle school in his native Kobe, Okiebisu was inspired to come to the United States.
He arrived in the country in 1984 and worked as a chef at various restaurants. Eventually, he started running a beauty supply store and still does so today.
But he also opened his own restaurant in May. He chose Fells Point because its proximity to the water reminded him of his homeland. And ramen was a dish he really missed from Japan.
"That's why I opened a place with my favorite food," he said.
He named the restaurant Kippo after a favorite samurai of his childhood. A bold red logo of a warrior is used in the restaurant.
In addition to ramen, Kippo offers sushi rolls, sashimi, gyoza and more.
"We are starting with a humble menu," Okiebisu said. "We want to make sure the customer is happy. Then we're going to offer different types of ramen."
Scene & Décor: The neutral setting looks like many other casual, streamlined restaurants with a concrete floor, exposed ductwork and bare wood tables with stools. There are several booths if you can snag one. Bright spots include an orange-outlined open kitchen area and a bold red samurai stencil on one of the walls.
Appetizers: There are a half-dozen sushi rolls on the menu that would make a good introduction to a meal, but we went for the salmon sashimi ($3.99) — and it was a good move. Two plump pieces of fish were draped over a small mound of noodles and accompanied by the usual accouterments: a dollop of wasabi, ribbons of ginger and soy sauce. We also liked the gyoza ($3.50), four bronze dumplings pinched around a generous plug of pork filling. The seaweed salad ($1.99) is a tiny portion but was bright and crisp.
Entrees: Ramen rules here. We ordered two of the most popular bowls, our server told us. Visually, the tonkotsu ramen ($11.99) was an unappealing turbid soup. But one slurp revealed a well-curated, rich pork broth with thin noodles, tender slices of pork chashu, sticks of bamboo, green onions, wood-ear mushrooms and a welcome half of a soft egg. Another tonkotsu dish ($11.99) features black garlic oil in the mix. The spicy miso ramen ($13.99) was a success with pork chashu, corn, bean sprouts, spinach, a half egg and wavy noodles in a well-tended broth with just enough heat. Our server offered to push up the spicy quotient if we wanted. We liked it just the way it was.
Drinks: Sodas and teas are available as well as several beers, including Japanese brands. Kippo devotes a whole page of its menu to sakes by the glass, shot, or bottles and cans.
Service: We had the sweetest servers. They stopped by our table often to see how we were doing.
Dessert: Ice cream is a great way to balance the savory flavors. You can get a scoop, an ice-cream sandwich or mochi, a chilled confection that has a gelatinous texture. The ice cream sandwich ($4.99) was a fun, delicious treat. A thin, crisp waffle was wrapped around a block of ice cream (we chose green tea) and cut into four pieces. The red-bean mochi ice cream ($2.50) was flavorful, but it had a very stretchy consistency.
Backstory: Shigehiko "Jacky" Okiebisu, originally from Kobe, Japan, opened Kippo Ramen in May because he missed his favorite noodle dish.
Signature dish: Spicy miso ramen
TVs: There are no TVs, but there is a projector to show occasional movies.
Where: 606 S. Broadway, Fells Point
Contact: 667-212-4841, search for "Kippo Ramen" on Facebook
Open: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: The family-owned restaurant is a good addition to the growing cuisine choices in Fells Point, offering soothing bowls of ramen and other Asian dishes.