Shigehiko “Jacky” Okiebisu has missed good ramen ever since he moved to the U.S. in the 1980s as a chef for the chain Benihana. In Japan, he said, “It’s like pizza here, everywhere you go you see ramen shops." But the classic shoyu broth he’d slurped at street-side cafes in his hometown of Osaka had yet to arrive to Baltimore’s waters. So a few years ago, the chef returned to his home country, to study the fine craft of ramen-making at a school in Shikoku Island.

Today, Okiebisu’s research and dedication to the dish is evident in every bowl of steaming hot, complexly-flavored ramen that crosses the counter at Ramen Utsuke, his latest restaurant which opened this year along the Inner Harbor. It’s located on the first floor of 414 Light St., the high-rise building on the site of the former McCormick & Co. factory. ($5 parking is available in the building’s lot.)


Utsuke is a nickname for Okiebisu’s favorite samurai, Kippo, whose name also graces Okiebisu’s Fells Point ramen shop, which opened in 2016. Moreso than Kippo Ramen, Ramen Utsuke is a family affair: His daughter Anna owns the shop and his wife often helps out in the kitchen. And Okiebisu welcomes in family diners who want to stay awhile, as well as the business lunchers in need of quick sustenance.

First impressions: A smartly decorated interior features a mix of booths and tables, with a red samurai statue in the center. (The statue, imported from Japan, features a helmet that resembles the restaurant’s logo.) Against the sleek furnishings, excellent service creates an inviting atmosphere. One server came by no fewer than three times to refill our water glasses; another offered helpful recommendations on appetizers and desserts and earnestly checked back to see if we’d liked them. Parents, take note: I spied no fewer than two toddlers in high chairs during a recent weekend visit, and staff cooed at them and made faces.

Must tries: We loved the $13 tonkotsu black and red, a swirling Hakata-style pork broth drizzled with black garlic oil and red chili, as well as the $13 Oriole Park ramen, an upgraded version of the classic chicken shoyu of Okiebisu’s memory. The shop also offers miso ramen, created in Hokkaido, Japan, where the weather is cold and the broth is hot.

More yums abound: My dining companion pronounced the $12 samurai roll, a deep-fried version of the salmon-filled Philadelphia roll, “the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life.” It looks fabulous, too, with a mound of spicy tuna and crab with a fried lotus root on top. Akashi-yaki, balls of fried octopus served with a bowl of fish dashi broth for dunking ($6.50), were crunchy on the outside, divinely melty on the inside. An avocado salad with sesame dressing ($6.50) was a refreshing counterbalance to the hearty main course.

Special touches: Sake lovers will feel they’ve arrived in heaven. The menu offers more than a dozen versions of the rice wine at various classifications, ranging from a house bottle served either hot or cold to premium daiginjo sake.

Pro-tip: Don’t sleep on dessert. Ramen Utsuke offers mochi and a playful version of the taiyaki, a traditional fish-shaped pastry that is typically filled with sweet red bean paste. Here, it’s an ice cream sandwich, one that both pays homage to the original while satisfying Western tastes ($4).

Bottom line: Few things on a cold night are more satisfying than a bowl of ramen that fogs up the eyeglasses and causes one’s nose to run. Few places make it better than Ramen Utsuke. The restaurant offers affordable, thoughtful takes on traditional Japanese street food in a warm and relaxing atmosphere. It’s just the place you’ll want to visit as the nights get longer and a chill sets in the air.

414 Light St., Inner Harbor. 443-563-2977. ramenutsuke.com. Serves lunch and dinner daily.