Jeff Chanchaleune forgot I was coming.
Standing behind the bar at Goro Ramen, the affable young chef was slicing pork belly when I walked into the restaurant. It wasn’t until I came close that he looked up.
“Dude, to be honest, I forgot you were coming today,” he said.
Considering he’d become a new father just a few weeks before, I was surprised he remembered how to get to the Plaza District, much less our appointment.
But even with a lack of sleep hanging from his shoulders, he offered his trademark grin — the kind that stretches from ear to ear and seems, somehow, to extend beyond the confines of his face — and set about making me a few dishes.
The opening of Goro was a cherry on top of the sundae for the Plaza District. Thanks to popular destinations like The Mule, Oak & Ore and Goro’s sister restaurant, Empire Slice House, the area has been packing in Oklahoma City’s young and hungry for a few years.
The district was already on a hot streak. Goro was more fuel for the fire.
Chanchaleune has been at the forefront of Oklahoma City’s love affair with ramen for years, first as a partner in the Kaiteki Ramen food truck and then with the wildly popular Project Slurp ramen pop-up dinners he staged with Rachel Cope.
Goro is the distillation of his dream — a spot where noodle lovers can gather for strong drinks and big bowls of Japanese ramen well into the night.
Let’s get this out of the way for the noobs: this ramen isn’t the ramen they sell at the grocery store. Not that I have any problem with the 10-cents-a-package Top Ramen. It’s good for what it is. It’s a big, cheap bowl of noodles.
But restaurant ramen is so much more than that. The noodles are about 1000x better than their plastic-wrapped counterparts. They are tender and chewy and slurpable and filling and lovely.
And where the noodles are a significant upgrade, the broth is in an entirely new category. This liquid is full, not only of flavor but also texture. It enrobes the tongue and coats the mouth with layer upon layer upon layer of taste built over hours of cooking.
Goro’s house ramen is tori paitan ($10). The broth is rich with chicken and feels creamy on the palate. Lending more of that oozing, unctuous, luscious quality are melt-in-your-mouth slices of roasted pork belly and ajitama, aka a perfectly soft-boiled ramen egg. Giving spice and crunch to the dish are fried garlic and a fine dice of green onion, making sure each bite has variety and momentum.
For those interested in something a little more intense, the spicy miso ramen ($12) is the way to go. You still get that rich chicken broth and ramen egg, but the addition of roasted garlic miso paste dyes the dish a vibrant, fire engine red. Subbed in for pork belly are supple pork meatballs that have been infused with spice. Texture lovers will also find a lot to recommend this dish with the addition of corn, which adds a mild sweetness and a satisfying crunch.
The heat is enough to pique the interest of chiliheads, but not so much that it overwhelms the senses. If anything, the added spice provides a perfect contrast to the indulgent flavors of the ramen, keeping diners more aware of the masterpiece they’re slurping down.
“Man cannot live by ramen alone” sounds false and I’d be willing to test it except that would preclude me from eating Goro’s other dishes, like tebasaki ($8).
When Chanchaleune first described the restaurant to me, he made it clear he wanted this to be a place where people could hang out. It’s not a sports bar, but it is a bar, and with that comes bar snacks.
Tebasaki are hot wings gone Asian. The crust is a double-fried paean to the Gods of Crunch and the sauce — a gochujang fish caramel — is sweet and spicy in perfect concert. As an added bonus, you get some of Goro’s housemade pickles.
“I don’t like pickles” is something my daughter says. You’re not my daughter. Open yourself up to the possibility that our local chefs might turn out a better pickle product than some shelf-stable grocery store brand. These are light, tart and possess a texture that screams freshness. I love them, even though I know they’ll never love me back.
Jeff was the first one to introduce me to the glory of fried brussels sprouts, which he brought back to the menu in a brussels sprouts salad ($7). Here the sprouts are fried and tossed with small dice beets, pickled fresno peppers and miso vinaigrette before being topped with fried shallots.
This is vegan, if that matters to you. It’s delicious, which is all that matters to me. The star of the show are the fresno peppers. Bright red and possessed of a mild heat, these tangy slices of happiness bring each bite to vibrant life.
If you don’t have room for dessert, you make room for dessert. Everyone needs to see Goro’s black sesame ice cream ($5) in person.
I’ve struggled, since tasting this, to find the right description for the dish. It needs to be accurate, like describing the almost peanut butter nuttiness and the hint of bitterness that makes each bite irresistible. It needs to include the creamy texture that is interrupted by the sweet, sharp crunch of sesame brittle and the savory (and visual) delight of black lava salt.
This is what I’ve come up with:
But I’d be lying if I said there was a single thing at Goro that I don’t want to experience again. I love the lively atmosphere. I like hearing the kitchen. I dream of that crunchy tebasaki and the richness of the ramen broth.
The Plaza District didn’t need Goro, but it’s a better place because of it. That much is certain. If you haven’t been, go. If you have, you don’t need me to tell you it’s worth multiple return visits.
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Spicy miso ramen - $12
Tebasaki - $8
brussels sprouts salad - $7
Black sesame ice cream - $5